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The great rumble and lurch as I hurtle along the concrete path, a sudden lift in the pitch black. The lights become smaller, we bump through the blanket and poooof!

Out we pop above the beautiful marshmallow mattress of cloud-cover. Rolling out into the distance like a soft winter blanket. The purest while, rippled and dappled with the blue of the dawn.

A bright orange speck on the horizon splits through distant cover and streaks a sunbeam across my vision. The colour, the deepest brightest blood orange. A tint only possible made by something Greater.

The sweetest, rawest sunrise over T5, en route to Copenhagen, 7am in October.

The infinite bobble blanket so beautiful, my heart swells. Another small adjustment, a gentle tug forward, and we rise another few thousand feet, the blanket drops away.

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I woke up and it was still dark. Jet lag making me an early bird. Had an early breakfast of bacon, grits and fruit whilst the light came up. Then I took a walk around the French Quarter.

The heat was starting to build already, the air thick and humid, that humidity I love, a warm cloak, scented with flora but good old New Orleans, a few more steps and the acrid tinge of beer kicks in, passing a 24 hour bar, that zoo smell filling my nostrils.

I love New Orleans, I really do. For me it’s one of the most interesting cities I’ve been to. Shut your eyes and you feel like you are in South East Asia, the feeling of that heavy air on your skin, the intense sun baking your arms, the sounds of birds, the smells; sweet nature mixed with sour human. I know I’m on a swamp. It’s swampy. And I love that. But when you open your eyes your senses are assaulted. Neon, chinz, gothic railings, beaten wooden shutters, pastel houses, lush green creepers spilling over those balconies… half filled beer cups on street corners, left over from last nights’ frivolities (and EVERY night here has frivolities).

Each shop window (closed this early in the morning) is a window onto another world, colourful, sparkling curiosities peeking out from behind the glass. Galleries stacked with beautiful paintings sit alongside voodoo lounges, shimp dinners and ladies’ boutiques. It’s a smorgasboard.

So on my walk today I started taking photos with my phone. There were a lot of tourists (mostly American) taking photos with huge cameras and tripods and all sorts. But I suddenly realised I was too busy clicking… I wasn’t seeing, really enjoying the moment, so I put my phone in my back pocket and took time on my amble.

Then it popped into my head how wonderful it would be if my mum was with me now. She would love this place, this morning walk around this crazy magical town as it was just walking up. We’d amble together along the narrow streets, gazing at the beautiful old decaying buildings, each with their own story. Admiring the way the swamp still remains here, vivid green plants crawling up the walls, over the balconies, heavy dew in the air.

We’d look in those ornate windows with their eccentric displays, at multi-coloured jewels glinting in the morning sun, at the oddities in the voodoo shops, dolls and alligator claws and pots of potions. We’d hear the “clip clip clop” of an approaching horse, a man rides his horse and carriage by, he tips his hat, we’re transported back in time… I point at the gas lights, still burning on many of the corners.

We’d walk past the bright white cathedral by Jackson’s Square, blinded by the glare from the blazing sun that is already so hot. Looking down the line of fortune tellers, palm readers and tarot card mystiques lined up in front of the cathedral, we’d contemplate a reading… but instead we’d then decide to duck inside the cool Beginet Café to get our morning coffee and sugar dusted beignet instead and take a break from the kookiness of it all.

I really enjoy travelling solo, it allows spontaneity and it’s easy to be present when you are just with yourself and your thoughts. I do it more these days as work takes me to different places and I’m thankful for the opportunity. But I am starting to see more and more the joy of sharing places and experiences with those you love. One day mum, I would love to bring you to the French Quarter of New Orleans. If only for a morning walk and a beignet.

