A Walk on the Beach

The Big Move

Well, I guess things are kinda official now, with most of our closest friends and family informed of our plans.  After 18 years living in England, and 15 years living in this house, I am moving back to Northern Ireland, albeit renting, not buying. Oh and yes, don’t worry Nicola (and Guinness the cat) are coming too.

nigelcookephotography-2015-234

I must admit things have moved pretty quickly since the thought entered my head (around 2 months ago), however we had been discussing a fresh start since the summer when we looked at potentially moving to the Peak District.

When I wrote my last post we were actually over in Northern Ireland checking out some properties, however we have had to keep things quiet while Nicola sorted out some bits and pieces with work. Now removal vans are booked, our ferry tickets are printed and our house goes on the market to rent in a few days. It’s all quite real now. All being well we should be moved in fully the last week of January 2016. Just in time for the famous Northern Ireland summer 😉

Focus on the Important Stuff

One reason for moving back is to allow me to be closer to my dad. We will still be around 90 minutes away, but at least on the same land mass. I’ve felt quite disconnected from his situation of late and really want to help out more and indeed spend more time with him and mum. I’m really looking forward to being being able to jump in the car and go see him at short notice. I know they are excited about this move too. Of course, as parents, they are concerned if we are doing the right thing, but also excited.

The main reason for moving back is to help my wife, who suffers considerably from depression as well as severe anxiety disorders. I won’t go into too much detail but suffice to say that while she has suffered these issues for many years, the past 6 months have been complete hell for her. I have no doubt that what perhaps set this latest spiral into motion was my change in circumstances, however we now both realise these issues were bubbling under the surface for quite sometime and would have appeared at some point in the future – most likely just after we had booked tickets for our planned 2 year travels.

I’ve always maintained that such a significant problem like this needs dedicated focus to start to resolve.  That dedicated focus cannot be achieved when the normal everyday duties such as a full time job are eating into your time.

A full time job focused on getting better

I could not think of a more worthwhile way to spend your time than focused on getting better. Sure from a financial situation, and certainly for those looking from the outside, we will now have committed double jeopardy on the job front in a short period of time. We just got our 2014/2015 tax forms back and it’s certainly a large chunk of money being given up. Without a lot of spare cash or savings squirrelled away I can honestly say however that this significant drop in money has me worried not a jot. My focus of concern is for my family.

I would also argue that money, possessions, status and security are completely meaningless without first and foremost health and happiness for yourself and the people you care deeply about. I think part of the issue that we have as a species is that we rarely focus on the really important stuff,  making excuses while burying our heads in the sand to avoid difficult choices. I know this move won’t be easy, and in fact the move alone won’t solve all of the issues. Nicola has already had some serious concerns about leaving everything she has ever known. (she grew up less than 4 miles from where we live right now). Even I am not 100% sure this is the right move, however I do know 110% that doing nothing is the wrong choice.

And the Photography ?

For the duration of the move I’ll be taking a bit of a step back from the sports photography with Action Plus, although I’m hopeful to utilise some cheap tickets from Belfast to perhaps cover a few games over the coming months. I also hope to pickup some jobs back in Ireland, but of course the global demand for such images isn’t really there. I’m extremely grateful to Stephen and team at Action Plus for giving me my opportunity in this industry and I know I’m going to miss doing the regular sports work, however I’m happy to let other more important factors drive the direction of our lives at this stage.

Outside of the sports work I’m actually in a bit of creative rut at the moment. Part of the original plan when I made this move, almost 6 months ago, was to spend at least 7-10 days per month travelling to different parts of the UK.  For some of the wildlife projects I am working on, along with quite a flat and at times uninspiring landscape, I knew that to grow as a photographer I needed to focus on other locations.

nigelcookephotography-2015-243

Mostly this travel has not been possible, mainly as I want to stay local to support Nicola through this very difficult time, but also, rather than spend 7 days travelling doing photography, I’ve spent part of that time per month back home helping out with dad. This enforced extra time spent locally has actually had a negative effect on my creativity, and while I realise there are unique opportunity for photography in East Anglia I feel I need to step outside and away from what I know, even for a short time.

