The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

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

Tag: Family

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!!

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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?!

 

 

 

Farewell Great Uncle Peter

It was a tough day on Friday as we said our final farewells to one of my all-time favourite family members, my Great Uncle Peter. As far as funerals go, as weird as it sounds, this was the best one I’ve attended. I say that in the sense that not only was it a beautiful service in a very nice setting but it truly was a celebration of his life and it was a very fitting send off for him.

It broke my heart when I heard the news that he had passed away after a short illness and I will miss him and his humour an awful lot. As sad as I am that he’s passed, I am also in a way glad as he’d been suffering with dementia for the past few years and that took a lot away from not only him but his immediate family. I was asked by his wife, my Great Aunt Joyce if I’d like to say a few words at his funeral. I didn’t hesitate to say yes. As I was writing what I was going to say it dawned on me just how daunting that task would be. I’ve written hundreds of blogs over the years, I’ve written novels, I’ve spoken in front of a 1000 people and I’ve given presentations to UK parliament and National and International conferences, yet for me, this was not only the hardest speech but the one most I didn’t want to mess up.

Trying to put someone’s life as you saw them into words is hard. Then trying to deliver that at their funeral and not wanting to disappoint the family and wanting to give a fitting farewell is even harder. In the end after numerous drafts in my head I decided to write from the heart and in true Peter fashion I wanted some humour in there. I know it’s not the standard to try and make people laugh in a Eulogy but as I was writing it I could almost hear his laughter at some of the comments. I felt a lot of pressure when I was writing it simply because I didn’t want to let him down. At the funeral there were some truly wonderful words and memories spoken about a much loved man and I was glad that I could be a small part of that.

I can be really good at compartmentalising my feelings, so much so that some of my friends often refer to me as a ‘Robot’. I was doing absolutely great, although the ever present pre-speaking nerves were present until they played Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water before I was invited up to say my few words. I had to push the giant lump in my throat away as the true reality hit me. I’d practiced how I was going to deliver this numerous times but now it was all suddenly very real and I didn’t want to let one of my all-time favourite family members down by messing up their Eulogy!

I’m glad it got plenty of laughs for those who knew Peter well and I’ve never been at a funeral where they’ve clapped after the delivery of a Eulogy, so I hope I did him proud. I am also very touched that my cousins (his sons and daughter) were really appreciative of my words and to hear a lot of people say I summed him up and their experiences with Peter to a T was also something I think will stay with me for a long time. The last line choked me up every time I practised it and while I managed to keep it together on the day as soon as I sat back down in the chair and looked up at his coffin and picture which I’d avoided since walking in, the emotions hit me like a train and a few tears formed which says a lot about what Peter meant to me. I haven’t cried for 6 years, not even at the passing of my granddad this year so that may go some way for this ‘robot’ to show you what he meant to me.

Peter leaves behind a fantastic legacy and those who knew him well our lives are a little bit dimmer now that he’s gone. Deaths of loved ones always make you appreciate life and makes you think about the impact you have on people and what your legacy will be when you go. I hope one day when my time comes and I see you again that I’d have done you proud. May you forever rest in peace my old friend, Shalom x

My Eulogy for Peter:

Great Auntie Joyce asked me to pen and say a few words about my Great Uncle Peter. Uncle Peter was what can I say, I think ‘Loveable Rouge’ is a good term to describe him. Someone who was a little bit of a Del Boy, always trying to make a quick bit of cash here or save money there. A bit like Del Boy some of those things never quite came off but that didn’t stop him trying! He always did it with a charm and a charisma that was like no other. What defined him for me was his love for his family. A true family man who would do absolutely anything for those he held dear. It was clear to see how much his wonderful family meant to him. I know how much he loved Joyce, his exceptionally dedicated wife who’s been through everything with him by his side. I know how much he loved his children, Helen, Gary and Ian and his pride for his family was no greater seen than the beaming smile etched across his face when he spoke of any of his grandkids and how proud he was of them of what they’ve achieved and no doubt what they’ll go on to achieve.