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Once more I make the early morning roll down the hill to the Heathrow bus stop. It’s early. I know this because it’s dark, the sky screams night time, and the only other soul I see is a man doing the Fresher fandango; a weaving walk towards amd past me, on and up the hill. He had a good night…
I’m off to Madrid today, the glittering world of publishing and my recent jump into a new, “big” job (hence the lack of blog posts this month) is taking me to Europe’s largest oncology conference, to meet, mix and mingle with people who are trying to save the world from cancer. That’s pretty incredible.
On my roll down the hill I had my usual and slightly bizarre outpouring of mind chatter. The monkey mind is a morning person, it seems, questioning this lifestyle, this work, kissing goodbye to my husband to leave for another 4 day stretch, to conference centres and hotel rooms and powerpoints and high heels… The reason for this? A very interesting session last night at The New Year’s Resolution Club on Authenticity.
How much of life is driven by what you want and what you believe in? How many of you decisions do you run through a value-checker first, ensuring they are aligned with your personal value and beliefs? And how much is a conveyor belt, designed and built by someone else, you’re just on for the ride? Sometimes it’s hard to say.
This morning, on that trundle, I checked in. I travel, which I love, I work for a company doing good in the world, helping people to search for the cure for cancer (amongst other things!), I am amongst intelligent, creative people who believe in a common good, and I get paid to do it so I can live in an amazing city with my wonderful husband. OK, my grass IS green, vibrant, in fact.
My job is now to ensure I bring myself 100% with authenticity to the party. I don’t need to fill shoes of people who have gone before me. I don’t need to be the glossy career girl in the magazine pages. I need to be me, right here, right now.
Last night I packed, in my tiny case, amongst the high heels and tangled up with the laptop cable, my hair straighteners. I thought I’d need to make a “good impression” in the board meeting tomorrow by ironing flat my curls, to fit in and be professional. In a small act of tingling defiance this morning I whipped them out of my case and put them back in my drawer. Authenticity starts right now, the straightners stay at home!

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So, Melbourne, you’ve been my Aussie home from home for the last week, and it’s been a blast. You surprised me with your feet friendly streets, luring me out after long hours of work to pace the grid exploring laneways and galleries, finding art on every corner, festivals and music in the sunshine along the Yara river, hanging with the hippies and backpackers in St Kilda, riding the trams with the commuters and the tourists.
Your weather was baffling, searing heat one moment, chilling winds the next, each morning sliding open my balcony doors to meet the sunrise not knowing if I’d meet the muggy blanket of a humid morning or the icy blast of a southerly wind.
Some stolen moments to remember include my morning walk to Brunswick Street, a carnival of alternative shops and cafes, my first trip to Fed Square and falling into the middle of a very lively Latin American festival with a Mexican band, sitting on the board walk at St Kilda on a Saturday afternoon, watching the hunks and posers strut their stuff, the relentless firecracker celebrations of Chinese New Year, and my final day in Melbourne, after a long day at work, escaping to Brighton Beach for a lie down on the sand, infront of the technicolor huts, watching the sunset. Bliss.

I left the city at 6am this morning, heading out along the Great Ocean Road, off on another adventure. Leaving a balmy Melbourne in the rear view mirror, our time together was fleeting, but I can genuinely say I felt very ‘at home’ in my Aussie home from home!

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Twenty four hours from now I’ll be in a taxi on the way back to the airport. I’ll be heading home, back to the UK, after a fabulous nine days in Thailand, Phuket. This trip was a work trip, I was attending an annual sales conference for our Asia sales reps, and presenting to them throughout. I was lucky enough to sneak in a few days before and after, on the weekends, and I rekindled my deep love for this wonderful country.

And now I only have one day left.

As the clock ticks down to that final taxi ride, my mind races with all the possibilities of what I could do in my final day. A full day tour to a national park with a starlight canoe tour? An elephant safari and monkey show (!)? A taxi ride to the biggest “Wat” (temple) on the island, a spiritual top up, followed by another incredible massage? Or just relaxing, lounging on the sunbeds by the pool, reading and getting some proper down time?

Choices choices.

The first few days on the island were a whirlwind of activity – we stayed at the tranquil and beautiful Baan Vanida Garden resort and took in the beautiful beaches on the west coast, from Karon to Kata, the powder white arcs of sand, the glittering sea, as warm as a bath. Zipping between bays in a tuk tuk, the devil may care feel of driving with the wind blowing your hair. Up to see the Big Budda, winding the wirggling roads through a more rural thailand, through rubber plantations and passing elephants on the road. Getting amazing 360 views of Phuket as the sun was setting and turning the landscape a dusky pink.