Being mindful of the now .. this very moment

We have agreed a 6 month rental and that is all we are focused on. What happens after that will come to pass. Our property is located right on the beach on the North Antrim coast. I’m excited about photographing the area. I’m also looking forward to putting my face into the wind. Holding her hand. And working through this together. For now the most important thing is my family. I love them. When they are broken, I too am broken. When they cry, I cry too.

Without them … I am nothing.

Breaking Eggs and Taking Risks

It’s been over 5 months since I left full time employment to follow my so called ‘dream’ and passion of not only being a full time photographer but also of living a life which would be worth remembering.

And as I sit here, back in Ireland during my now monthly visits to see my parents, I realise that in fact nothing much has changed.

Well actually that is not entirely true as a lot has changed, but sadly not always in a positive manner. As I wrote in a previous blog post I’ve been thinking much more about death these past few months. The lack of a full time day job, and with it not only the loss of structure but also a lot more time for my mind to go wandering into pretty deep and dark places, has meant that I feel like I’ve actually gone backwards.

I actually feel in a much worse place than I was when I was employed full time. On one hand this is of course very worrying, and yet on the other it perhaps proves that despite the money, the security and the structure, these were actually hiding my deep down unhappiness – which perhaps were alway there.

I realise, in fact we both see, that to make a significant step forward we need to, for perhaps the first time in our live, take some risks.  On the outside, to others, it perhaps looks like we have lived a semi adventurous lifestyle. I mean we have been on two round the world trips,  visited some far away exotic locations including an African Safari. And yet, over the past 5 years these trips, amounting to around 20 weeks in total, have been the only time we have taken risks, and indeed the only time we have been really happy.

Don’t get me wrong, we like many folks, have continued to tick over. We have, at times, accepted that this is in fact it. You work. You make a certain amount of money. You spend it. You sleep. You work. And so it continues. The forever hamster wheel of living keeping our minds from actually thinking about the importance of our remaining time on the planet.

We have been talking more seriously over the past few weeks about our future and I firmly believe that happiness should not only happen during the 5% of our lives when we are doing the adventurous, but actually in the other 95% of our daily lives. And for that to happen I believe we need to start taking a few more risks.

Standing over the pan the other day I cracked an egg and proceeded to make an omelette. Don’t get me wrong at times I quite like a hard boiled egg, but at that moment I realised that for me to get anywhere near making an omlette a few eggs had to be broken along the way.  Now I’m no cook (despite the name) and am easily distracted so let’s say the omlette didn’t exactly turn out how I envisaged it, however with a bit of extra mixing, some additional mushrooms tossed in I still had quite a nice scrambled egg and mushroom frittata – and very nice it was too.

Made me realise that breaking eggs along the way was a necessity and despite the change of plans I ended up with a much nicer meal than a simple boiled egg.

So it’s time to break a few eggs and certainly take a few more risks with an eye on the future  we are working towards but also being willing to accept changes along the way and not only adapt to these but to embrace them.

The Most Difficult Thing In My Life Is Me !

181440 minutes, 3024 Hours or 126 days  !!

That’s how long it’s been since I made, what was supposed to be, the biggest and most life changing decision of my life. As I sit here at home, rain trickling down the window outside, dark grey sky overhead, I feel the weather matches my recent mood rather well.

It’s Monday morning, and while others are sitting in their cars, or preparing for their daily commute to join the hamster wheel, I’m having an office day, reflecting on the past week full of Autumnal wonderfulness at Grantchester, Winter Waders at Snettisham, Roaring Stags at Woburn and  Southampton goals at Stamford Bridge. I’m also looking forward to covering my first England game later in the week along with some Water Vole training and, weather depending, a trip down to Richmond park to continue with the Red Deer Rut.