What I loved so much about Uncle Peter was his wit and the banter we often shared. He had a wit that would cut through even the steeliest of people and you may have been at the end of that yourselves at some point! I know I have! Uncle Peter was a guy who was who he was, there was no false bravado or pretentiousness about him. I always loved seeing Uncle Peter when he would come down, and we would rip each other with banter constantly as our way of showing our affection for one another. Some banter well that just sticks, I don’t think he’s ever called me by my proper name, he’d never call me Tony but instead always referred to me as Anton as a in joke of how according to him I look Jewish! A family in joke that persists to this day because of him! He would always say to me “Anton! What time are you back in Burton’s shop window mate?” anytime I dressed smart, so I’m sure he’ll be having an absolute field day today with us all making an effort for him! As I talk to you now, I know he’d be saying something funny to shut me up and get a laugh. That’s the thing about Pete, he always knew how to make people laugh. I also know he’ll be telling me to wrap this up so I will leave you with this. Whenever Uncle Peter would come down and we’d offer him one of our whiskeys we would ask what he wanted in his glass, i.e. a splash of water or perhaps some ice, on the rocks maybe? Pete, well, he would just give that little smile of his and would simply reply “Just another one please”! So ladies and gentlemen whether it’s today, tomorrow or this year, have just another one for Peter, for the man who was Noble by name and Noble by nature. But make sure you put it on his tab! Because it’s definitely what he would have wanted…not!

So for one last time I feel it’s fitting to say my usual farewell to Peter, with a smile, Shalom mate!

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North Atlantic Adventure: My last stop. Toronto for thanksgiving

My North Atlantic adventure ends in Toronto where i visit my favourite Island and spend my first Canadian Thanksgiving with my amazing Canadian Family!

After a fantastic few days in Charlottetown I was heading to one of my favourite cities, Toronto! I’ve been to Toronto countless times and it never gets old, in fact I was there last April to visit family before heading across the country to visit more family in Edmonton. To me that’s what Toronto is, it’s about the family that is there and how unbelievably welcoming and awesome they all are. After such a long and epic solo journey it felt very fitting to end it with my Canadian cousins. When I was looking for hotels I noticed that hotel prices in Toronto for the three days were almost the price of all of my hotels combined on this trip. It was only when Barb my cousin was so happy that I was over for thanksgiving and told me I should stay with them for it, did I realise it was Thanksgiving weekend! We don’t have such a thing in the UK and Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day to the Yank’s one. I like the idea of Canadian thanksgiving, if I understand it correctly it’s about giving thanks for the harvest before the long cold winter ahead. It’s all about family and spending time with them with some great food. So again a fitting end to the trip! I was super excited to stay and be with my cousins again. We may live thousands of miles apart but the bond has always been there and it felt after this trip it was closer than ever. I am proud of my Canadian roots and they’re proud of their British ones. They are so incredibly welcoming and so totally on my wavelength with humour and outlook on things.

So while I boarded my very large plane for such a small airport I was away into the air leaving P.E.I behind. I was flying on Air Canada Rouge which gets a bad rap but those people have never flown Ryanair, so Air Canada Rouge is like first class compared to them! After a 2 and a half hour flight I touched down into the wonderful city of Toronto. Last time I landed here I was greeted by Dave my Cousin’s Husband who gave me a tour of the airport and let me sit in the cockpit of an A380 which can be found here Canada Travels: Blog 2 – Airport escort and Toronto Islands. I had great memories as I collected my bag and jumped on the train into the city. After spending a few weeks in small cities in the Maritimes, just like last year as soon as I exited the train station I had to stand in awe at the towering buildings, the noise, the smells, the colours. A world away from all the places I had been to on this trip. No fresh air and green mountains here. I was clearly still on maritime island time which was chilled and relaxed. In Toronto, like every city, everyone is in a rush. Especially trying to get home for Thanksgiving weekend.

As it was late afternoon I didn’t want to disturb my cousins so I booked my hotel for the one night before staying with them for the weekend. Part of the reason for that was I fell in love with the Toronto Islands last year on my visit and I wanted to go back again but I also came for a picture (which sadly I never got properly!). In our living room we have a large panoramic of the Toronto skyline at sunset taken from Snake Island, the Island I found last year. So I wanted to add that to my photo collection by getting one myself. I checked into my hotel, the Double Tree Hilton Downtown, which I stayed in last year. I still love the personalised welcome cookie on arrival and the rooms are huge! I freshened up, grabbed my camera gear and headed out into the chaos that is a major city in North America. No Photographer can shoot on an empty stomach though so I stopped for an amazing teriyaki glazed steak for tea!

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Teriyaki glazed medium 8 Oz Sirloin 😍

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After that I walked down to the harbour and paid $6 for the ferry across Lake Ontario to the Islands. It was so much quieter this time in late afternoon than when I visited here in April, it was peaceful. It still amazes me a 10 minute ferry ride and the city skyline looms behind you but it’s so peaceful and fresh with nothing but the gentle waves and the birds chirping. Once the ferry had pulled up I set off to find the little unmarked track through the woods I found last year to get to Snake Island.

CN Tower from the Islands

They’d had some bad flooding a few weeks before and you could tell. The amazing bench and trees were washed away and it looked less than idyllic than it did over 12 months ago. But, the fallen washed away tree made for a great foreground for my shot.

