The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

The blog that's full of discussion, advice, travel and ramblings!

Category: Experiences

A dedication to the mentors

A sign in my kitchen states ‘Behind every successful person lies a substantial amount of coffee’ while I agree that may well be the case, it is missing a sentence. That sentence should be “and a series of mentors who have inspired, developed and took a chance on that person”.

In my latest new series of dedication blogs, the first of which is dedicated to these five amazing individuals: My dedication to the inner circle! this one is dedicated to many people who, in a professional context have either inspired, developed or taken a chance on me as mentors. Despite being full of over-self confidence, I’m fully aware that my successes are not down to me alone. Hard work, a massive slice of luck and a number of dedicated mentors, have made me who I am today. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the guidance or the backing of a number of good mentors over the years. Too many, sadly to put in this blog. I’ve had mentors from football coaches as a kid to my recent supervisory team, all of whom have played an equally important part in my development. For example, my last supervisory team have had a considerable hand in my PhD success, but they know that and I’ve written about them in my PhD blogs. But, just like the first dedication blog I thought I’d pick this time, six people who I’d like to say thanks to, who I don’t often write about.

When you think of a typical mentor, you probably think of usually someone who is older, wiser and ultimately someone who you respect. Mentors can inspire you to be better, they can demand and push you to be better and ultimately, every mentor sees something in you that you fail to see in yourself. Mentors you don’t have to get along with or even like necessarily (but it does help), but you respect them. The mentors in this blog some I got on really well with and ultimately had a great working relationship with, some even became friends. Some, I had no formal working relationship with, and some I absolutely hated!

Inspiration 

A good mentor will often unlock hidden potential, or part of yourself that you didn’t know existed before. They’ll ignite a fire and a drive in you because they’ve been so inspirational, either in their demeanour or in whatever it is they do. For this, I often think of two teachers that I had in High School who inspired two significant parts of my identity, Geography and Writing.

Ask any Geographer and long after their degrees they’ll still strongly identify themselves as a proud geographer. Regardless of age, fierce debate and banter between the fractions of Geographers will always be had, and god help it if you proclaim a Human Geographer as a Physical one! Or vice a Versa. I’ve always had a passion for Geography as a subject, and it’s not solely down to my Geography Teacher Mr Naughton. My love for the subject started way earlier when, as a small child, I discovered this vast, imposing dusty Atlas in our attic. I can still smell that book now as I turned its pages, it was old, so ancient! But I remember flicking through the pictures of all the different countries, reading about the vastly different landscapes and it’s people. I was hooked. The sense of adventure, a world was waiting for me to explore. Of course, this was in the days of pre-internet, a dusty Atlas and Encarta 95 was all my child mind had in my pursuit of epic travels and adventure.

Mr Naughton, however, brought the subject to life. No longer was it on the pages of a dusty Atlas and a fanciful overactive imagination of my child self, it was now real. I’ve never met a teacher who was so enthusiastic about the subject, the proudest of Geographers. Mr Naughton really fostered that passion for the subject, little did I know that I’d go on to do it at GCSE, A-Level, Degree Level, Masters Level and then finally, PhD level! My long journey as a proud geographer started with the inspirational Mr Naughton.

So while I’m a proud geographer and always will be, I’m also a passionate writer. I write blogs and novels for fun, and that comes down Mrs Bygroves. Mrs Bygroves was a strict teacher, the scousest of scouse accents, hard but fair. As I explained in my blog about why I write: Why do I write blogs? It’s a window to the emotional me! It was her who pulled me to one side after my English GCSE coursework and told me I had a gift for the written word and that I should write novels and stories for others to enjoy. So I did. I wrote my first novel and published my second on Amazon. I had discovered a critical skill that I never knew I really had, a passion for conveying stories and emotions, something that is now a massive part of my identity is all down to Mrs Bygroves and her seeing something in me, that I didn’t know myself.

Push you to your limits

So while mentors should be inspirational and make you see something in yourself, they can often go about it in different ways. Some will nurture and foster it in a friendly manner to get you to be the best you can be. Others will be harsh, demanding, thankless and at times make you hate them with every fibre of your being. At the time you wonder why they’re picking on you, why are they so harsh on you compared to everyone else and why do you not get the praise that everyone else does. Then you realise when you do reach the top of your game that they did that to push you. They saw your maximum potential and that you were way below their standards and the only way to get you to push past what you thought was your limit was to be cruel to be kind.

I’ve had two mentors like that in my life, my old commanding officer in the Air Training Corps and my former Personal Academic Tutor who became my boss as an RA. Two older men who’s stature and stance oozed authority and wisdom. Two men who have pushed me further mentally than anyone has before and probably ever will. Two people for some unknown reason I desperately wanted to impress, to prove myself to and to be acknowledged. But this mentor taught me the very definition of pushing the limits.

It may come as a shock to some of you to know that I wasn’t always the over self-confident, outspoken person I am today. In fact, many years ago, I lacked a lot of confidence in myself and around others. That all changed with one man. As one of my COs, he was always on my back throughout training and day to day life. Throwing me into the deep end with things, leading tasks, getting my voice heard. ATC rarely gave out compliments to any of us, I guess that’s the RAFs way of making you want to be better. When it did come, it was often short and curtailed (tradition of stiff British upper lip I suspect) but rarely was it ever directed in my direction. Which conflicted me. I keep getting asked to do these new tasks for which I seemed to be good at, but there was no confirmation or praise from those above. That irritated me in a way that made my already stubborn self, even more determined to succeed.

A turning point in my self-confidence comes to mind as clear as day. We were on deployment for a week on an SAS training camp in the depths of Shropshire on a bitterly cold and snowy February. We’d spent all day and night evading the infamous Landy force across the vast rolling hills and outbuildings of the training ranges. I’d been put in charge of navigation, faces covered in camo paint, boots covered in slush and mud and near hypothermic, we achieved our objective. Rescued the downed pilot and got back to base without being captured. My first real sense of achievement by putting myself out there in a position of leadership. By the time we arrived back at the barracks in the early hours, we barely got any sleep before being rudely awoken by a room inspection. I’d been chosen by him to be in command of our small dorm in a barracks. Again, I felt woefully underqualified. He comes in, nods to others a job well done, looks at my boots which to me were spotless “Dirt on them, Cliffe. Do them again! Press-ups outside, now”. “Yes, Sir!” I replied through gritted teeth. He hated me, I thought!

A few hours later, we were kitted up to go on the range. By this time the snow had started again, an icy wind ripped through the standard-issue kit with such ease I might as well have been naked for all the warmth it offered. After dissembling and cleaning the L98 and SA80 rifles in record time (still no recognition for that) as a troop, we headed out into the freezing snow on the range. To this day, it is still one of my most epic and coolest memories, the sound of gunfire, the snow falling, a Lynx army helicopter hovering off to one side, the recoil of the weapon in your shoulder. So.Much.Awesomeness!

While firing down the range, my fingers turning to frostbite (You’ve never felt anything colder than a trigger on a rifle in the snow!) in my peripheral vision I could see hands raised to the left and right of me, muffled shouts of “Jam!” and the range officer coming over to each individual. I was an awful shot, a sniper or expert marksmen I most certainly was not but I kept firing, with each shot pulling the bolt back and watching as the expended shell casing flicked and spun in the air. Load, breathe, hold breath, squeeze the trigger, recoil, bolt. Repeat, until that click on the rifle meant all my rounds in the rifle had been expended into the target a few hundred yards away. I raise my hand and raise my rifle over my shoulder to show the range officer that my rifle was empty. “Jam?… Oh, all done? Report to the CO” and with a slap on my back I exited the range, still noticing various hands raising and the range officer moving in to unjam the guns. The rest of the squad still laying prone into the snow.

Then there he was, immaculately dressed, a warm thermos in his hand steeming in the cold weather, as I present my rifle to him through chattering teeth, god I had never been so cold!

“Sir. All rounds fired, no Jam. Sir”

He gave a raised smile, which was so rare that I didn’t know if I had indeed become delirious with hypothermia, and in the most typical British Officers voice exclaims “Only one not to Jam your weapon, Cliffe. I expected absolutely nothing less from you. You’d have been the only one not to be killed. Congratulations. Dismissed”.

To me, that was the biggest compliment I had ever been given by him! That night we received word that some of us where being selected to head down south to RAF Lyneham to fly in a C130 Hercules. An unbelievable opportunity! He read the names off of the 10 lucky few, I was number 10! The next day I remember looking out of the back of the C130 as we raced over the Bristol Channel at 1000 feet. Over the rush of adrenaline, air and incredible noise of the four engines he says “Cliffe! This is what happens when you believe in your abilities. I pushed you so hard so that you’d become that. You’ve pushed yourself and others this trip to be better, I’m proud of you. Enjoy this! I’m putting you forward for the NCO course” and with a salute and a handshake it finally all made sense. I had a perceived physical and mental limit, but his was way beyond that, and I needed that tough love to reach it. It was the first time I backed myself and truly knew my capabilities. From then on he was still as hard as ever but was more forthcoming with the odd compliment, I flew with him often, practising flying over the North West of England, always demanding but boy did I learn a hell of a lot from him! I owe a lot to my years to him and to the RAF ATC in general. It taught me mental strength, leadership, the ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of others, teamwork and plus the fantastic days flying aircraft and shooting weapons. Closest I ever got to be being a badass! They were the best of days!

Take a chance

So some mentors inspire you and some push you whereas others they toss their chips into the ring and take a gamble on you. This is a dedication to the mentors who placed their faith in you by taking some sort of risk and hoping it would pay off.

The epitome of that was my Maths teacher, Mr Coggin. He made a decision, a gamble, that ultimately had such a significant influence on my academic career. Coggin was a bit weird, a proper eco nut, way before it was socially acceptable or hipster to care about the environment. He was strange but really cared for his students, he had an engaging teaching style, but ultimately, maths was life to him. Maths, well we’ve never really got on, that and spelling are often my Achilles heel. Give me time and a pen and paper, and I’m okay, mental maths? Nope. No chance! As we got closer to year 9 SATs exams things were not going too well in maths. For those of you who don’t know, SATs were a form of exams taken in year 9 which based on your performance you got put into sets, 1 being the top, 5 being the bottom. Only sets 1 and 2 would be entered into the higher GCSE papers where you could get from A* to fail, whereas sets 3 to 5 would be entered into the intermediate and lower papers where the top grade you could achieve was a C. Therefore, in principle, easier exam but no higher than a C regardless if you aced it.

Each teacher in English, Maths and Science had to make a decision on sets before the SATs exam. I was struggling in maths and not for my lack of trying either. I knew how essential maths was as a subject. At this point, I still had dreams of being an Air Traffic Controller, I wanted to do science at GCSE and A-Level. While a C in GCSE maths is fine, I didn’t want to be a C student, I wanted to be more than that. I knew I needed a good SAT score to get into a top set, so that I could take the higher papers and get the As and Bs I wanted for A level and therefore get into University. I remember him breaking the news to me that he was considering dropping me down a set so that I’d find it more accessible, it wouldn’t look too good to have a Set 2 student do poorly. Yet, he knows I’m putting the effort in, that I wanted to be in a top set and just needed some more guidance. So, he said he was holding off on the decision, he’d give me a few weeks to improve despite the pressure from above to drop me a set. He gave me extra work, would always ask me to answer stuff in class, and I worked the hardest I ever had. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, but above all, I wanted to repay him and him putting his neck out on the line for me.