From the outside it may look like I’ve got things sorted. Well, I’ll let you into a little secret.

Inside, I’m slowly falling apart

You see, I don’t feel like I’ve made best use of my time since changing the direction of my life.  I think I always knew that the one major risk to my own direction in life was actually myself. I carry a few demons inside, untold, and they can sometimes take hold and crush even the best of intentions.

It’s been surprising just how quickly the structure of a 9-5 (or my case 7-7) job, when removed, can have a significant effect on your own day to day plans. Even a job you felt you no longer were happy in still gave structure. You see, it’s now 100% up to me to make my own day to day plans and chase after goals. Set myself targets. Challenge myself. Something I feel I’ve been very poor at over the past 4 months.

I’m very good at procrastination; pointing the figure at a multitude of reasons why things are hard and perhaps not going the way I feel they should be. I also talk a very good game in regards to what I should be doing. What I actually need to do is to take my own advice from a  previous post !! Start something. Go after it with grit and determination. Embrace the difficulties. Put my face into the wind. Into the rain.

I have another problem though, and this one has been very difficult to admit to myself, let alone publish here.  I have, however, always wanted this blog to be about my journey, both the good and the bad. The dark times as well as the light.

As my mood has gotten darker, and I’ve struggled with direction, I’ve found myself filling the void a little bit too much with alcohol.  On one hand I wouldn’t say I’ve got an addiction problem, to the extent of craving a beer in the morning, however get Tuesday out of the way and I’m already considering it to be close enough to the weekend to pour myself a glass or two, just to take the edge off you understand?

Last night, as I poured myself a cold glass of beer, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked so sad, face wearing the pain of the demons inside. I took the glass and went to the sink to pour it away. I vowed to start afresh.  But, in the morning, it would be a waste to pour this away, so I instead found myself drinking it. The fourth of the evening. Sleep interrupted followed, pacing the floors at 2am. Tears and anger mixed.

This is not how I want to live  – I’m wasting the opportunity that has been given to me !!!

And you see alcohol has a double negative effect, as not only is it bad for me physically (and mentally) at the time, it also prevents me from being motivated the next day to chase my goals.  Looking back, even before I changed the direction of my life, I knew I had to change my ways – and yet here we are 7 months later still procrastinating.

I don’t have an immediate answer to this. But I know I needed to start somewhere, and I felt publishing my struggles here may be just that starting point. I know my true self is still in there, and I’m thankful that I recognise my situation now, before it’s perhaps too late.

And then I turn to my bucket list and I realise that even in that list there are a number of items which can help me move forward.

It’s time to start. Just 4 months later than I should have !

Thinking About Death

One of the first words typed on this blog had a reference to my death

I’m dying … and it’s been on my mind A LOT these past few months

Now of course as I clarified at the time, and a fact that is still the thankfully the case,  I don’t mean I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness and have been given only a few months to live.  And yet despite this, death has been on my mind quite a bit over the past few months and the more I consider my future the more my demise seems to weigh heavy on my mind.

I sometimes find myself sitting having a coffee, or walking through a busy street and am amazed by how we seem, on the outside at least, to have no fear of death. We spend our time following the crowd. Doing seemingly inane tasks. Almost at times drifting around on autopilot. Death is the last thing on our minds. Now, I also don’t believe we should live our lives constantly in fear of death as this can be counter productive for living a meaningful life.

That said, how often have you spoken openly with friends and family about death? It’s such a taboo subject, however I think if we considered that irrespective of our position in society, our financial status, or even our health (or lack of) we will all die. There is no-one on this planet who can stop this from happening to you. Yes there are ways to prolong life through a healthy lifestyle and various medicines, however even these only prolong, they do not prevent the inevitable.

Take a moment right now to consider your own death.

Imagine going to bed this evening, closing your eyes and never waking up.  The thought that one day you won’t have the opportunity to appreciate simple tasks such as enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee while watching sunrise, or more challenging ones such as climbing a mountain or travelling to far and distant lands. For me that thought is enough to make me more determined to make my time count.