And a night out in Patong. It had to be done.

Then we transfered to the oasis we’re in now – Radisson Blu Panwa Beach resort, on Cape Panwa, a little stump on the end of the island. This hotel is stunning, the reception/bar area has the widest views of the sea, and the beautiful infinity pools below stretch out to meet the sea. Water water everywhere.

After spending 4 days in a conference room, we finally spilled out into the sunshine yesterday afternoon, and today was all about getting back into Thailand. A massage, a longtail to Coral Island. Snorkelling, spotting puffa fish and electric blue starfish, and the most delicious prawn green curry on plastic tables overlooking the beach.

The air is thick with humidity, heady with the scent of frangipani. The food is delicious, bursting with incredible fresh flavours. The people are absolutely and most definitely the nicest people in the world.

I want to stay here. I want to cancel my taxi and wander Thailand for another month. I want more. I want my muscles to become loose from the massages, my skin to be smooth from the oils and exfoliation of the sand. I want to become fit with all the swimming and healthy from all the fresh food (no diary, no carbs!). And I want to redistribute my wrinkles – enough of the lines between my eyebrows from frowning at computer screens, I want to move them to the corners of my mouth, from all the smiles and small bows of gratitude that happen a hundred times a day here (Krup ku kah…).

But I only have one day.

I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow. I’m going to start with a good sleep and take it from there. But I’m not going to put pressure on myself to do everything. I just want to “be” here. My love affair with this country continues, and I will be back for more. I just know it.

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Sunset at the Big Buddha

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Khai Nai Island

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Fish feet!

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The sweetest smelling flowers in the world

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Grilled fish and green curry

Karon Beach

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Coral Island

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On a tuk-tuk ride

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Just had an insanely busy work trip to New York. An emotional, challenging, inspiring and full week of strategy meetings and presentations as we look forward to a year ahead in increasingly difficult market conditions. We created visions, brainstormed, creative problem-solved, … all sorts.
One of the key things that came out of the sessions was a constant need, in the face of change (which these days is so normal within organisational structures and working practises), to be able to work smarter and make informed decisions more quickly and easily. It’s an area that I’m learning about all the time with various training programmes, books to read on leadership and change. An area that I need to master as potentially more complex issues land on my plate than ever.
And so it came to the end of my work week in NY and my ‘day off’ in the Big Apple. I went over to the chocolate box area of Williamsburg to have brunch and a good old chin wag with a great friend and colleague of mine (who is also facing the same challenges over the year ahead).
We poured out our learnings and observations of our past week over bottomless coffee in mismatching crockery and eggs an toast, and intermingled “work stuff” with our usual chatter of hopes and fears, reflections on past losses, and dreams for the future. She had undergone some major life changes down to personal circumstances in the past year and one of the things we had talked of previously, she had acted on.
She had got a brand new (and first) tattoo.
We’ve both discussed this previously, coming from an initial place of getting memorial tattoos for lost loved ones and then moving into something deeper for us both, and she has gone right ahead and got one. And it looks beautiful.
It was a bold move, it’s big, it was painful, and my friend had a few concerns that she needed to work through ahead of getting it. Including the question “but what will it look I’ve when I’m an old lady?”
Luckily she asked the right person, her mum, who responded with the exceptionally wise words “you’ll look like an old lady… with a tattoo”.
And herein lies the most important and simplest life lesson that we took from last week. Don’t over complicate the issue with crippling analysis and worry, what if? What if? What will I look like if? What will happen if? What will they think if? It will be as it will be, simple. What will I look like at 90 with a tattoo. I’ll look like a 90 year old and I’ll have a tattoo. That’s it. Nothing more. Deal with it and get on with it.
It was kind of profound.
We then went to the water for me to catch the ferry back to Manhattan and I took a photo of my beautiful friend and her amazing tattoo that holds important memories, meaning and values, and will still be there in 60 years. And that’s it.
And I’m going to look at this photo throughout my year and remember to make clear headed decisions when I need to, and to avoid analysis paralysis to just get on with it.
And I’m one step closer to getting my own tattoo…
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Today was going to be an unremarkable day. It’s Tuesday, cold out, grey skies, lots on at work. My team were out in the morning and they came back in around lunch, each carrying a little green book that they’d been given as part of the course they’d all attended this morning. There was an energy about them that made me curious and excited as I powered down my computer and wrapped up warm to head out to attend the same course, but this being the afternoon session, the one for managers.