SATs came around, and I got straight 7-7-7. Top marks. I did it! I’d just got my results as I walked down the corridor and I bumped into him and told him the news. “Knew you could do it!” with a beaming smile. What a gamble! If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gone on to do the higher papers in Maths and Science at GCSE and ultimately would never have taken my science A levels. While I still always struggled with Maths, I was happy to be a B student in it. Technically, you needed an A in maths to do the A levels in Quantum Mechanics and Astrophysics, but somehow I was let on with my B. I strongly suspect Coggin had a hand to play in that. I still always love and feel super nerdy that I have A levels in Quantum Mechanics and Astro Physics! That and Biology and Geography. All not possible without that gamble by him!

 

Look out for you

Mentors can often be one of those things above or all of them at once. Often what combines all mentors is a sense of looking out for you as a person and having your best interests at heart. Sure, they come at it from different angles based on their experiences and their personalities, but ultimately they want what’s best for you. Luckily, I think all of my many mentors have had that element about them, certainly my academic mentors from the entire GID staff to my former supervisors at LJMU, they’ve been nothing but supportive. Two mentors, however, stand out to me as being all those things discussed so far, inspirational, dedicated, driven, trust in you but finally, looking out for you. Dr Ruth Healey and Dr Katharine Welsh have been two of my biggest academic mentors for 9 years. I’ve gone from being a student of them both, to them both being my boss at various times, to colleagues, office buddies and then friends.

Ruth and Katharine have been incredibly supportive from day one as a student. As a boss, they were keen to develop me as best they could but in such a way that I was always looked after. A real rare commodity in this day and age when bosses actually care for their employees! Both of them had always looked out for me, especially when I moved away from Chester to do my PhD, they were still keeping in touch, being a soundboard for advice and always thinking of me when opportunities arose. Be that to present my work, do a research project here and there, work as an editor for a major journal or even job applications. I’ve been super fortunate to have many mentors like that, but the two of them have become to me, at least, the epitome of a perfect example of what a mentor should be. Whenever I mentor someone, be that students, fellow colleagues of friends, I take a leaf out of their style of mentorship. They have a bit of each and every one of those mentors discussed so far, but they put their own flair and spin on it.

My academic career thus far would have looked so very different if I wasn’t backed, supported, gambled on, guided and encouraged by those two.

Ultimately, a mentor should part wisdom, encourage, and after spending time with them, you become a better person. They and all of my mentors I owe for that! So, thank you, thank you for making me who I am, thank you for gambling on me, backing me, pushing me and seeing things in me that I didn’t see. Without you, I wouldn’t be me.

Thank you!

 

 

My 2019 so far: January to July

A blog I tend to do every year is an end of year blog and a mid-year blog where I look back through my Instagram and reminisce about the highs, the lows and some of my favourite shots of the year so far. As we head into August and get closer to the darker nights, the crisp cool air and the twinkling of frost on the ground, I thought it would be an excellent time to review 2019 thus far!

January

Sadly, 2019 didn’t get off to the best of starts. The second half of 2018 was slowly sliding into a pile of crap compared to the first half, it accumulated in one of the worst Christmases in living memory, and I had high hopes that 2019 would be a fresh, new, positive start. A reset. Well, that didn’t go to plan. My beautiful feline best friend Tammy sadly passed away after being my cat of over 21 years. I was absolutely heartbroken. She had gone rapidly downhill in December and only saw the first week of 2019 before moving on to a better life. I still miss her terribly. Tam was my cat, she hated everyone else but me! She’d greet me at the door, she’d sleep on the pillow next to me every night, and I dearly miss having my furry little hot waterbottle to fall asleep to every night. You were a massive part of this family and me for 21 years, a beautiful little thing.

While the passing of Tam was a tough one to take, at least the PhD was on track. With the deadline of June looming, I had worked hard over Christmas, and on the 11th of January after so much hard work, I finally had something tangible, a first completed draft of my thesis. This was a huge mental milestone in the PhD life, the first glimmer of hope that I might actually finish this mammoth piece of work. While I knew I had months of editing and rewriting to come, to finally have all those bits of work into one document is the official beginning of the end.

On a freezing January day, a nice change of pace and excitement from PhD life when I arrived at Altcar military training base to view some special forces Chinooks and other assets as they departed after a special forces exercise in the area. Huge shout out to Altcar for allowing me on base to photograph these awesome machines and crews!

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Wokkah!!!

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While I hate winter, I do love the crisp, clear nights for stargazing. This January we had some exceptional clear skies and a few ISS passes I managed to catch on camera!

 

February

Feb was a quiet month as I worked away on my PhD edits. The only notable things were spending some downtime outdoors in new landscapes and photographing such exceptional star-studded skies!

I spruced up some personal home décor with a lovely addition to the bedroom!

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New plant for the bedroom!

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Love my Bonsai!

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In Feb, I discovered a hidden gem of a nature reserve that was only a five-minute drive from my house. A super place for photography, wildlife (particular bird watching), with rivers, woods and wetlands to explore.

March:

March, well everything got a bit real. The end was finally in sight! My thesis was printed, bound and ready to hand in for submission.

My few words on International Women’s Day. It’s 2019, and you still get taxed on essential lady things, absolute fucking disgrace IMHO! A huge shout out as always to all my awesome, amazing, beautiful, dedicated female friends!

When life just likes to troll you. I was so close to getting 10k a month but was one ball away each time. Absolutely livid and I still am to this day!

March got a lot brighter when my yearly meet up with Han and Dan, or should i say Mr & Mrs Watson, came about!

It was also my first ever Escape room! Han and Dan being veteran escapees we absolutely smashed not one but two escape rooms! They are my new favourite thing, they’re so fun, and I think we absolutely nailed our teamwork!

It was all well and good surviving an escape room, but I’ve not known fear like getting the viva date confirmed. D-Day now had a date, a very very near date! The day every PhD student dreads the final battle, the 3 hours where you either fail or succeed. The battle of the Viva loomed.

To take the fear of the viva away, I was still spending my downtime out in the countryside photographing nature at it’s best. This is one of my favourite pictures taken this year, I love the road leading you down to the lake and the gloomy storm approaching in the background. I felt as the viva loomed that I was walking that path towards the impending storm!

Best mothers day card, ever.

April:

Mark, my awesome cousin from Canada, popped in for his first visit to the UK and Liverpool after a European business trip! So great to spend the day with him showing him around this beautiful city and keeping those close family ties across the pond. Just a shame Liverpool decided to give him a welcome of torrential rain and wind! Hope to see you again Mark and thanks once again for taking the time to come visit!

My favourite shot of the year!

However, all things must come to an end, and I had my final day pre-viva in the office, a building that had been such a huge part of my life for the past 2 and a bit years.

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A lovely last day in the office today before my viva next week. Time to leave the comfort of H105 and have one final epic battle. V-Day fast approaches! Just under 3 years worth of hard work, 250,000 words, stress, imposter syndrome and over coming numerous failures and an unhealthy amount of coffee all comes down to a 3 hour viva where i have to defend every word and every decision made in those years to a panel of experts. PhD or no PhD all rests on that. The PhD has been the most intellectually and emotionally challenging thing i have ever done, it's been one epic journey that's made me grow as a person more than i ever have. I've made friends for life who without them life and the PhD would have been so much worse! I've been fortunate to travel to new countries and new cities and I've ticked off my life long goal of getting a CAA approved pilots licence ( i know it's no PPL!). PhDs are not about how clever you are, they're about how resilient you are and how stubborn you are to not give up when you're in a research world where it keeps knocking you down and you have to keep getting back up. A journey i hope next week i can end on a high otherwise it's been for absolutly nothing 🤣1st of September 2016 i started this journey to get the highest academic award possible. I set myself the stupid personal goal of finishing my PhD under 3 years and before my 27th birthday because no one sets more unattainable goals than my stupid brain. Now I'm days away from it all coming together. I want to do but i also don't because the viva if it goes well is the end. The end of the PhD, the end of my long life as a student. An end to an identity I've had for so long and is a part of me, i always want to learn and achieve more. It's also most likely the end of me in academia as I've made the decision that I'm unlikely to pursue a career in it. Forget the avengers, this is my end game! No pressure. In the words of Leeroy Jenkins, "Alright. Lets do this!" . . #PhDchat

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The battle of the viva was brutal, difficult, challenging, but ultimately rewarding! After just over two and a half years after starting the PhD, I had survived! I had made it to the end, the end game of being Dr Cliffe had been achieved! April 24th, 2019. What a day!!

May:

I may well now be a Doctor, but that didn’t earn me any more respect from my family, as evident by my birthday wrapping paper.

This badge was a fun joke given to me by my sister, but I was so unbelievably proud to wear it! Fun fact, the head of the Doctoral Academy loved it so much that they put an order in for them, so all new Drs will get one! A lovely little legacy!

Each weekend me and Ro would go an explore new places to visit and walk and we stumbled across another little local nature reserve. It was quaint!

I was given three months to do my post viva corrections to my thesis, but I completed them in 3 weeks. It felt so good but also sad to finally finish!

I discovered a Llama/Alpaca in my coffee cup! Little did I know in a few weeks I’d be surprised by my family to go walking with them in the lake district!

May saw me heading down to RAF Duxford to watch some preparations for the 75th D-Day anniversary. A brilliant event, so many Daks on the ground and plenty of warbirds!

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Ready for D-Day anniversary para drops

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June:

Well, June started with a win, a massive win! 6 times, baby! European Champions!!!

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Yaaaaaas!!!! #LFC

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The PhD was officially confirmed and approved. I had finally done it!

Visiting the Philharmonic is always special, but listening to John William scores of Speilberg films was another level!

In June, one of my favourite night time phenomenons occurs. The rare Noctilucent cloud formations! Formed a few weeks either side of the summer solstice, sunlight below the horizon lights up ice crystals high in the atmosphere turning night time into daylight. It’s an exceptional sight to see, I was lucky to have a few days of it, but this particular night it lasted for hours and was such a strong showing of them!

I travelled down South to just North of London to go to one of my all-time favourite humans and one of my closest and dearest friends wedding, Chloe’s! I also had to screenshot my Insta story of that day, which sums it all up!!

chloe

From one end of the country to the other! I was back in the Lake District, one of my favourite places in the UK! Spending a few days away with the family was a perfect little getaway and something we haven’t done together for so long!

I was surprised by my family with a two-hour walk with Alpacas. BEST DAY EVER!

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What a day! Alpaca walking ❤

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Nice few days away with the fam

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July:

Graduation day arrived!!

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Time to graduate!

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Graduation photos have arrived!

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Mission Accomplished!

This family are awesome!

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Great afternoon with the fam!

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A week on from officially becoming Dr Cliffe, I went and passed my driving test after only 18 hours of driving! Yaaaas! Some people thought this day would never come but just shows you when I set my mind to something, it gets done!