Toronto Skyline from the Islands at Dusk

I waited as the sunset and sadly it never gave me the colours I was hoping for so I guess I’ll just have to come back! I loved the hours I spent just taking pictures, watching night fall and the lights coming on across the water, no one around just complete serenity. I love this place so much!

Sunset and CN Tower

By time night had fallen I packed my gear up and jumped on one of the last ferries of the night. The ride across the water with the skyscrapers looming and reflecting their lights in the heat of the night is special and certainly nothing like it here in the UK. After a walk back to the hotel I grabbed a shower and went straight to sleep. Another brilliant day ticked off on this trip.

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Nice warm night in Toronto!

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The next morning after a Tim Hortons breakfast I jumped on the train to head back to the airport where my cousin Scott and his Wife Katrina offered to pick me up and take me out for the day. You can tell we’re related as Scott is an avgeek like me and we both love military stuff so a day was planned to visit Hamilton air museum, Canada’s version of Duxford or Hendon and then onwards to Haida a Canadian Warship. What a fantastic day out that was! I had such a laugh and a great time with both of them. Hamilton is a fantastic place to visit with so many different aircraft types and brilliant exhibitions. What I love about this place is nearly all of the aircraft are flyable and unlike in the UK, you can pay a few thousand dollars and go up in some of them! The Canadian’s have the only other flying Lancaster bomber in the world alongside us and it’s based here. I was so lucky to see them both flying when they brought it over a few summers ago and to see it in its home base was very special.

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After there we drove to walk around Haida, a fantastic floating ship of many wars! It was really cool to go around and appreciate what these guys went through in such conditions. I wish we had something like this other than HMS Belfast in London, Liverpool could take Haida as an example of how to do it!

After that I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had before we visited the Merchant Navy memorial. We have very close ties to MN from both sides of the Atlantic with many family members having served and it was a real pleasure to see my great Uncle Wals ships listed. I still miss him and Audrey a lot and I know they would both be looking down with a big smile on their faces to see both sides of the Atlantic family being so close together!

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Scott and Katrina ❤

After the long drive back I arrived at my Cousin Barb’s house and dropped my bags off and we were off to a house party of one of their friends. Oh how the Canadian’s live! Everyone has a pool because they get the weather and I wish we had that lifestyle but the UK just does not cater for it! Considering it was October, it was till in the 20’s by night. I don’t think that has ever happened in the UK past August! That was a fun night catching up with Barb, Dave, Betsy and Erin. It’s so hard for me to express how much I loved being there with these guys and how happy I was to see them all again!

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The next morning me, Barb and Erin went hiking with the dogs. Erin’s dog, Sevvy is the size of an actual horse. He is huge but what a wonderful dog. Those who know me know I’m not a dog person, give me a cat any day of the week but by the end of the trip I wanted to take him home with me! The hike through the escarpment was spectacular and again I am jealous they have all of this on their doorstep!

Autumn and Fall in the forest

One of my absolute favourite parts of this trip though was sitting down with coffee, breakfast and just chatting to Barb and Betsy about their dad Wal. He is the reason we have this half Canadian Half British family and he was loved by everyone. He was such a wonderful guy and it was a real pleasure talking about him and swapping stories and for me, hearing some new exploits about his time during the war and how lucky he was at times. It was just great to sit down and chat and it to not feel like I was on holiday. It felt great to catch up and share stories of back home and plans here. Even the simple things like going on a drive to the shops with my cousin Erin. Moments I treasure because I don’t get them every day and it’s always a laugh and I just loved it. Although saying that, I don’t think I’d ever understand how Canadian supermarkets work! They’re not laid out logically to my UK mind!!

This all came together on my first thanksgiving day. I must thank Barb and co for some excellent food and them being so accommodating for my lactose intolerance! I know its a bloody hassle and they made no fuss about it all! What I loved about thanksgiving though was not only spending it with them but I got to see my other cousins too, Bob and Robin and their Daughters Becky and Sarah. It was also great to meet Mark for the first time too! Last time I was in Canada was the first time I had ever met them and their wonderful families and once again I was made to feel so welcome! They’re all absolutely amazing people from their kids to their partners and I loved seeing them all again. I particularly relished the sparing of wit between me and Dave!

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Canadian Fam!

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Canadian Cliffes!