And why has death been on my mind a lot these past few months? Well for me to really appreciate the opportunity of life I think you have to honestly and opening accept that one day your life will be over, forever. It is only when you fully appreciate and truly accept that you won’t be around forever, that you can approach each day with a drive and determination to make your day count, all 86,400 seconds.

I’m still learning and challenging myself to live my true life. Some days are harder than others, and sometimes as I lay my head on my pillow I realise I’ve failed to spend my time wisely during the past day.

Today, not tomorrow, is the perfect time to start making your life count. And by making it count it does not have to be focused on epic adventures. Don’t believe the hype that you need to drop everything and go live on a deserted island in the middle of the pacific with only a coconut for a companion to live adventurously.  Be honest with yourself and what is important in your life. Start today to try and make that happen. Even if you only succeed initially in doing one thing per day which took effort but enriched your life then it’s a step in the right direction.  Be mindful in your life. Accept that life is fragile and each day you have a personal responsibility to make your life count.

Mindfulness – a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. 

 

Getting Shit Done

I sit here, rain bouncing of the roof of the tent, gazing out past the other campers dotted across the site, my eye then wandering lazily over the meandering stone walls enclosing fields filled with hungry sheep chomping at the wet grass. My gaze finally rests on the ridge that sits above the sleepy hamlet of Blackwell (in the Peaks). Well from what I can see of the ridge as the low hanging cloud is shrouding her upper crags, only revealing herself fully when the wind blows in the right direction. Some of my fellow campers are starting to stir, darting across the sodden grass in brightly coloured pyjama bottoms paired with Wellington boots and rain jackets. I even see one brave soul making an early morning brew – underneath a polka dot umbrella of course.

    
Welcome to the Great British Camping experience.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon (it’s now early Monday morning) and I’ve yet to take a single picture (heck I’ve not even taken either camera (Fuji and Holga with me) out of the bag. I can’t blame the weather for that as Saturday was actually quite a pleasant day, having started with high winds and yes, you’ve guessed it, more of that British staple – rain. Some of it horizontal.

I think I can blame something far worse than the weather – I blame myself !

Don’t get me wrong, since leaving my job on 1st June I’ve been reasonably busy (a few sports jobs, a few personal jobs) some running and a bit of cycling. I’ve also been over to Ireland for a week to visit my family, headed down to Devon for a weekend camping and now of course find myself here in the Peak District (again camping). It’s been 40 days since I left and some may say I’ve managed to fill my time rather well. 

I do however continue to battle my own internal demons (which there are a few) one of which can, at times, be the most crippling in terms of getting things done.

I’ve got too many ideas and seriously do not know where to start

Man that has hit me hard over the past few weeks. I have so many ideas floating around in my head that I sometimes find myself siting at home , almost paralysed by fear, at where to start. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very good at making lists. Heck, if the mood takes me I can color code the lines and pages with the best of them. Some lists even make it onto actual paper and stored in a folder. 

Endless list making is simply an excuse for not starting.

As I sat looking out at the peak in front of me I was again going over a list of things I wanted to do while up here; walking, photography, exploring, and the fear of not enough time / too much to do returned. I then realised that at least one thing was quite literally staring me in the face. The peak overlooking the campsite.

And so a quick change of clothes (although I was very tempted to run in my own brightly coloured pjs) and I was out in the elements, huffing and puffing my way up. Puddle avoiding became an impromptu game (which I wasn’t very good at). I imagined myself miles from home on a proper adventure, even though the campsite would remain no more than 3 miles from my position. It felt good. No it felt bloomin great. Not just the act of running, the elements on my face, the fresh air through my nostrils. It felt great as I had decided to start. I could have said, perhaps tomorrow. But here I was, scaring the bejeebies out of those poor hungry sheep who only 15 minutes previously I had watched graze peacefully on the hillside. Now I was amongst them, making my way to the top.