So far *touches wood* 2019 has been a good year and I’m excited for what lies ahead for the latter half of the year! Where will the adventure take me?!

 

 

 

My dedication to the inner circle!

I wrote a blog many years ago, which just happened to be one of my all-time favourite pieces I’ve ever written. It was an in-depth look into how females and particularly female best friends have had such a profound impact on my life and the person I am today. It was at the time one of my most-read posts, and it’s those kinds of dedication blogs that I rarely write, but when I do, I absolutely love it. I’m pretty terrible at telling someone how I feel in person, but I can express it and immortalise my respect, gratitude and love to them through the written word.

Unfortunately, I no longer have a copy of that blog. That old blog site was closed down without warning years ago (thankfully paying for this blog I have the peace of mind that these blogs will stay!) and I’ve long since got rid of that PC. I contemplated rewriting that for this post but take note Disney, that a well-received classic should never be remade, ever! No matter how hard you try, it will never compare to the standard or the heart of the original.

I think I signed off one of my recent blogs talking about how I am a wealthy individual, not in terms of monetary value but in terms of the company that I keep. I’m big enough, ugly enough, and wise enough to know that I’m not the easiest person to have as a friend. I’m always on the go, I demand the best from myself every day, and therefore I’m pushy and demanding of you to be the best that you can be. I can be direct and brutally honest at times…okay, all of the time. Where friends often use little white lies or disguise their disagreement with their friend’s actions to make their friend happy, that doesn’t happen with me. If you ask me my opinion on something, I’ll tell you even if you don’t like my answer. I can be incredibly stubborn at times and set in my ways. What you see with me is what you get, that honesty and black and white stance on things some people can’t handle. They prefer to be pampered or only have their own thoughts validated. So those who have stuck around first and foremost, thank you! I probably come across as a right twat don’t I? But despite those flaws, I do like to think that I am one of the most loyal, dedicated, protective and loving person to those few who I do let in.

I have many good friends, I have close friends, and I have a group of friends who sit in the inner circle. Those who over time their friendship has never faulted or waivered. These beautiful individuals all enhance my life greatly in a variety of ways, each one of them incredibly unique, each one my life would be decidedly empty and less fulfilling if they were not in it. There are many people close to me that I could and should thank (so please don’t be offended if you’re not in this blog! You don’t mean any less to me than these people!!) but I thought it would be nice to give my gratitude and thanks to those who’ve been through it all. They say that those who have been friends for between 7 and 9 years become friends for life. Thus, I think that’s a good cut off point for this blog because it just so happens that those who I’ve been friends with the longest just so happen to be those inner circle of people.

When I say inner circle it does sound a bit cultish or an elitist club, right? But that’s not really what I mean, the inner circle is simply a designator for those who I have no walls up for, for who know my many flaws and accept them, who know my hopes, dreams and desires and who knows my darkest secrets. I trust these individuals with my life, they have shown complete loyalty and dedication through the good times, but more importantly throughout the years and the hard times, they’ve never shone away from standing by me, either picking up a sword to fight alongside me or holding an umbrella up while I weather a raging storm. Some people rely upon and put all of their eggs into only one person, usually a boyfriend or girlfriend, at the expense of their friends. Me, well I much prefer diversity and a well-oiled machine around me, a team. Each one of these people is vastly different and all the better for it. So, without further exposition, let’s get into it!

Luke:

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My bro!

Holds the honour as one of the only males to make it into the inner circle! Luke isn’t a friend but is instead, an adopted big brother that I never had. We’re not friends, we’re Bros! My parents simply refer to him as “second son”. I’ve known Luke for what feels like a lifetime, we’ve practically grown up together. For context, Luke is a couple of years older than me and was my sister’s friend in high school. He popped round for tea one day and we got on really well, except our first conversation was an argument! An argument about the position of the vertical stabiliser on an F-18 vs an F-15. Nerdy or what but as a fellow avgeek we knew we’d be friends! From then practically every day during the summer holidays and weekends we’d spend together, climbing trees, buildings go-karts, fighting side by side in the infamous Hunt Road waterfight wars and generally just being lads!

As we got older, Luke was always the big brother I never had. Always there for me, protecting me, looking out for me, guiding me, and always on point with his advice. On paper, we’re vastly different people. Luke is athletic, outgoing, loud, a doer, incredibly funny and someone more of a risk-taker. Me I’m not athletic, not that adventurous, I’m more of a person to write the manual than actually to do it, and I’m risk-averse. Yet, it works! One thing i’ve learnt is to never play sports with Luke, he has an uncanny knack of using whatever sporting instrument be that a cricket ball or an air hockey puck, and getting a direct ‘accidental’ hit in my nuts. Bastard! We get on so well together, and my life would be completely different if I didn’t have my Bro in my life. Kudos to Amy, his beautiful wife, who still allows him to disappear every other Saturday so we can still hang out for a few hours!

Luke forces me to go out of my comfort zone, to be more adventurous and more outgoing. I can’t thank him enough for all of the times he’s been there for me through the good times but especially the dedication and encouragement through the bad times. Just an example of the kinda standup bloke he is, when I did go through that awful breakup, he left work early that day to hang out and take my mind off it and kept coming up with random things to do on weekends to keep me occupied until I was back on my feet. A true genuine legend. A true brother. I love you, Bro! Every guy needs a true bro, and I’m so very thankful that it’s you!

Chloe:

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My fav spud

Chloe or more accurately Spudette (I’m referred to as Spud!) has been one of my rocks and a pillar in my life. I met Chloe properly during our first year residential trip to Slapton and boy am I glad we did! From the early days of ripping each other for our accents, in scouse i say graph like it ends in a F whereas Chloe would say it as if it had too many A’s! Teaching her to say purple in scouse is still one of my personal highlights! Common vs Posh English! For eight years, I don’t think we’ve ever stopped laughing since! Chloe is one of the most beautiful people I know, not just in terms of looks (like all my female friends, they’re absolute babes!) but in terms of personality. I’ve never met someone who is as dedicated, loyal, caring and kind-hearted as Chloe. Not just towards me but everyone in her life, we all need a person like Chloe in our lives! From day one, we struck up a fantastic rapport, and from day one, I’ve always felt that no matter what, Chloe has my back. Chloe is the first person I turn to in a crisis or when a significant decision needs to be made. I often rarely ask for advice or seek council because I think I can do everything myself ( I can be pigheaded that way!), but any big decision gets run past her because she has such clarity and my best interests at heart that I value her advice and opinion so highly.

I recall spending hours at the river in Chester us both discussing what I should do, take the job in Nottingham, a £27,000 three year contract job or to stay in Chester and become a research assistant for £16,000 on a temporary year contract. I had conflicting thoughts, the logical rational me was a no doubt to take the Nottingham consultancy job. Yet the emotional me knew my heart was in research, so I wanted the Chester one, but that was an irrational and illogical choice. My Dad was pushing for me to take the Nottingham job, my Mum was pushing for the Chester one. Confusion and confliction everywhere. Everywhere until Chloe and I met up, finally, clarity. The weird thing about Chloe is there is a calmness that I don’t get with anyone else, she just gets it! At the end of the day, I took the illogical and irrational decision to take the Chester job. A decision I have never regretted! Thank you, Chloe!

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I’m not a religious person or that spiritual, but I do believe in the Universe, and it’s little nuances. I read many years ago about each of us have three assigned people, a soul mate (in the romantic sense), a soul mate (in terms of platonic love) and a Guardian/Protector. They can be one individual who is all three, or they could be three separate people. I’ve always thought since the day I met Chloe that she is the platonic soul mate and quite possibly the protector. There has always been an energy that we were meant to be best friends, from day one, it’s always been easy! I adore being in her company, and even though she now lives on the other side of the planet, our friendship is as strong as ever. I wrote a fun blog years ago about what the perfect woman would be like, Chloe’s personality formed a basis for comparison in terms of traits. An incredibly loyal, smart, dedicated, caring and super-intelligent woman! I love you Spudette, thanks for always saying the right things and always without hesitation, having my back. I so appreciate that, and I’m thankful that you’re apart of my life!

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Emma:

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My sister from another Mr!

If Luke is my Bro, then Emma is my sister from another Mr While I have a wonderful if not infuriating at times actual blood related older Sister, I’ve always seen Emma as a sister of my own age. A sister that I can talk to about everything, you know the things that you’d never really want to discuss with your family haha! When friends progress past friendship and enter the family tier, you know you have a friend for life. I’ve known Emma since year 9, so we’re looking at around 13 years! I think its testament to our friendship that in those many years, we’ve changed so much as individuals, we’ve both gone through so much and yet the bond between us has never faulted or waivered. Emma really is a friend for life. If you had to define what a true friend looked and acted like, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than Em!

You might be starting to notice a pattern here, that each one of these people is incredibly trustworthy and loyal. Em has stood by my side throughout everything, even at times in school, she rose above the mediocracy and idle gossip of others to stand at my side. She has a fantastic accurate moral compass. Em is always one of the first to message with congratulations when things are going well and consistently one of the first to offer assistance when it’s not going so well.

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Putting up with my shit since 2006!

That’s the thing I love about Em so much is that dedication and well maybe our unique sense of humour! Em is one of those people who doesn’t ever see how awesome she is, always playing herself down. Em is one of the best people that I know, and I couldn’t think of a life without her. Who would I message every day? Who could I moan to about stuff without judgement? Who would I share my love of Wagamama trips with!?

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I’ve enjoyed travelling to European destinations with Em, I’ve enjoyed our weekends away to the Lakes climbing mountains and our trips to London, above all else, I just really enjoy her company. In all the time I’ve known her, we’ve never fallen out. Sure at times, I’ve wanted to kill her, case in point trying to find platform nine and fucking three quarters in Kings Cross in 30c heat in London. Or when that bitch 😉 beat me in crazy golf to win the window seat on the plane to Amsterdam (grrrr. Still bitter! One point!). Emma is a stalwart of my friendship group, another one of those people who have just become such an immense pillar in my life. Her friendship means everything, I’m forever grateful for you and everything you stand for. I look forward to our monthly catch ups when we’re in our 90’s and laughing so much our teeth fall out!!

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Han:

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My fav midlander!

Back to undergrad friends now and like Chloe, Han has been a constant in my life since the first year of Uni. Han is one of the funniest people I know, whether she realises her humour or not, I do not know, but I find her hilarious! I get on so well with Han that every day we spent together was an absolute laugh, and even now we message each other every day without fail, and there is always a laugh to be had! Han is one of the most loyal and level headed people that I know. When her best friend and I broke up in Uni, it could have been very easy for her to pick a-side post break up but credit to Han, she never did. She had time for us both and never made anything awkward! As we’ve got older, I enjoy that Han is the one I have a daily moan to. Usually about the general public being idiots or football-related chats! Plus she’s the legend who loans me her BT account, so I can watch the football! What an epic person she is!

I’ve had so many fun times with Han, she introduced me to B movies, particularly any B movie titles with superlatives before sharks in it (Mega shark vs giant octopus was the first one she made me watch and oh boy is that still the best B Movie ever!). It’s also thanks to her that I’ve witnessed someone do the seemingly impossible and burn carrots! I can still taste that smell, haha! I love that we get to catch up every year and I’m proud of where you are in life right now, married to the awesome Dan and a little one on the way. You two are absolutely going to smash parenthood! That kid (baby Divok, you have to call it that!) is going to grow up with the two most loving, loyal, devoted, family-oriented parents. Han, you are beyond excellent, thank you for always being there!