After wonderful food and company it was time to leave and I was super sad to say goodbye to everyone again. Canada is like home for me and like any place it’s the people in it who make it so special. I am forever grateful for everyone who made me so welcome again and so accommodating on my visit in Toronto and for family who drove for hours to come see me or take me out places. While we may have a giant ocean that sits between us I feel the bond between us all is as strong as ever and while I was sad on the car ride back to the airport, again thanks to Betsy for taking time out of her day to drive me all the way to the airport, I was happy to know our Anglo-Canadian relationship is as strong as ever. I can only hope to see them all over here one day when I can repay their kindness and hospitality! It really was tough to say goodbye to them all.

Like last year, I was gutted and sad to say goodbye to family as I headed back home but again, it offered me one last amazing gesture. Last year I got on the plane and got upgraded to First class and I enjoy a lie flat bed, champagne and steak! The odds of that happening again were incredibly small. Well, I guess Canada loves to send me on my way in style. I check in and the check-in girl upgrades me again to first class for my flight back to Iceland! Flying back in first class does lessen the blow of leaving a brilliant few weeks of travel.

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Cava before departure 😉

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I had the front row to myself in first class and I enjoyed my 12 a.m., 4 hour flight across the Atlantic to Iceland. A quick hour wait in Iceland I got on my connecting Icelandair flight to Manchester, 2 and a bit hours later I was finally home after what was a truly superb holiday. I had walked on glaciers and volcanoes, I had stood and watched nature at its finest under the dazzling spectacular of the Northern Lights, I had climbed mountains on rocky outcrops of the North Atlantic, I had fallen in love on P.E.I and saw sunsets that have yet to be beaten and I had closer ties with my Canadian family than ever before. What a truly fantastic adventure it was and memories and stories I will cherish forever. It really was one big North Atlantic Adventure.

 

Missed the adventure? Find more below.

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part One

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part Two

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part One

North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part Two

North Atlantic Adventure: Prince Edward Island

Avgeek Videos of this leg of the trip:

PhD as a sitcom: It’s the friends that make you appreciate the journey

Before starting the PhD there was a sense that there was no doubt that it was a long journey ahead. I’m no stranger to long journeys or solo travel so the PhD was almost an intellectual perfect fit. I often pictured any long piece of writing, be that the two previous dissertations or the two novels that I’ve wrote as long climbs. Long climbs for example on the bike are always more about mental strength than physical. Cycling up a long hill, looking up but nothing but steeper road and no sign of any peak, is exhausting and everything in your head tells you to quit. Yet, when someone else is cycling with you, you keep going, you jeer each other on. The PhD is exactly the same.  Any article I read about doing a PhD before I started was everyone said how lonely the PhD experience was. I had images in my head of three years of solitary confinement and turning into Tom Hanks from Castaway. Perhaps the Thesis would be called Wilson?

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In some aspects as a PhD student you are on your own little island but others are on that island too. Ironically, like lost, it’s an Island that tries to kill you at every turn and we try to escape it over the course of three academic seasons.

I’ve been very fortunate to be in a position that not many new PhD students get to be in and that is a part of a cohort. My PhD was created through a new stream of funding and they wanted to develop a new PhD community in the Education faculty. So I was really lucky to start at the same time as a group of students were starting. So in September we all boarded the PhD boat and it set sail into the bold new waters of undiscovered research. At the moment that boat is somewhere between the Costa Concordia and the Titanic but what matters the most for this metaphor is we’re all in it together!

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Accurate representation of the PhD ship on a daily basis.

And that’s important to me. Those of you who know me well enough will know that I pride myself on the company I keep and I cherish my friendships.  As much as I love friends and family who are not involved in the PhD, they simply do not understand the stresses and strain of the PhD. That’s not their fault. It’s an entirely different world. I might as well be on the Enterprise as it’s a vastly different adventure to anything else. PhD friends however just get it and like Vic put it so well “You’re the only ones I can talk to about this stuff”. She’s right. For example the stress of the RD9R form, initiation to the PhD, quest or journey to hell and back, whatever you want to call it, was about as annoying as hearing Adele on the radio every two minutes! I could have complained to friends or family about it but I don’t think they quite grasp the scale of the torture of an RD9R form. On the other hand, my fellow PhD brethren fully appreciate my anger at it all. We all seriously had good and bad days with that form!

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Those that know me well will also know that I am rarely one to ask for help or seek council. When I do, you know it’s bad. I prefer to deal with issues myself but doing this PhD it’s almost as if the currency of a PhD is collaboration and help. You don’t help others for any person gain, it’s just what you do here in this weird and wonderful PhD world. If you don’t help each other out on this island you’re all going to starve. If one of you is a dick, then you’ll get murdered and eaten. I’ve read lord of the flies, no one wants to be Piggy.