 

And as I sat at the top, drizzly rain leaving my face feeling naturally refreshed, I realised that no amount of list writing would have gotten me up here. No. The only thing to get me up here was to decide to start. Pick one thing and do it.  As I returned to camp and assumed the under umbrella brew making stance I realised I had taught myself a very important lesson. 

It’s better to start one thing and focus on it than plan 10 things that cloud your decision

Starting can sometimes be the hardest part. But now that I’m back down I’ve realised that, actually, the start only lasted a few seconds of what turned out to be a 45 minute romp. And completing that, all before others had even risen from their slumber, has left me with a small feeling of accomplishment which I’m sure I’ll carry throughout the day.

My advice,  if you too find yourself crippled with the fear of too much to do and not enough time?  Pick one thing today that’s been on your mind and start it. Give it the focus it deserves. Start it today. Don’t wait until tomorrow.  And hopefully you too, both during and after, will get a sense of a achievement, which will help you push onto bigger and better things.

Right time for that brew !!

Beauty on Your Doorstep

I think I’ve mentioned before my growing love for Scotland, the Highlands and the especially the Islands. Well I think the reason why is perhaps encapsulated in the video below. Just beautiful, and to think right now this landscape is no more than a few hours from where I write this post.

Hebridean dreams from Mo Thomson on Vimeo.

One day, in the next 18 months, I hope to pitch a tent will pitch a tent on one of those wild landscapes shown in the video. To run the trails surrounded by craggy mountains on either side. To swim in the ocean. To photograph wild horses running on deserted beaches. To breath in the Atlantic air.

Still one of my favourite runs to date was the time Alistair and I thought it would be a good idea to run around the Isle of Arran. Turned out it was not only the hottest weekend of the year, but Arran was actually the hottest place in the country. Every time I watch this video a huge smile beams across my face.

Campervan Fun on Mull

Campervan Fun on Mull

Beauty really is on everyone’s doorstep if they just take the time to look and explore.

Looking into the future – can be scary !

I’ve been adding a few new items to the Bucket List over the past week, and I have to admit it felt a little scary putting ‘to be completed by‘ dates far into the future.

Long Time

Long Time

The above is taken from my Run a marathon on each Continent in the world, which I’ve said I’d like to complete by 1st Jan 2022. I’ll be coming 47 at that point and just under 3/4 of the way through my 40s.

An even scarier thought than doing the run or coming 47? Will I still even be here?

And then the fear really kicks in. Not about being up for the challenge or coming 50, rather will I actually still be here to attempt some of these challenges,  especially if I think back at how quickly time as flown by. I can still remember certain points in my life quite vividly, New Years Eve 1999 is a very good example as it marked a major date in a number of people’s lives. And yet, in what seems like a blink of an eye, 15 years has passed.

The long unknown path ahead in life can be scary

The long unknown path ahead in life can be scary

In 15 years time I’ll be coming 56  – that’s like Grandpa old, right?

It is one of the reasons I’ve decided to take control of my life right now. The past 40 years are pretty much gone and if I do mange to squeeze another 40 years out of the ride I want to make them memorable. I want to hold things close which matter and let those things, which don’t bring value, go. We don’t know how long we have left and even those goals which I hope to have completed by the end of this year may not come to pass for any number of health reasons, or even death.

I sometimes catch myself, over a morning coffee, looking out into the world, watching people go about their daily lives. I have found myself, at times, wanting to scream at the top of my voice at everyone for seemingly forgetting about the fact that one day they won’t be here. It’s probably a good thing that our brain seems to be wired to allow us to forget about the inevitable, and while that allows us to maintain some level of normality, if we are not careful we can be consumed by daily life. We can get so caught up in the daily grind that we forget the privilege we have been given through our very lives.

I, for one, want to try and make the most of that privilege in everything I do, even right down to the simplest of things. I’ve no doubt that the future, as I focus on it, will continue to be a scary place, which is why I’m looking forward to trying to fill it with as many experiences as possible in whatever time I have left.