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Ro:

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My fav ginge

Rochene, Ro, my fave ginger, whatever I call her, I love her. Unlike the others in this list who I’ve interacted with in-person from day one. Our friendship was for the first few years entirely based via Twitter! It was not until I offered to help her with some SPSS that we met up in Costa did we actually talk face to face! Ever since then, Ro has been one of my closest friends, and despite my love-hate relationship with SPSS, I thank it for the relationship we have now! Ro probably takes the title of being the most strong-willed and minded person I know. I thought I was strong-minded and stubborn, but boy does she give me a run for my money! Plus she’s probably the only person who truly competes with me on a sarcasm level. So. Much. Sass. She’s always very keen on keeping me grounded and putting me in my place!

Ro is definitely one of those people who sees the big gooey soft marshmallow side of me, and she puts up with all of my weirdness! Like all the others, loyalty in spades and is someone who has become another constant fixture and a pillar in my life. She is someone I will forever stand beside and back, regardless of the situation. She is by far the most complex person I know (in a good way), she’s a warrior, she’s brave, she’s independent, she’s incredibly funny, and she’s incredible! Weekends wouldn’t be the same without our coffee catch-ups, trips out walking to various places or just the simple task of running errands. Life would be pretty dull without you around! I cannot express how proud I am of you, for what you’ve achieved, what you’re doing, and what you stand for. You’ve taught me so many things that I don’t know where to begin. Thank you for always being around and putting up with me! For someone who is so small in stature, you’re an absolute giant to me!

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Final words:

There are so many people I could carry on about here, from old school pals like Shaun my cycling buddy, old uni friends like Mary and Sophie, to new ones from the PhD such as those from H105. They too are all incredibly special and are huge influences in my life, but oddly enough I probably tell them that more than I do the four above. I think I take them for granted at times, and that is why I’ve written this blog, to express my deepest love and thanks to four pillars of my life. I cannot imagine a life without you guys in it. A group of individuals who guide me, keep me grounded, help me achieve success, pull me out of the crap and above all else, a group of individuals that I am so unbelievably proud to say I know and that I am friends with.

Thank you!

This isn’t going to be my only dedication style blogs this year. Those others i mentioned there, don’t worry you’re getting your own blog post! I’m also going to be doing one about mentors and those who’ve influenced me to date. Keep an eye out for them! Above all, tell the people who you love that you appreciate, love and are thankful that they’re in your life. Share the love today!

Why do I write blogs? It’s a window to the emotional me!

For someone who is well known for their public speaking, I’m often pretty damn awful at conveying emotion to people in speech, at least my own emotion. Sure, I think back to my closing speech as head boy, an address full of emotion and I hoped at the time, inspiration. Inspiration for what was at the time, the next most significant step in our lives. I can recall numerous passionate speeches or talks I’ve given over the years to an audience of 2 up to 1000. I can always find the right words and execute them without bother, to be emotive in speech. Yet, ask me to talk about my feelings, and I can’t do it, I get lost for words.

But, I can write them.

I’ve always been a writer in some form or another, in fact, I was very young when I penned my first short story in primary school as part of a project about “what your parents do for a living”, needless to say, it wasn’t my finest work. Put yourself in the shoes of my primary school teachers who read with wide eyes a story about how “My Dad brings a Doll home called Annie and he jumps up and down on it.” My Dad is a senior paramedic of over 35 years and at the time way back then, was either doing advanced training himself or was training others and therefore would bring home the Resus Annie Doll to practice various medical procedures with tubes etc. etc. Innocent enough! Thankfully my teachers knew what job my Dad did and apparently it gave great amusement to the entire staff room for about a week!

I always loved writing little stories here and there for projects or assignments in English but never thought much of it until as part of our GCSE English coursework we had to write a story. My path to writing was down to one woman, Mrs Bygroves, my English teacher, who asked me to stay behind after class. It was her words of encouragement and telling me I had a gift for conveying the written word and that I should write stories that ignited a fire that had been simmering. The following year I published my first novel and then spent the next few years writing my second one for Amazon.

While a pilot or air traffic controller is always my dream job, to be an established author has always been the dream goal!

Writing stories, however, is a lot easier in some ways because you can base characters on people you know, or make them up! You can make things up, you can create worlds, and the emotion the characters portray is not me. It’s them. Blog writing, on the other hand, well, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

I started writing blogs way back in sixth form when I was backed into a corner, while I’m glad those days of the infamous blogs about the daily carryon of morons are well and truly over, it gave me a vessel to explain how I felt about people that I couldn’t express in any other form. People would message me and agree with my points and wait eagerly for the next instalment. Each post was me poking a hornet’s nest which fuelled more blogs and so the circle went on. Then I realised that two things were happening. (a.) I was getting things off my chest and thus feeling better and, (b.) people liked the honesty of it all, and I had so many private chats with people about similar things in their ‘friendship’ groups that they could relate to, or I started to add little nuggets about things outside of sixth form or advice about things that again people could relate to. I began to see that maybe my words could help as well as hurt. A dangerous at the time, combination!

My blogs moved away from the subject of others (thankfully) by time I left sixth form (thankfully that blog site was closed down years ago, and all such posts have since been long lost to the internet graveyards. A dark time indeed that was!) and I started to use it more positively, as a way to document my life, my highs, my lows, my travels and above all else, I hoped that someone would get at least one small thing from each blog that I pen. Be that to know you’re not alone if you’re going through something I went through, or maybe you might have tried that piece of advice I wrote about and it worked or even if I inspire you to go visit the places I’ve been.

Writing is to me, incredibly personal. While the birth of my blogs was born out of a crap toxic time, it was liberating to wear my heart on my sleeve and how vulnerable that can make you feel. In-person, I have many walls, and as a person who usually people just open up to me, I listen and then give logical, rational advice, I often end up getting to know a hell of a lot about you. However, I have that knack of you thinking you know me really well when actually you know the surface. That’s in part, down to a well-tested defence mechanism, at least until I trust you or you pass the Tony Test! Slowly those walls come down and you get to know the real me.

Writing blogs for me is always I see it as a little window into the real me. Little glimpses and access to who I am. Close friends and family know me and who I am, but many people see me in person, at least, as probably one of the most calmest, rational, logical and unemotional people you’ll ever meet. I do take pride in that part of myself. I don’t think I’d be doing myself a disservice if I asked my close friends to list the top 3 things they love about me, I would bet my life that they would say something along the lines of one of the points being “You tell it to me as it is. A spade is a spade. You have such clarity to cut through all the emotion of a problem and look at it rationally, logically and objectively. Then you’ll base your advice off that”. I do love how I can cut through all the emotion in a problem! Plus I love giving advice too!

People can often be put off at times at my seemingly outwardly blunt approach to problems, especially if you’re a very emotionally driven person. You very rarely see me overly joyous nor sad, or angry much in person. People can mistake that for being unemotional or as a nickname that has now stuck over the years The Robot or Tony-Bot as I’m effectually called by some! What people don’t realise is I am probably the most emotionally intense person you’ll ever meet, it’s just I have such strong control over them that outwardly you don’t see the range of emotions that go on inside. That’s when I did fall in love all those years ago it was a beautiful yet terrifying few years because that was an emotion that I couldn’t just keep inside and control of and it was like a floodgate! Scary yet awe-inspiring.

As I said, I often find it difficult to express words of how I feel in person. Not to loved ones or close friends, I’m actually a big soft gooey soppy romantic! They know that. But to those who are not in that inner circle which I’ve dropped walls for, to others I do come across as that stoic, driven, logic guy. Actually, I’m just a big marshmallow with a tough exterior wall!

So for me, writing blogs is a window into the emotional me, the guy who sits behind that exterior facing wall. Writing, therefore, is super personal for me because of every word, every emotion I’m feeling I put it into each sentence, I mean every word that I type.

These blogs are fun to write because they vary so much. The humorous ones where I get to let out that fun side of me and showcase my funnybone. The advice ones I love doing because I can use that big old Tony-Bot logic to give objective advice that may help someone. The travel ones satisfy my inner adventurer, and the emotive ones become my ultimate favourite ones.

The emotive blogs come in two forms, either happy or sad. Writing is a release for me. Some people talk to others, some drink, some have a big old cry. For me, I write. It clears my head, gets things off my chest. When I write happy emotive blogs be that dedications to people or writing about something that has happened be that an epic trip with friends or recalling something in my life it’s my heart bursting with love and joy on the page for everyone to share. Although I still get super nervous when I write about people because I never know how they’ll react. In-person no-one ever tells the other person how they perceive them, but in blogs you do. So I’m always nervous that I hope they appreciate my sentiments and how I see them! Always a relief when they message you with positive feedback, only a few times I’ve had to post edit the odd post. Oops!

Yet for me, the hardest to write and the hardest but most rewarding to read back are when life isn’t so great. I’ve never been on in these blogs or social media to only ever talk about the good stuff. This has always been about me as a person, the good and all the bad. I feel some of my best-written work has been those emotionally charged ones when either I’ve been seething with anger, or I’ve been typing through tears from being absolutely done in and heartbroken. Weirdly enough, they’re often my most read by people, either people enjoy reading my misfortune because of the event, or they appreciate that every word is dripping in emotion! Not sure which aha!

Too many people in modern-day life and especially on blogs and social media paint a perfect life, they’re wonderful, they’re doing this well. It’s false. A perfect life doesn’t exist. It’s irrational and illogical to think it’s true. I’ve documented some terrible personal lows through my blogs, eulogies of passed on relatives, discussions about leaving places and moving on, heartache words of falling out with a friend, to my emotions and recovery of that breakup which at the time ripped my heart into pieces and where I spent the best part of two years teetering on depression and my well-documented recovery of that process.

Life is a rollercoaster and we all go through shit in life. So when times are hard, I want people to read it and be like yeah he doesn’t have his shit together at all. He’s normal. And I also want people to read it and take solace if they’re going through shit too. Plus, as a side note, although annoyingly this is my 3rd blog site now and the other two where deleted without warning! That I look back at those blogs written as a document of my life. I read again all those happy memories in the happy blogs, and I see how far I’ve come from the sad ones.

Writing blogs is an excellent way for me to document things, get things off my chest. As a reader, I don’t know what you get from these blogs, various ramblings from a distinctly average, ordinary guy! I have no idea. I hope that you read them and at times laugh, sometimes cry, I hope you get inspired, comforted, or advice is taken on board.

So when I’m asked, why do I write blogs? I write for myself, a voice for that big old emotional me who sits inside the Tony-Bot. Thanks for reading!

P.S. check back in at the end of the week because speaking of emotion, I wrote a blog many years ago about how female friends had influenced my life. That sadly vanished when my old blog closed down and as its been years since I had that P.C. it’s now gone. It was one of my all-time favourite emotive dedication style blogs. So, this week I’m writing a different one but on similar lines. A dedication to those who broke down the walls.