That being said I love helping others out and I love giving objective advice. I’ve been on the other side of education as a staff member and I’ve seen all the issues that come with it. Therefore I’m well equipped to deal with most problems in academia, be that god awful supervisors to vast amount of red tape. The former I am so lucky to have brilliant supervisors for my PhD but I realise that I am one of the lucky ones. You read about horror stories of terrible Directors of Studies, unfortunately a dear friend is the one who has that nightmare! Pretty much the empire strikes back with that one. This is how villains are created! You know when you thought you could rely on someone being nice and then they turn really horrible on you. Her supervisors have basically pulled a Paolo from Lizzie McGuire.

paolo

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So, the PhD friends have made this PhD so special in just the short 6 months I’ve been at it. I still don’t think the PhD is hard. That’s not some ooh look at me doing a PhD and finding it easy. The Research Assistant job was just way way harder. I guess I have a busy GID department to thank for my training in those two years! So the research is fun but what makes it more fun is the people. As much as I am a self-centred narcissist at times I deeply value teams and team goals and I demand success from myself, so I demand it from others. I want other people to succeed. Yes, I like to be the leader of said teams or a point of contact for advice. It makes me feel like I have a purpose, which fuels my ego. Pretty straight forward cycle. However, I love giving advice, there is nothing better than seeing your words being put into action for the benefit of others! It’s one reason I’m in academia and that’s to make a difference. Yet, in this job I don’t actually see myself as better than anyone else, we’re all equals in that office because we all have our different strengths that we all bring to the team. We’re pretty much the PhD avengers. Viva people and research degree committees are pretty much Hydra too.

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You know well by now that I feel like my life is a TV show in a parallel universe due to the vast randomness that happens to me and all the drama that happens with my fellow cast members! If it was a TV show, I’m sure the audience all have their favourite characters (as do I!) but if my life was broken down into a series then this new series would be the PhD one. I’m pretty sure if the PhD was a series or a new TV show, we’d deffo be rocking 9.5 on IMDB. We even have our own theme song too! ‘Sheryl Crows – Winding Road’ if you wanted to know. It’s literally the perfect song! This group has it all. Vast amounts of comedy and I mean vast. Every day is a laugh and some of the one liners in this group are amazing! Sarcasm is rife, intellectual debate and comedy is pretty much how we talk to each other. You’d struggle to write a script as good as this. Yet, there is plenty of drama, there has been tears and what makes every TV show compelling is the dynamic and bond between the characters. It’s pretty much the TV show community. Everyone is there for everyone else because we’re all in this sinking research boat together. It’s amazing to be in such a friendly and collaborative environment. No problem is too big or too trivial. Everyone chips in to help out. Not for personal gain but because we want all of us to succeed. Statistically one of us will quit the PhD at some point. I like to think despite us all wobbling at times that we’ll be unique in doing this journey together. I’ve pulled one person back on the ship after nearly going overboard and I’m hauling another in as we speak. There will be no better sense of accomplishment to when we all graduate, knowing we’ve got through three years of the hardest mental challenge ever together.

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So, a little bit about my PhD dudes!

Emy: The Dad. is pretty much a time lord. I swear. For 52 he looks about 27! I don’t know if he bathes in a Lazarus pit but damn I hope I look that good when I’m that age! Emy was the first PhD student I met in H003 and for a about two weeks it was just the two of us in that office. Emy, is like the Dad of the group, he’s the wise figure head. His life experience is invaluable to all of us and I think I speak on behalf of all of the group when I say we massively respect him looking after a family and doing a PhD! His desk is a work of art in the sense that I thought mine was messy but holy cow, you need a Sherpa to navigate that desk! Luckily his advice and guidance far outweighs his sprawling mound of paper!

Laura: Cycling Bae. Laura was the second PhD student I met in H003 and my mornings would not be complete without our morning chats! Or should I say rants 😉 and by rants I mean I sit there and listen intently and filter the information before giving wonderful advice ;). If I do say so myself. Laura though is very funny and we have real deep and meaningful chats and we have our little side adventures. Be that our cycling trips or sneaking into meetings that we’re not strictly meant to attend. Laura is probably the most studious out of all of us. She’s pretty much replaced Alex from masters in undergrad in that regard. A very hard working person! Also, there isn’t a staff member or trick about the uni that Laura doesn’t know!

Rosie: My office P.I.C. That’s partner in crime if you weren’t down with the kids. There is a two hour window in the day when we’re not in the office together and that’s pretty much when 90% of our work gets done. We talk constantly! Probably to the annoyance of others in the office, sorry guys! I often like to think of myself as one of the most laid back and chilled people you’ll ever meet. Rosie blew that straight out of the water. I think Hammock is a pretty apt nickname. We’re very much alike which is no surprise considering we’re only born three days apart. Practically twins! Also, a southerner who hates Margaret Thatcher!? What a winner. Rosie is also a constant source of good food and tv advice and especially sweets…but not before 12. You have been warned!