How to Change Absolutely EverythingThis “course” was actually named the “Change Cafe” and it was all about Leading Change within our organisation. Run by Damian Hughes, who is Professor of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour at Manchester Met, we spend just under 3 hours being entertained, challenged, and reflecting on our approaches and attitudes to change.

This was one of the best courses I’ve been on in a while, and I’ve been on quite a few recently. In fact I feel that I’m starting to get course-fatigue (in the same way that you get temple-fatigue when travelling in SE Asia…), but this one was different. Damian spent a lot of time “presenting” but it was in a really informal way, almost like you were watching a one man show. But we did participate, being allowed to scribble with felt tipped pens and permanent markers all over a paper table cloth, contemplating ideas, working in pairs, responding to questions, but never having the pressure of “sharing” with the group.

Just a few minutes into Damien’s presentation, the topic of Left Brain, Right Brain came to the fore (and stayed there throughout the whole session).

This is the second time in as many weeks that I’ve been enchanted by the topic of Left Brain Right Brain. I’ve read about it several times in the past, but I think right now, at this point in my life (and work), it’s really resonating.

Around this time last week, a link found its way to me on email (and I do believe that things find their way) to an incredible lady, Jill Bolte Taylor, presenting yet another fabulous TED talk. This made me nearly cry at work. Her talk provides an extremely personal, moving and special account of her stroke and a unique insight and explanation of the functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

I was completely bowled over my Jill’s talk and felt like giving her my own standing ovation from my desk in my office, I was SO moved. What an incredible speaker, story-teller, inspiration and human being. In addition to the sheer awe I felt on listening to her I started to recognise my own right brain (and left brain, but that’s easy!) behaviours. I have experienced complete euphoria and love of life before, in fact many times. For no real reason. I’ve always thought of it as almost anti-depression. It’s so strange but amazing, and I know I’m extremely lucky to be able to tap into this. It’s my right brain knocking.

I also know that I actively balance my life with dancing and drumming and hula hooping and dressing up. Childish things, perhaps, but actually they’re right-brained activities and they bring harmony and happiness into my world.

It’s all starting to make sense.

A pink lotus flower and lily pads with saturated colorSo back to the course, as time progressed, our table cloth was getting full of doodles, we were energetically chatting to our table-mates about what our Perfect Day looked like at work, what successes our teams would be having. Thinking about the good things, asking the right questions. I could literally feel my mind opening up like a lotus flower on a lilly pad. My left brain was quieting and my right brain was yawning, stretching and waking up.

And it felt fantastic.

I think there’s a small window when you’re taking part in activities like these, you have this space when you are engaged, inspired, and want to take action. In fact Damien himself said that only 20% of us would act on the things we learnt on our course today. As the course came to and end, I packed my post it notes into my little green book, put it in my handbag and walked out of the college where the event was held.

Turn left to go back to work, turn right to walk into town.

I turned right. I wasn’t ready to go back to the meetings, overflowing inbox, left-brained world. I needed some time to “compost” those thoughts. More than that I wanted to sit in my feelings for a while. I was high on the possibilities for me, my team, for others in my life.

post it notesDamien warned us of three things that will try to stop us taking action – being too busy – being too comfortable – procrastinating. He asked that we just do one small thing, if nothing else, when leaving at the end of today.

I intend to read his book (it will be on my bedside table with the other 4 books I’m reading at the moment). I intend to focus on the items I subconsciously scrawled on my post-it notes, presuming that they must be important for me to write them down on the post-it, to keep, rather than the table cloth, to leave. But most importantly I will exercise my right brain. I will continue to feed it with creative pursuits, I will try and listen to it in challenging situations of change, for it could well offer all the answers, experience and hope that I ever need.

Turns out Tuesday was pretty remarkable after all…

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