My final day and my goodbye

The final day

Every journey must start with a small step. Every relationship starts with a simple hello. Every memory recalled must have been lived. For three years I’ve crawled, walked, run and flew. I’ve learned how to fail through bitter experience a thousand times but how to get up 1001 times. The funny thing about journeys is you’re always aiming to get to a destination, a final fixed point in time or locality, always on the move, always getting closer. Often the destination is the ultimate goal but its how you get there that’s usually better than the place you’re trying to get to. While every journey must begin with a small step, it must end with one too. Every hello always ends in a goodbye. Today is my last official day as a PhD researcher and the last day of being a student.

I walked back through the doors of that grand old house, Holmefield, my home for the past three years today. Since day one, the strong white stoned pillars guarding the entrance with nobility always gave me a feeling of assurance. As assured as the giant sprawling trees that lined the lush patch of grass outside of the door, who’ve watched countless students throughout the years. In three years not much has changed, the chandeliers still glint in the shaft of light that trickles through the window illuminating the specs of floating dust, a never-ending dance in the air. The staircase that clings to the wall I must have walked a million times up to my office and now it was to be my last time. Punching in the code and pushing that oak door open, I was greeted by silence. My desk untouched since viva, a mass of paper and copies of my thesis, an untouched coffee cup and notepads. The other desks were just as I last remember them, a mass of books, paper and post-it notes, evident signs of feverish work that goes on in here. With each book I placed into my bag, each file I copied from the pc and with every pull of a picture or of a poster from the wall it hit me like a dagger. I’m dismantling my life with every item that goes into the box. In no time at all the only signs I was ever here is a small polaroid picture I placed with a firm thumb on the wall. A picture of H105 occupants dressed in Christmas jumpers posing for a photo, the caption underneath simply read

H105 standing together, forever

I walked down the quiet corridor and popped my head into my old office, the office where it all started in H003. Again, empty and silent, I walked towards my old desk, taking the last steps in the same steps that I took my first on this journey. I’m surrounded by the ghosts of my memories, I watch as I recall my first hello with Laura, then Vic, the Cara, Hannah, Rosie, then Katie, then the rest of the PGRs. I laugh to myself when I look out of the window and recall walking to the shops with Rosie in hurricane force winds. It’s nice to see that crack in the window had been repaired since, a shiver ripples through my body when I recall that first bitterly cold winter in that office where water and wind would rattle through the gap in the door and the broken window pane. I recalled each individual hello as if it were yesterday, the feeling of being apart of a team and getting to know them, in the beginning, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

With a sad goodbye, I left the old office and walked back up to H105, the office where it really cemented our friendship. I longed to turn around and hear that chirpy morning voice from Laura signifying it was time for our daily trip to the café to drink coffee for longer than we should, discussing everything from life to work. I miss mine and Rosie’s chats about TV shows that my mum and she might like or have watched along with plenty of banter. I miss that I’ll no longer hear footsteps up the stairs and be like with a smile, oh this must be Vic! For the door to the flung open and her smile and greeting to light up the room. I’ll miss Katie’s sarcasm towards me and the many inappropriate jokes/comments that only our childish minds would find funny. I’ll especially miss drawing little post-it note doodles to fill up her wall, I never did reach my goal of trying to cover it floor to ceiling!

I take a look around looking at all of the memories in this place. Sure, it’s just an office, it’s nothing special its four walls and a door. To me, it was home, it was safety in all of the chaos of PhD life. A life raft in the stormy seas. These four walls saw us grow as individuals, its been an honour to have grown with these exceptional individuals, kind-hearted, dedicated and loyal. These four walls it saw us achieve big things, it saw us fall many times, it saw us pick each other up. It’s seen us cry and its seen us in tears with laughter. Oh, the laughter, how that room was always so full of the bellowing sounds of our laughter.

I feel a huge lump in my throat as the silence takes hold, the clatter of keyboards have fallen silent, the laughter fading. This truly is the end. Walking back out of that door for the final time with the confirmation of the heavy click of the lock. My time had come, my journey was over.

My Dad helped me load the rest of my things into the car and we drove away, that part of my life now over. “Are you sad?” my Dad asked as we drove away I managed to muster a “Yes” fighting back the iceberg-sized lump in my throat “Of course you will be, it’s been a huge part of your life” he replied.

He’s right. I’m not just saying goodbye to friends, I’m not just saying goodbye to PhD life and the travel, the coffee and the experiences, nor am I saying goodbye to the best version of me. I’m saying goodbye to a part of me that’s been me for eight years. Eight years I’ve been a student or a staff member in higher education. Now, I’m saying goodbye officially to my identity as a student. Really, while the PhD has been a three-year journey, this journey really started way back in 2010 when I was a lost boy who needed a new challenge from that of high school. A much needed new start when I arrived as an undergraduate Geographer, finally with my wings unclipped to be who I wanted to be not what school clicks and politics deemed you to be. All of the highs of finding yourself on a cold windswept beach in Slapton under the clearest starry night sky and for the first time in my life feeling like I’m valued and as part of a genuine team. To laughing until I nearly threw up in a desert on my Masters. To all the lows of breakups and failing medicals for ATC and all the stresses of work and sacrifices of an RA, at times it felt like I was stepping out into the night with only a positive attitude and hope to guide me. All those at times dead-end alleys were actually a straight line to where I’m meant to be today.

So today, I said goodbye to my life as a student. A life that’s seen me change with each new adventure and chapter. My undergrad, I found out who I was and who I wanted to be, my masters I consolidated that and grew more confident in myself, in my RA years I became far wiser and more mature and the final series, the PhD has taken all of those three things and has turned it up to 11. I am a changed man from the man I was at the start of this journey. It’s impossible for this experience not to change you fundamentally. The most brutal of worlds, the most intellectually and emotionally challengings thing a person can ever do, it’s bound to change you. But it’s changed me for the better. As sad as I am to leave, I leave as the best version of me. That’s all down to the office of H105.

Vic taught me to lighten up and find the joy in life and when things are terrible, you can always make a joke about it and smile. She’s taught me the real value of loyalty and selflessness and treating others as equals. Katie has brought out the fun side of me, the Jokey Tony instead of “Sensible Tony” which was my nickname in Chester. She also taught me how to soften my very direct nature at times and how sometimes my direct unemotional prefer logic approach might not always work for very emotional driven topics and issues (I’m still working on it! Tony the Robot!). Rosie taught me to stay true to myself and my principles, to be steadfast and stoic towards a goal, oh and I now know a lot about TV and I still don’t eat sweets before 12pm!  Laura actually taught me to love again and to find self-worth again in myself. Laura became a true best friend, a confidant, while we’d argue…a lot!…we’d always resolve it through well-reasoned debate. I miss our non-date date nights, I miss our Sunday cycles, our times spent righting the world over a coffee, and I miss travelling to new places with her. I think I speak for everyone in H105 when I say the office was never the same without you when you moved away.

I leave the PhD a wealthy man, not in terms of wealth (I wish) but in that I’ve won the lottery when I’ve had the opportunity to be surrounded by people like that, people who I can call true friends and friends for life. Not just them but friends I’ve made outside of H105, the fellow PGRs who I know will be friends for a very long time.

So tomorrow I will walk across that stage for the final time, I’ll shake the VCs hand and I’ll get my doctorate in hand. The destination reached. There is despite everything, a truth in that we must all face, whether we want to or not is that everything eventually ends and everything has its time. I’ve worked hard for so many years to reach this goal, and I’ve worked my hardest with the right attitude and commitment, doing it the way I wanted it, with compassion and by building others up instead of stepping on them to get where I needed to be. I hate endings, I hate that every hello always ends in a goodbye. I hate that ending. I hated the last day of summer before a new term started, the end of a perfect day with friends or the turning of a final page of a great book. Endings are a fact of life, the seasons change, the sun will rise, and the stars will shine. Life simply goes on around you. Tomorrow is one of those days, an ending, a closure. I say goodbye to everything that was familiar, everything that was comfortable, I’m moving on, taking my final steps on this journey but new ones on a new adventure. While it hurts to say goodbye, just because I’m leaving some people and experiences, have become so ingrained in me that they’ll be with me no matter what. I don’t know what the next chapter of my life holds, I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll do but I do know that in amongst all the chaos of life I have a sanctuary, a solid ground in those select few who I dropped walls for, for those who fought by my side. They will forever be my moral compass, my guiding star and that voice that will always be there for me.

As I hate endings, I’ll simply say with a heavy heart and a tear in my eye, thank you to everyone who’s been on this journey with me. Instead of goodbye, “I’ll see you around” xxx

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How to prepare for the PhD Viva

The Viva, the word that is never far away from a PhD students mind. The mythical almost legendary word that looms over everything that you do. When you start the PhD, it seems a long and distant prospect and as you progress, the Viva looms ever larger like a storm cloud bubbling up on a clear summers day. The Viva is the final battle all PhD students know they must face but never want to. The Viva is the most important battle a PhD student will face as if all the other constant battles weren’t enough already! A hill to either die or survive on, the outcome of you becoming a Dr relies on your ability to survive a two to three hour (on average) defence of your thesis with at least two experts.

Many people outside of academia are simply unaware of what a PhD is or even the amount of work, sacrifice and challenges that come with it. Simply too many to list in this blog that’s for sure! However, many people are aware that by the end of your PhD, you will produce a thesis of substantial word count, for example, including references and appendices my thesis came to 212,000 words! If I had to include all my rewrites and deleted and changed words over the course of the PhD, I’d be looking at having written over 300,000! Yet, people don’t understand outside of academia that writing of the thesis is less than half of the PhD, the rest comes down to the Viva. The word that sends a chill up any PhD student (sorry fellow PhD students for the trigger!).

The term ‘Viva’ is actually short for ‘Viva Voce’ which is Latin for absolute hell. I joke. It actually translates to “by live voice”. In layman’s terms, you’ve walked written the walk, now you need to talk the talk. Every country is slightly different, but in the UK at least, it’s an oral exam, a defence of your thesis between usually an external and an internal examiner behind closed doors. They will have read your completed written thesis multiple times and now you sit in a room where they’ll ask you many questions about it for which you have to justify every decision and action made in the time you’ve been on the PhD. As a general rule of thumb, the examiners are looking for three things (1.) Is it your own work and have you written it (2.) Do you understand what you’ve written and what your results are saying and (3.) Does what you’ve done actually contribute new and original knowledge to the scholarly community.

So, how do you prepare for this showdown to get your PhD? Below I’ll outline how I tackled my Viva preparations and if the Viva is on the horizon for you, I hope it may give you some ideas about how to get yourself in the best shape possible for it.

Read, re-read and when you think you’ve read enough, read one more time

By now you’re probably downright sick of your own writing and if you’ve been editing, you’re perhaps resenting your own work with having read it so many times. However, it is vital that you go back and re-read, multiple times from cover to cover. There where three critical aspects that I took to my viva prep re-reads. Firstly, I read a chapter or two chapters a day, making no notes, just reading, remembering and understanding my work. It may seem obvious, but some of your writing is over two years old and with so much going on and so much different sections that you’ve written its good to refresh your brain. After reading it thoroughly, I then went back through and re-read it under a critical eye. I looked for any formatting, spelling or grammatical errors. If you’ve rushed to get your thesis in you’ll probably find a lot of them but even me, someone who spent three solid months of editing and checking my work prior to submission I still annoyingly found 13 errors including an utterly wrong graph!