Vic: Miss Fun and well miss organised. Vic is always the one to keep us motivated, happy and all together. Forever organising stuff as a group. She’s incredibly funny too but I don’t think she realises how funny! She says what she thinks which I love and is a real down to earth, honest and genuine girl. As she’s older than me she is pretty much almost like the mum of the group for her caring nature. Now that she’s our post grad rep I couldn’t think of a better role for her and I know any concerns we do have are certainly in her most capable of hands. In the nicest way, she has that fun quirky charm which I know we all appreciate!

Hannah and Cara: I speak about them as one because they’re almost impossible to separate. They’re a package and a double act. Like Ant and Dec but way funnier, cooler and generally more likeable. They don’t spend as much time in the office as those core group of the original H003 but they’re always fun to be around. Again, always a good source of humour! They really do have a hell of a lot to juggle and I am amazed at how well they do all of it!

Katie: The newest addition to this mad house that is H003. Even though we’re only 6 months in, we all kind of feel veterans of this PhD game now. Battled hardend and wary already! We probably came across as miserable buggers when she first met us when we discussed the RD9R form and what lay ahead! More so than anyone else are we here for advice for Katie because we wish we had someone who’d been there and got the battle scars, so we want her to have an easier ride! Yet, its almost as if she’s been here from the start. She’s fitted in perfectly! Again, I feel kinda’ guilty that she drew the short straw sitting next to me because I really do talk a lot! On the plus side of that, she has a great sense of humour, sarcasm in spades and what a wonderful surprise to find we share a love of writing and the anguish of what it’s like to put words on paper through novels and blogs (get back to blogs!!). Also it’s so fun to see another person who has random and weird train journeys! See everyone, it really isn’t just me, it happens to others too!!

Some new PhD students will be starting soon but I think this core of students is the one. The beauty of this is that I am always in the mind-set that it’s the people that make the place. These people make that place. The PhD although not hard, is by no means easy. Its mentally challenging, its one hell of a roller-coaster ride. We all share and celebrate each other’s highs because we know in a blink of an eye we’ll get a crushing low. Everyone else in the PhD environment puts you down, tells you you’re crap and that your work is never good enough. If it wasn’t for this bunch of PhD avengers I doubt any of us would have any positive outlooks on life. For someone who is highly independent I never thought I would rely on a group of people as much as I do now. They’re friends, they’re a family. The PhD is one long and arduous journey in a boat that is constantly trying to fill up with water. Yet, with these people, I know we’ll survive and we’ll get off this PhD Island one day. For now at least we have many episodes to come and I cannot wait to see them play out! I’ll end this blog with a quote that I find very apt. “It’s the friends we meet along the way, that help us to appreciate the journey”.

friend

savedbythebell

We’re the new saved by the bell

Until next time,

Toe.

Ireland Trip Part 2:Change of views, family and coastal walks

After a good night’s sleep in a bedroom that has barely changed in all the time I’ve been coming here, I felt refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Nan’s full Irish breakfast is always a good way to start the day. My Grandad often says I should come over more often as it’s the only time Nan will make his breakfast for him! There is something about Irish White pudding that just goes so incredibly well with bacon in a sandwich. Delicious!

However today was not about me revelling in the delights of Irish cooking (to which there are many delights I assure you!) today was about spending some quality time with my grandparents. Let’s not pull any punches here, they’re getting old. They’re into their 80’s now, not long had some major back surgery and the recovery hasn’t been as quick as they’d hoped. They’re both in pain and it’s showing and one of the reasons I make the effort to come over a couple of times a year is because I know I have much less visits left on the cards than I used to have. I want to make the most of my time with them while I can. Many people are very fortunate to pop down to their grandparents every week. I never got that luxury. Not when they live in another country. So your relationship consists of phone calls and then short visits. So I’m always mindful to maximise my time with them, share my life with them as much as they share theirs with me. I love all of their stories, they’ve visited over 40 countries, they’ve seen the world, and they offer great support and advice.

Even though I’ve heard some of the stories a billion times I still sit and listen as something new always comes up, another layer to the story that wasn’t there before. I’m still fascinated by my grandad’s stories of the war. Despite thinking that watching Spitfires dogfighting over Liverpool with German Me109’s with stray bullets flying around you while you watch is awesome in your head. They very much come across as quite terrifying and his stories of his service for the army in Jungle warfare are as exciting, scary and detailed as the best action thriller. The Gurkhas he is forever in debt for, for their protection in the jungle.

So today, with them both not as active as they once were due to their backs, it was nice to be invited along to the “men’s shed” with my grandad. It’s a new initiative in the village, where retired men can get together to build things, have a place to chat and meet up. I think it’s a wonderful idea and to come along to such a place was very rewarding. The amount of knowledge and expertise in the room is amazing and despite all being later on in life, in their eyes they’re teenagers. I found it very funny too, as typical Irish some of the things they would come out with deserves a blog in its own right! It did feel like I was in an episode of Father Ted! Yes I was every five minutes asked would I like more tea…

One thing I took away from that visit to the men’s shed was a young man called Aaron. He was only a few years older than me, at a push, has learning difficulties, not much family around, some say he was in an accident as a child, others say he was born with it. The men’s shed invited him in as one of their own, to be a friend to him and give him a place to fit in. The men’s shed were given the task this winter of building the crib for the local church and on the day that I visited they were planning how to make it and what it would look like. Aaron was instantly, and I could see it in his face, pride beaming away, instantly took me through all of their plans. He took me on a tour of the facilities, took me on a tour around the Church, explaining in very accurate details how he pictured this crib would play out from his ideas in his head, to how they would look in real life. There was a real pride from him in the way he spoke about the project and the men’s shed. Almost akin to an artist pitching his ideas to prospective buyers. To me, when I arrived it was just a meeting place for older dudes to hang out and to build a crib for the church for Christmas. Nothing mind-blowing, at least not to me. Yet, this project and place was this guys home, he felt for once like he has responsibility, for once people here treated him as an equal. He has learning difficulties but it doesn’t make him any less of a human than anyone else. Why people think that is beyond me. He told me with such pride how he had finally been given a job “washing the big pans” in a local takeaway. His smile was a wide as the river Liffy. For me because I’m a dick wouldn’t even bother myself to do that, at a push I certainly wouldn’t be smiling about it. For him it was as if he had won the lottery.

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Me and Aaron. Very proud of the Men’s shed.

It amazed me, it humbled me and I went away that night lying awake in bed and had to re-evaluate my outlook on things. To not take things for granted and to be grateful for the little things. His passion he showed I can only describe as a child before Christmas or me when I talk about my research or cycling. That’s almost frowned upon in everyday life now. It’s a real shame, I think we can all go back to being enthused by the little things. With a very firm handshake and thank you from him to me for showing me around (despite me repeatedly telling him it is me who is thanking him for the tour! Again that struck a cord with me. He was so thankful for someone listening to him to give him the time of day. That to him should be the norm, not a rare gift) I left with my grandad after a few more hours with the guys there having spent a lovely day with my grandad and his friends. I may have left one mark on the project and that was my suggestion of using modelling artificial grass for the roof of the crib. Something they hadn’t thought of, so it is nice to know a little piece of Tony Cliffe’s idea is a part of the Men’s Shed 2015 Ashbourne church Christmas crib!

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The cribs outline and instructions

 

I was very touched by the day’s events and some very enlightening conversations and stories with my grandparents and before long it was 11pm and it was time for bed.

The next day I woke up with both my grandparents still asleep. The snores from both of them rattling through the wall of my bedroom as if a jackhammer was digging up the road outside. I elected to skip a shower that morning. A, as I didn’t want to wake them and B. climbing up a very large hill I was going to get pretty smelly anyway!

After Jam on toast I waiting for my Aunt Susan and Uncle Dave to come pick me up. I was really looking forward to today for a few reasons. Howth head, is a stunningly beautiful place in Ireland and the pictures throughout this blog will show that. I’m a Geographer, I love nature and the outdoors and walking in those environments is very recharging for the soul. Especially after a very stressful and busy few months in work it’s nice to cut yourself off from the busy world of deadlines and emails and just drink in nature’s beauty. More than that, I was really looking forward to spending a quality day with my Aunt and Uncle. Something I don’t think I’ve ever had a day on my own with them, I’m either with family or over with my dad, so to just spend a day with the two of them was really really nice!

 

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Stunning Howth head © Anthony Cliffe

 

Susan and Dave have the best sense of humour, extremely down to earth and are two people who work incredibly hard and have their heads screwed on. So despite the amazing scenery, it was really nice to spend a day getting closer to them both and laughing an awful lot! To have two locals as a tour guide on this walk was invaluable and I just about kept up with the pair!  Howth head is a stunning place and a brilliant walk if you ever get the chance. From sweeping Cliffs that drop into a deep emerald waters of the Irish Sea, to dense and colourful forests that suddenly give way to shimmering marbled outcrops that overlook the city of Dublin and the bay, to the popping greens of the fields. It’s amazing! A Geographer and a photographers dream.