I hear that many people don’t want to re-read their work for fear of finding exactly that, a mistake. It happens and the examiners will know it happens too. You’re writing in excess of 100,000 words there is bound to be mistakes. Of course, in your edits its best to catch as many as you can but even if you’re diligent you’ll still miss one or two. Chasing the perfect error free thesis is chasing a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, a nice idea but ultimately, a futile one. If you submit a thesis that is strung with spelling and format errors because it’s been rushed or you failed to re-read it before submitting it doesn’t mean the Viva will go badly, but it will cast some doubt in the examiner’s minds I’m sure. You’re giving them more ammunition if you’ve failed to check your work. Use software, colleagues, supervisors and friends and family to check before you submit! If, however, you still find mistakes, relax! Make a note of them (I highlighted mine) so that if the examiners point them out, you can be ahead of the curve as you’ve identified it (my examiners didn’t even point out the mistake in the graph which I was stressing about so much, so don’t worry!). Also, it’s super rare that the outcome of the Viva is no changes, you’re most likely at a very minimum getting minor corrections so don’t stress, you can correct those errors in the post-viva corrections phase!

Highlights and sticky notes

After reading my thesis multiple times, I went back through again and brought out my trusted highlighters and post-it notes. I used different colours to represent various aspects of the PhD. Green, for example, was a simple identifier for me of where each chapter began, thus in the Viva when referring to individual chapters if needed, I could just flip to it straight away. Orange I used as fundamentals, i.e. research aims, questions and critical results where purple I used as potential sections of note be that an important paper or parts I feel they may well grill me more on or want to know more about. Find whatever works for you, you don’t want to over complicate it and highlight absolutely everything in your thesis, it’s best practice to only refer to the thesis in the Viva if absolutely essential. So highlight what you feel are the key things and use a system that you know.

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My thesis and appendices with my post-it notes

Prepare Questions and Summary

While making your post-it note decorations on your thesis, I opened up two word documents. The first one I used to summarise each of the key points of that page. For example, when summarising your methodology outlining the key papers and 3 principal pros and cons of the method chosen. This helps in your re-read to focus your brain, and the day before the Viva I found it really helpful to just focus on those summary notes because that gave me the key points I needed to focus on without getting too lost in all the details.

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Example of my summary pages

As I went through, I also came up with questions that they could potentially ask me about those sections and I wrote them down. I also utilised some fantastic sets of questions out there online about viva preparations. The most effective way of preparing for the Viva was actually to be asked the questions so that I could answer them verbally. It’s all well and good preparing your answers in word, but it’s far better to practice verbalising them. My friend Rosie skyped me a set of questions from her Viva cards, I made a note of that question and then answered it. It’s seriously great practice! For example, she asked me what the theoretical implications of my study where and I gave a very long winded and pretty terrible answer. We discussed together how I should tackle that and be more focused and low and behold a similar question came up in my Viva, and I was able to nail it because I had been prepared. So get a friend, a supervisor or even your family to throw as many questions your way as possible. Below is the 19 random questions Rosie used from her cards to help me prepare. After answering all 19 that came to just under an hour of talking, so you can see how quickly a viva can go, especially as these are generic. Sadly, you can never truly prepare for the very specific and in-depth questions the examiners may have!

  1. Why did you narrow your focus of enquiry to this?
  2. How did research questions emerge?
  3. Which previous studies influenced your work?
  4. Who or what was most influential?
  5. What is the area in which you wish to be examined?
  6. How did you choose your methodology and were there any constraints?
  7. Limitations of your method and study?
  8. Did you encounter any problems?
  9. Talk us through how you analysed the data?
  10. What steps did you take to mitigate errors and bias the data in your qualitative methods?
  11. Do you believe your methods entomologically aligns?
  12. If you could start again, what would you do differently?
  13. How did your thinking develop as you went through your research process?
  14. How do your findings challenge the established literature in this field?
  15. How long do you expect your work to remain current?
  16. Where did you go wrong?
  17. What are the theoretical implications of your findings? What are the policy implications of your findings?
  18. How can it influence your findings?
  19. How do you intend to share your research findings?

Give yourself some space

I can’t stress this enough, it seems counterintuitive that as you scramble to cram as much in and practice as much as you can for the Viva that you should give yourself some time off. But seriously, trust me. Do it. Take a day off, go for a walk, go do something you enjoy. A tired brain is not a brain that’s going to perform well in the Viva. I know that its really hard to do because your mind will keep going back to viva prep, but you need to force yourself to do something differently, even if for an hour. I am forever indebted to my friend Ro who gave me no choice but to go out for a walk or my parents who forced me to go food shopping to take my mind off it. It seems small and daft, but it really worked. It gave my brain a few minutes of breathing space and especially on that walk realising that, yes, while the Viva is probably the most significant thing you’ve ever done to date and yes, so much is riding on it. That you have so many people who support you and there is so much more to life than getting three letters after your name. It does put things into perspective.

The day before try not to throw up and get some sleep

I read that some people say not to touch any viva prep the day before to give your brain a rest. I agree in principle, but I still did some prep. I read those summary pages a few times throughout the day and then gave it a rest. There comes the point where you know you’ve done all you can, and you feel as prepared as you can, so doing more won’t help. I spent a lot of that day sitting in the sun listening to music and trying to take my mind off it. Whatever coping mechanism you use to deal with stress now is an excellent time to use it! I also read and made notes of the latest papers that had come out since I submitted my thesis. A read a lot of these viva prep blogs who placed so much emphasis on you knowing every single paper since you’ve submitted. Please do not spend a load of time on this! Examiners can ask you to make sure you’re aware of how your research fits in, but they cannot directly examine you on any paper that’s been published post submission. Focus on your own work, I wasn’t even asked about any new literature in my viva. Imagine if I had dedicated so much time to that, what a waste that would have been!

Go and smash it and some final tips

The Viva is undoubtedly massive, and there is no denying that the day is enormous and massively stressful. You will feel like you’re crap, that your thesis is rubbish and you’ll feel vastly underprepared despite being the most prepared you’ve ever been for anything. It happens. I felt awful before my Viva! I think any PhD student who says they’re not nervous about the Viva is either a liar or incredibly naïve, or at worst has delusions of grandeur. Well, they’ll just set themselves up for a fail. Remember, and again I read this before I went into the Viva but didn’t really believe it until after the Viva, the examiners are not there to trick you or catch you out. They’re doing their job and your examiners should ask some very tough questions, you should expect them, it is a PhD after all. But any question is never a personal attack and its never to catch you out. Remember, despite the feeling of imposter syndrome, you really are the expert in the room. You should try and enjoy it as much as you can too. My Viva was brutal and tough but it was really enjoyable once I got into it. There is no other time in your life as a student where someone outside of your supervisory team will have read your thesis cover to cover, and you can sit in a room and discuss it at length with people who are just as enthusiastic about it as you are. My parents, for example, have only read my acknowledgements of my thesis so, yeah, make the most of two strangers taking an interest in your work because your family don’t!!

I found it vital in my preparations to be critical and honest with the thesis. What is good about it and what are my weakest points. I cannot stress enough how important it was for me to know before I went in what I was going to defend until I was blue in the face and what I was happy to let go. You need to know what battles you’re going to pick in the Viva. You don’t have to defend every word, in fact, if you do you could be posing more problems than its worth. An example, if I defended the term pedagogy in my title and following sections, I have no doubt I would have had major corrections instead of the lower end of moderate. I was wise enough to know it was my weakest part of the thesis and the examiners saw it too, I was happy to not defend it, I’m glad I didn’t. On the flip side, my examiners weren’t that excited about my large section on UAV regulations and asked not once, not twice but three times was it critical. This, to me, was a fundamental aspect of my argument in the thesis and one of my mantras in the conclusion so three separate times, I defended it in the viva. I would have justified it a 4th if I had to because that was one part of my thesis I was going to defend until the end. Of course, by time they asked me a second time there was a flicker of “they’ve asked me this again, should I concede?” but no, it was a test to see me stick to my argument and defend it. By time they asked a 3rd time I was more adamant than ever to keep it in!

Be honest. Seriously, this is my final point and one that is vital in the Viva. Be honest. In mine I was asked if I was familiar with a particular set of literature which to them was essential if I had mentioned one thing, I really should have mentioned this. I was honest that I wasn’t familiar and they simply said thanks for being honest, one of your corrections is to do a small section on it. Then that was it, happy days we moved on. If I had tried to blag it, it would have caused so many more issues! You’re not meant to know everything in the Viva, you’re human. If you don’t know it put your hands up and admit it, they’ll be absolutely fine with it. If you don’t know it and you try and blag it well, they view that very dimly that’s for sure. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be thought of as a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

So try and enjoy the Viva, if you’ve had the right attitude, if you’ve prepared well enough then I am sure you will survive, and you will get what you’ve worked so hard for, you’ll be a Dr! Good luck and godspeed to you!

If you have any questions or even if you want me to read anything or even Skype you with some viva prep questions, let me know in the comments or get in touch on social media @TonyCliffe210. I’m currently in the process of writing a book about my PhD experience and how to tackle the many issues it throws up, so get in touch if you want to be involved in that! Or you can read about my Viva experience here: The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105 

Or read here my thoughts i penned before the viva: Some thoughts about the PhD journey as i near the final battle.

If you want to chat about the PhD or viva, get in touch, us PGRs need to help each other out to survive.

Go and smash it guys! You’ve got this!

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Post viva you get to wear cool badges!

Another Single Valentines day

Hey guys, well it’s that time of year again where single people like me wallow in self-pity. Doubly so this year as I can’t even comfort eat the numerous heart-shaped chocolates in the shops as I’m lactose/dairy intolerant, so it’s a double dagger to my jaded heart. Cruel. I mean I’m totally cool with being single for the 7th valentines day running, who’s counting…sniff…I say as the crumbs of my 25th consecutive Oreo falls into my beard (attractive I know ladies!).

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Valentines day blogs I’ve covered everything from the perfect gifts, to the bitter blogs about it being a corporate day which has origins in a Roman guy who stalked a girl, then died pushing her out of the way of a runaway cart. People say that’s cute! I say that’s a Netflix criminal documentary. These blogs, the emotional robot Tony (yes I do have them) often allow me to discuss my feelings on subjects of love and women. They’re often my favourite blogs over the years. After all my love of writing blogs came from me trying to deal with the shitstorm of 6th form. Over the years I’ve felt less and less inclined to wear my heart so openly online, I’m sure you’ve either read or can find those past blogs somewhere online. Yet, despite that I still love these types of blogs. Some of them are fun like a blog I wrote about why I’m single The Single Life of a Tony, or one of my favourite and actually most read blog was my joke take on what the perfect woman would be What would the perfect girl be if she existed?! Other blogs, well they’ve been a bit more sombre but packed a message like this one Cheating in relationship, is it in the Jeans?.