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Amazing scenery © Anthony Cliffe

 

Even the typical Irish weather couldn’t dampen the spirits and made it feel even more like an adventure and blimey it was some walk! Close to 10 miles we walked and up some bloody steep climbs and some scary cliff walks! I loved it. I’ve been going to Ireland for many many years and I have to say that day was right up there with the best.

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©Anthony Cliffe

 

 

Just when I think the day couldn’t get any more awesome they took me to the quirkiest pub I have ever been to for tea and soup after the walk. It’s almost impossible to describe it. In fact I can’t! It’s called the Dog House and well you could be a traveller anywhere in the world when you were in there. Such a cool place!

I finished the day off with my nans famous Steak and Guinness pie. What more can you ask for!?

My final full day was spent driving through horrendous weather to head up to the boarder of Northern Ireland to see my great Aunt Essie. I always muse to myself at all of the glacial features there, so many drumlins! It’s only then that i realise how much being a Geography academic turns you into a nerd but ah well, I digress! She’s my Dad’s favourite Aunt and he would spend all of his summers on the farm with them all. In fact the Grays have been on that plot of land for hundreds of years. I love going “up country” because it really is like going back in time. SO remote and I mean remote! It was only a few years ago they stopped washing in the well because well (pardon the pun) modern civilisation just didn’t reach this part of the world. It still amazes me how basic it is there in a developed country. Crazy. It was the first time back since my great Uncle Tommy died. I wrote a blog about him when he did pass and it still felt like his presence was in the house, I certainly couldn’t sit in his chair where he always would sit.  As we backed out of the driveway after a few hours with her, I could picture in my mind Tommy backing us out, with that full head of hair and rosy cheeks, puffing away on his pipe or cigarette and waving like he always has done. My dad has recently come back from Ireland and it was nice to know he thought the same as he was backing out of the driveway too. The biggest thing about those who live there is they haven’t been corrupted by the modern world or celeb culture. They’re just real down to earth genuine people who cook THE BEST food around. Seriously if you want home, traditional cooking, where everything you eat has been grown within sight. That is the place to go. Still makes me laugh of the story when they said to my dad, “Fancy some chicken tonight?”
“Yeah sure”
“Okay, pick one”…You can’t get much fresher than that! Despite on that trip eating my own body weight in potatoes at every meal, Irish spuds are the best.

How long they have left there I don’t know? What will happen to the site that my family have been on for hundreds of years now there is no one really to take it on and up keep it? I don’t know and it’s a worry. The house that has been there for centuries is falling down, the forest was sold off, and farming in rural Ireland doesn’t support those who worked it for years anymore. I’m a proud family man and to see such heritage be lost is quite sobering. In the future i want to hopefully take a partner and our kids there one day and say, “Look part of your family grew up here, your granddad spent his summers here and so did I”. I want them to be apart of that and not look at a new estate or a pile of rubble. I genuinely fear i’ll never get to share that. Sadly modern day life has arrived and it has hit hard. Each time I come here I notice new builds of the rich city folk who’ve built mansions and large second homes on the surrounding land. Sure, the roads are still full of cattle and tractors who think they’re on a race track but there are more and more cars, more and higher end cars at that, appearing. It’s a real shame. That one place that was untouched by modern life is sadly dying away with each passing of those who live there.

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View from her garden © Anthony Cliffe

 

Despite that being quite a sobering thought it is one of positive, at least for me this trip was. It was a trip were I could switch off and spend some quality time with family. To reconnect with the simplistic beauty of nature and to remember a life outside of social media and my smartphone. Strengthening bonds between family members is important and above all cherishing those moments you have with them. Although I hope they all have many years left in them and I’m sure they will have, you do have that horrible thought in your head that as you step on the plane and you whisper goodbye to Ireland for a few months as you climb into the clouds back home. Is that the last time you’ll see them? Despite how sad that is, it makes those memories and the moments even more special and I hope I have many many more memories and moments to share with them. Especially my grandparents who have supported me through everything and without them I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I am in today.

I’m back over in a couple of months where I’ll start a brilliant solo adventure to Canada. To see family in Toronto and then to travel right across the country to see Robbie my cousin, one of my best friends growing up and when he moved out to Canada from Ireland a few years ago I’ve been dying to go see him, Nicky, Luke and now baby Oliver. Yes I am so jealous he lives there! I’ll get over there one time but for now a week and a bit will have to do!

So remember always cherish time with family and go visit Ireland! You won’t regret it! Please click on the thumbnails below for full size images of some of the shots I took on this trip! Please comment too if you want to 🙂

Until next time.

Toe