For this one, well I’ll try and strike a balance between the two! Lately, I’ve given some thought to relationships, I’ve been a bit preoccupied for a while with other stuff. I’ve had close friends start new relationships and others ending, I’ve seen those on a high and those struggling. Add to that I’m coming to the end of my PhD and in all honesty having absolutely no clue what lies in store for me next and the terrifying feeling I feel about leaving that life and for the first time probably ever, that I don’t have a solid plan or goal, it has made me think about a lot of things lately. Top piece of advice, I may seem like I have my shit together, but I’m just like you, a twig in a river just in for the ride having no clue.

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The last valentine’s day I spent with someone the tap jammed on and the kitchen nearly flooded with boiling hot water, and we spent the evening filling pots and pans to stop the water from flooding the kitchen. If that wasn’t a metaphor for how that relationship would eventually end, I don’t know what is haha! I’m not going to throw shade in this blog at people in relationships and whatever it is you do on valentines day. Whether you make it special or not, it’s your relationship and I for one and not in a position to judge. You know my thoughts on having a day to celebrate your love for another person and whether I think this is how it should be done.

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In terms of me, well yeah another year single. I honestly thought that last year that would have changed but as per usual with me and my love life well it’s often a square trying to fit into a circle, it never quite fits. I’ll pass on three scenarios or instances where I thought it would change, but the universe as usual laughed and went no.

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For the first time in a long, long time did I entertain the thought of being with someone, people commented on how I was smiling a lot more and was funnier and yeah, I did want to be a better person for her. I’ll take a side step here for a second to explain something. Despite my opening remarks, I’m actually a pretty happy single, I’ve written blogs before about how important it is when you come out of a relationship which you give your all in, to recharge, rediscover yourself and ultimately, forgive your flaws. After all, if you can’t love yourself then how can anyone ever truly love you and you to love someone else? What this means, however, when you’re very self-assured of yourself as well while you may miss having that one person to entirely rely on, or the cute things like morning kisses, on the whole, you enjoy life, you appreciate who you are and that’s important because you’re whole as a person and don’t need someone else to make you whole. I think that’s incredibly important! So when someone comes along who when you are a whole person make you sit up and think, well hey, this girl I want to be better than I am now and they’re going to enhance what I have. Take yourself from 10 to 11, that extra level you haven’t unlocked yet.

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So I met someone who for the first time in ages those thoughts crossed my mind, of course as per usual they were taken. I rolled my eyes, we’ve seen this episode before in the sitcom or is that the horror show that is my love life? Anyway, long story short the classic I’ll wait for her to sort her stuff out and I’ll be a gentleman and not tell her how I truly feel about her, it was too late. The moment had gone. That’s cool, we’ve been here before. As another joke, there was someone else who passed the Tony test, someone I didn’t really think would but did, and I enjoyed every moment with them, but circumstances meant that that would never happen. At least I now have a pretty good yardstick of who to compare to, to live up to my idea of a perfect woman. Lastly, while those two were the standard typical me issues, the latter is when I came to realise that I am destined to be single probably for another few years. It’s like every time something crops up to close that door. Those on Facebook will know about the Bumble story.

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Eugh. If that wasn’t a sign, then I don’t know what is. People used to think I’d be taking the piss with how unlucky I am with women, but that just proves it. To quote one of my dear friends “Tony, you really are the most unluckiest people in love I’ve ever met”. I have to agree. If you don’t know the story, well, after months, probably years of “You need to go dating, go on the dating apps” I caved in and dipped my fishing rod into the sea of online dating. Hardly any fish bit except one. A really good looking redhead (you know my Achilles heel), smart, super funny, loved black coffee and aviation, I was thinking well finally, here she is, the one that ticks all the boxes. We get on like a house on fire, and before I could ask to meet up on a date, I get ghosted. No messages for a week. From 100mph to 0. I’d heard about this dreaded phenomenon in the online world of being ghosted. I was, to put it mildly, fuming. After a week I go back onto my message on bumble, I couldn’t face it until then. That’s when the universe played a blinder and to be fair if I weren’t the butt of the joke I’d have pissed myself laughing at it. My phone and the app for whatever fucking reason decided to hold all her messages and not inform me she sent them. So while I thought I had been ghosted, I had inadvertently ghosted her. Her final message “Wow, I really thought we were getting on so well. I didn’t expect you to ghost me.”

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I messaged to explain the situation to no avail. I guess she read that and was like suuuure your phone did that, you complete dick. So yeah, whoop. That was fun, and by fun, I mean about as fun as being on Merseyrail.

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So while my single life is a shitshow as per usual someone asked me a question recently that actually got me thinking about where I stand on it all. She asked me, “Tony, would you trade in all of your degrees, all of your numerous awards and all of your successes for a happy and lasting relationship right now?”

I didn’t even hesitate in answering.

No.

No, I wouldn’t, and I’ll tell you why and why I feel comfortable single. Every degree, every award, every accolade I’ve done that on my own. I haven’t needed someone to confide in, to console, to complete me, that’s all me. It’s a badge of honour. It shows myself that I can do things, I can achieve and when it all goes to crap, I can always rely on myself. Behind those degrees and awards is a lifetime of failure, stress, self-doubt, imposter syndrome to name but a few negatives. Yet, it’s each fall, each hurdle, that I’ve had to pick myself up, learn, move forward, always moving forward. So no, I wouldn’t trade any of that in for a relationship.

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That got me thinking then that while I joke that the universe is against me when it comes to the opposite sex, I think actually I’m the problem! I’ll tell you why or at least why I think I am. The first reason is that I am a problem solver and I give advice, and I don’t beat around the bush. While I am deeply emotional as a person, you’ll never see that in person. I value rational thought and logic over emotions. While that is one of my strengths as I can cut through bullshit and sort mostly any problem out and I would say that those who are close to me value that quality that a spade is a spade. While that’s great as a friend or a colleague would a girl always want to be called out on the bad things to be improved? I’m not trying to be mean, not at all, just if I see you can be more efficient or improve something I’ll tell you. Of course, while I try to be a bit more inclined to the emotionally sensitive people, I imagine that how I come across is a bit abrasive.

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The second problem on those lines is I am so hard on myself. Always have been and probably always will be. Daft but a recent example, I’ve just finished writing my thesis in 2 years 5 months, way faster than the average and while so many people have been like that is amazing, you should be so proud. My first thought, why didn’t you finish it in 2 years 4 months, why didn’t you push yourself to write more papers instead of the one etc. I can’t ever just pat myself on the back, and when others send praise, I brush it off as it’s nothing. What that transpires into is that I demand a lot from myself, so those who I hold dear I demand their best too. I mentioned before that I’m a problem solver, my default is okay, here is a problem, right, how can I sort that for you so that you’ll be happy again or can move forward. What I’ve slowly become to learn is actually a lot of women just want to be listened to, to have someone agree and say you’re in their corner. Not to solve their problems but to say yeah, I’m standing with you on this one.

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Finally, what this all boils down to being single for so long is that I am utterly shitting myself for my next relationship. I’m terrified to take that step again, to open up my heart for fear of the damage an ending will have again. Heartbreak is the literal worst thing you can experience. It’s easier to not be in a relationship to not be hurt, and therefore walls are set in a solid foundation. When you’ve thought for just yourself for so many years, to then, think for two people will genuinely be a challenge for me. I know that one day I’m going to have to find the courage to retake that leap of faith, lately, each time I pluck up the courage something crops up. I know people say everything happens for a reason, well I’d like to see that reason sooner rather than later!

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Sometimes I sit here though, and I’m glad that I’m single. I see the pain that some people post break up go through, and I relive that crap time. I sympathise. I then see people really not happy in relationships but are so afraid to start again, to take drastic steps to be happy themselves that they stay in unhealthy relationships, denying themselves a better option and being in denial that things will get better. One thing that being single for so long gives you is clarity. Sometimes I think people fall in love with the idea of love and not the person. Love is fucking hard. Love isn’t holding hands, it isn’t supporting each other in the good times or telling them you love them when you feel like it. Love is when the shit hits the fan in your life, and the other person stands with you, love is when you’ve been chucking your guts up and look like death, and they tell you you’re beautiful because to them beauty if way past what you look like. Love is when you fundamentally disagree on an issue, but you put that aside and support unconditionally because you’re a team. You rely on each other. Love is making those efforts in the moments where it all seems like it could fall apart, but you work at it because you’re both invested.

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What I see, more often than not, however, is people think they’re in love when in fact they’re in love with the idea of love. They don’t love themselves or know what they want, so they settle for what they think they deserve. What this breads in the end if people who let their partner take liberties or actually when they take a close look realise they have nothing in common or actually we’re a team publically but behind closed doors we’re as far apart as can be. If you’re not happy in a relationship, you really need to leave, for your own sake and for the other person. Sure, it’s a weird single world out there, and I bet the thought of starting again is fucking terrifying, but at least you’re giving yourself the real possibility of finding happiness again. Find yourself or at least a teammate who’s going to always give you 100%.

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However, I see why valentines day is the day it is. Love is crazy, messed up, it’s fire and ice, it’s a rainbow in a storm, a light in an endless tunnel. I get it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss having someone back me 100% as more than a friend, I’d be lying if I didn’t miss morning messages or random hairs on your clothes, and I’d be definitely lying if I didn’t say I miss the sex life. Which, for those asking is I think has now gone past drought to the UN’s definition of extinct! I’d be lying if I didn’t miss the powerful emotions that come with love. Future girlfriend better get ready for the best 10 seconds of her life!

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So, if you’re in a happy relationship and you love the person you’re with, on valentines day, I get it, I really do, and I applaud you. Tell that person you love them, not just on the 14th but every day. Sure, you’re going to hit turbulence along the way but make it work if you’re both committed. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re a team.

If you’re in a relationship and you’re deeply unhappy. As scary as it is, leave. It won’t get better, it never does, I’ve seen it a billion times before. You’re denying yourself a chance of happiness. If you’re newly single or just single, yeah this day sucks, it reminds you that even people like Hitler had a partner and you don’t. You’re literally less desirable than Hitler. I feel your pain. The 14th is brutal. But guess what, you are strong, you are you, you fight your battles every day on your own, you’re valued, and you won’t be as unlucky as me because I think I’m taking one for the team when it comes to love.

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So for next year, who knows if it’ll be 8 years or I’ll be one of those annoying over the top soppy people. Tune in next year guys. As always though, whatever happens, love yourself and give yourself a break!

Until next time.

A look back on 2018 part 2

July

Starting July with a 50-mile cycle around Lake Geneva in my books is one hell of a way to start a month off!

A fantastic few days away this was. I look back fondly on my trip to Croatia and the trip to Switzerland, perfect days with not a care in the world with the best company. Sadly for a long time that would be the last time I’d see Laura as she headed off to new pastures down south and its when the year started to get a bit crap without my sidekick with me!

But despite the turn for the worse from July onwards, this caption sums life up well.

I brought a new phone in July after dropping mine while trying to take a selfie on the bike in Geneva, oops! The Samsung S9+ is, however, the best phone I’ve owned to date!

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Selfie mode on the S9 plus is awesome!

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I was home for only a few days before I was off on my travels again. This time I was heading to deep South Wales after I was invited by the British Ecological Society to run a workshop on Drone with their A-level course down in Port Talbot. What a totally rewarding and fantastic few days away that was, it was hot and hard work but the kids were lovely, and it really felt like I had made a difference to these kids.

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Moth traps set for tonight

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2 days later I was back on my travels south again, this time for pleasure as we headed off to the Royal International Air Tattoo. The biggest airshow in the world and we just so happened to have front row seats!

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Front row flightline seats! Let's goooo!

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F35 is a bit loud!

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I still snigger at this. Lolz.

I also finally got around to putting some pictures up in my room of my travels.

August

While the UK baked in one of the hottest summers on record, with the office empty of people as they were either on a break, in new jobs or were travelling, I was working flat out on the PhD alone. This summer was one long montage of movie themes and hard work.

In between all the hard work was the brutal extraction and complicated extraction at that of my wisdom tooth. I’d been putting up with the pain since April and finally got it sorted but holy fuck it was one of the worst pains having that out that I’ve ever had and that’s coming from someone who’s had multiple operations and 8 leg breaks!

A summer of editing and writing

Amazing what painkillers and determination will get you.

This picture summed up 2018 at times, just when everything is going well you fall down haha.

While the PhD was the focus of my last summer as a PhD student, it didn’t stop me taking some time out with my Ginger Zinger to go hiking. I’d wanted to head up to Mau Famau for ages and when Ro called up and wanted to go on an adventure, i knew the place to go!

And I’m always happiest outdoors up a mountain! Where the geographer belongs.

September

After a month of solid writing and spending my downtime hiking or cycling I was as fit as I’d ever felt.

Which just left more room for many many BBQs on what was fabulous weather for once!

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Mmmmmmm BBQ!

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And plenty of time catching up with the best people!

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Sunday impromptu walks! 😁

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Another day, another conference. This time I headed up to Leeds to present at the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning conference. One of the best conferences I’ve been to and I loved presenting my work there.

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Light pollution over Leeds at night.

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Finally, a few days off came. Happy times!

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Woo not in work for over a week! 😁

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But the days off don’t last long and once again I was on another train heading north, this time to Newcastle for the BERA conference. The biggest conference I could present at as an Education, PhD student. I was nervous but excited!

While my presentation went well, the conference itself was a bit crap! Too most elite for my liking but thank god my friend and office buddy Vic was presenting too at the conference! She made that conference for me 😀

As a life long Newcastle United fan, after being a Mascot for them as a kid, I finally managed to visit my favourite club!

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I finally visited my favourite club!

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And Vic holds the record for being the only person to get me out to drink in a town centre at 1 a.m. Many have tried but failed!

Back home it was time to relax by going to see the Royal Tattoo but this time in Liverpool. We’ve done the official one on Edinburgh before, but as a treat to my Dad we had a great father-son evening, drinking whiskey, eating steak in Millers & Carter and watching a fabulous show.

October

October started off pretty well I’d say!

After a hell of a lot of work over the summer burring myself, my first draft of my PhD was finished. This was quite emotional to get to this point. The PhD was nowhere near finished but its a major point in the life of a PhD student, the end which was once so far away was finally starting to come into view. It was time to enjoy the moment before months of editing and rewriting was to come.

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One phd draft equals half a forest

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While the family were on holiday abroad, I spent the many nights on my own stargazing in the back garden and rewarded with capturing a meteor!

For those of you who follow my Instagram stories will all recall this night well haha

October brought death in the family that hit me the hardest this year. Great Uncle Peter I absolutely idolised. I was and still am to know he’s no longer with us. When the family asked me to say a few words at his funeral, I wanted to, but I was aware of how much responsibility that was, to sum up, someone’s life who meant so much to you. Weirdly, that’s my proudest moment of 2018. Delivering that Eulogy which was my trademark sincere but full of humour style, what he would have wanted, getting a lot of laughs at a funeral is something not everyone does every day that’s for sure. Seeing the family proud and that I summed him up to a T really helped me and I’m glad I could do him proud one last time. I miss you, Pete.

I didn’t have too much time to process the funeral as I was straight on a flight to Norway for my final international conference as a PhD student.

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It's a bit cold here.

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Bergen was a truly fantastic place to visit for the ISSOTL conference a bit of time for solo travelling.

One of my favourite memories of this year was sitting in this coffee shop, with my cold hands wrapped around the cup, watching the people of Bergen pass the windows as coffee house music floated around me. It was the best coffee shop I’ve ever gone into. I had just stepped off a 3-hour Norwegian Fjord cruise, despite being layered up I was frozen to the bone. I spent 2 hours warming up, chatting to the locals and going through the hundreds of pictures of what was an amazing few hours in the Fjords.

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Coffee views!

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And the Fjord, wow. They were stunning.

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😍

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Bergen is surrounded by mountains, and every night I was there I took the lone hike through the forest up the mountain for a nighttime hike. I was rewarded with stunning clear skies and amazing stars.

Bergen is just as stunning at night as it is in the day.

That was it, my last two presentations as a PhD student was officially over. I’d presented in different countries and at two major international conferences. Hundreds of miles away from home at the top of a mountain I reflected on the journey on a such a cold but clear night. The following is one of my favourite pictures of 2018. Where the adventure will lead next, I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

You’d be mad after a week of hiking and travelling to come home and go straight back out hiking, but that’s exactly what I did!

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Frozen in the rain but worth it!

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October started with a £100 win, and it ended with one too, boom!

And the Pumpkin of the year…

November

Autumn had arrived, I hate Autumn, and I hate winter, but I love it for the colours and photography.

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#autumn🍁

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Remembrance Sunday help a poignant and special meaning this year.

As with the lows in life, there are often the highs too. I was on my travel again to the Midlands to see my best friend from Uni, Han get married to Dan. A couple I had shipped for so long and was so happy to see get married! And what a wedding!! It was amazing, and it was great to catch up with the old housemates, and they’re witness to a very rare thing, me dancing!!

This sums up editing a PhD thesis.

Again, when you’re about to give up its often the moment that you make a breakthrough to carry on. I got my first ever academic citation from my paper I wrote last year! Aaaaaaaahhh!!!

December

What better way to start December than having our yearly jaunt around Liverpool Christmas market with Ro!

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Yearly christmas market selfie! 🎅

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The next day I took Em out for her Birthday meal in Millers & Carters. Can you get a better present than steak?

Of course, Meryseyrail where still being Merseryrail so I had no choice but to drink coffee and go Christmas shopping.

We finally got a new kitchen!

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Our new kitchen is done!

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Which meant our Xmas celebrations were way off kilter and at the last minute we managed to get out tree up. Phew.

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Tree is finally up! Merry Cliffemas!

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But to me, the best gift for Christmas was being reunited with this one for a little while before she headed back off for new adventures and more hard work!

Who knows what 2019 will bring? For me, I should finish my PhD and become Dr Cliffe. I plan on going travelling to new countries, continue to photograph everything in sight, value and cherish the moments I have with those that I love and hold dear whether they’re near or far. I don’t know what job I’ll have or where I’ll end up or what 2019 will be like. This year can be topped, but as I look back, there has been a lot of highs and some crushing lows. The hardest thing for me in the second half of the year was adjusting to work-life alone again. Laura heading off, Katie and Rosie moving to different countries and Vic travelling over summer meant a lonely summer slaving away on the PhD. I realised how much I’d come to rely on their company and humour each day. They made 2017 for me, and the adventures we’d shared in the first half of 2018 meant everything. 2019, I head out alone again on this road, but while they’re not here next to me, they come on this journey in my heart, and whatever we do in 2019, I’m sure it will be worth it, we’ll get there!

So no matter what your goals are or your aspirations for 2019, remember with the right attitude and hard work you can achieve it. I wish you, my followers and readers, a 2019 that is better than 2018 and I hope its a fantastic year for you. As always, you’ll see my 2019 on here, the good and bad. Who’s ready for another year of adventure hey?

Until next year,

Toe

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My look back at 2018 part one

 

 

Hey guys, 2018 well I’d give it a solid 7. The first half of the year was up there close to 10 but the second half of the year hasn’t been so great so brings it down to a 7 overall. I’ve had worse years, but I’ve had better ones that’s for sure. However, in this first blog, I want to look back with the help of my Instagram to talk through my year with some of my favourite images that have captured those moments this year. So let’s have a trip down memory lane!

January

For me, the picture above was one of the first ones I took in 2018, and it’s one of my favourites of the year. For Laura’s birthday, we made a snowy trip up to the Lake District and after battling snow and icy roads we decided to stop at the top of the valley, stand in the middle of the road to capture this image. It was a brilliant day and a great first trip of note in 2018. Even if I did have to run in the snow!

January wasn’t all play, sadly there was a lot of work too. By the end of January, I had analysed the first part of my PhD data, but that didn’t stop me going a little bit doolally.

February

By the time February came around work was well underway and the weather started to take a turn for the wintry. February is often one of my favourite months for photography, at least for star photography anyway. This year the full moon in February didn’t disappoint.

Of course, when it comes to wintry weather and merseyrail, they’re two things that never quite go together. This commute home took me a grand total of just over 3 and a half hours. It involved numerous cancelled trains and a 2-mile walk to then get a delayed train. Joys of commuting in winter.

When the weather abated it was time to get the bike out of the warmth of the house and head out onto the open road. It became a standard thing on Sunday to go out on our cycles together, this is one of many cycling selfies this year!

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Winter training continues in crosswinds!

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With the winter Olympics going on at the same time in Feb the office decided to get in on the action too with a closely fought sweepstake. Each day I would put the medal total on the large chart we made in the office, but after a close 2 weeks of competitive nature, Vic was the eventual winner of the 2018 PhD office Olympics!

Finally, after 8 years we finally got a good snowfall in Maghull!

I would often every Monday morning do a doodle to leave on Katie’s desk and this was a fitting PhD related message when everyone felt like they were in a slump, including me!

This picture still makes me laugh. I had walked home in the crunching snow and the closer I got to home the more the temperature had dropped. Underneath the snow was sheet ice, I hadn’t heeded the warnings of a few near slips as I ploughed on home. I often take pictures of St Andrews church near my house, but I’d never taken any pictures of it quite like this in the snow. Polar Express was playing in my headphones as I crouched down to take this shot with the glow of the street lights and the snow, my footsteps the only ones on the show. I love this shot, except as soon as I stood up it was a comedy of me trying my hardest to stay upright before eventually gravity won and I slipped on my arse and busted my knee. Totally worth it…

March

March saw the Beast from the East arrive. While this brought chaos to the UK with snow and winds for me, nothing sums the beast from the East up more than trying to have a bath, but the wind sounded like a train. Choo-Choo mother fuckers, the beast from the east has arrived!

As an office, we decided to do something cultural and have a look at the Terracotta army that had come to do an exhibition in the Liverpool Museum. I must admit I was a little underwhelmed by the experience, but that didn’t stop my usual humour replacing that disappointment.

March was fieldwork time for me, and the joys of being a PhD student is you get to look after your bosses dog on fieldwork. While that sounds like a great thing, I’m allergic to dogs and Pip wasn’t that happy with me but at least he stood still for 2 seconds so that I could get this picture of him!