The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

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

Tag: Friendship

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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The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105

“So congratulations Dr Cliffe” my internal examiner raises a huge grin and leans across the table to shake my hand, followed by my external then a slap on the back from my supervisor. I slump back in my chair as I thank them. I’m exhausted. I take a deep breath as I feel the stress of the viva flow through me and out with every breath. I can’t quite believe that I’ve survived. Is it over? There is no rising movie score of epic proportions, there is no confetti canon or wild cheering. A formal handshake completes the epic journey, a refined act for what has been an epic battle from day one. I’d just finished a PhD in 2 years 8 months and come through a tough viva, but I feel numb, completely numb. I’m happy, of course I am! But I’m also acutely aware of how instantly tired I am. When you’ve been stressed and working so hard for what felt like forever, with the goal reached it was that surreal moment of reaching the summit of the highest mountain you’ve ever climbed, looking back from where you’ve come from and then looking out at the view and just standing in amazement. I had reached my goal and now what was my first thought.

But more than that, I’m numb with bewilderment because I thought I had lost it all within 2 minutes of the 1hr 45 minute viva. I had done the best I could in the Viva but felt that my best wasn’t good enough, too many torpedo hits and not enough patching up to stop the ship from sinking. I was wrong, I had survived, I had done enough. Brutal. Intellectually brutal is the only word I can describe for the Viva. Nothing compares, and nothing ever will. I get it now, I really do when they say getting a PhD and particularly the final battle of the Viva is the hardest intellectual thing you can ever do. It all became apparent how hard it is to get a PhD in this moment.

There is no amount of patching up that you can do to save it, and no amount of effective counter weapons can save you and your thesis either.

I replay the morning ahead of me as I took a deep breath and thanked them all for their time, collected my belongings and walked out of the room. I could barely feel my feet under me, my mind still ultimately shell shocked at the whole experience, not just the Viva but the cumulation of nearly three years of solid hard work was over. Like a solider that’s been told the war is over, looking down at his dishevelled uniform.

To paraphrase a dear friend of mine, Rosie, she once offered her pearl of wisdom about the PhD and torpedoes. In essence, your thesis is a ship in a battle, and there are certain things that you’ll do or write that will come under attack from the examiners. So it’s your job to make sure your thesis is as watertight as possible, yet that is impossible. The examiners will always find something, they’ll send their torpedoes directly towards your ship. The point of her analogy was that there will be small torpedoes that you take the hit and move on, but there will be fundamental torpedoes such as your methods where if you’ve got that wrong, the examiners will send a direct hit, and you’ll be sunk. There is no amount of patching up that you can do to save it, and no amount of effective counter weapons can save you and your thesis either.

That analogy flashed across my mind as I watched that torpedo ripple under the waves towards my ship. The opening salvo of the battle of the Viva had begun, and in my head, it had felt as if I’d already lost. “Have you written a thesis that matches your title? We don’t think you have”. Boom. Damage report. Flashing lights and noise fill my head as I scramble to right myself, any sense of I could win this had vanished, any plan of attack I had and had prepared to defend my thesis was thrown out of the window. I scramble for a confident tone in my voice despite feeling my heart in my mouth and my entire PhD crumble around me “Yeah…I have…Absolutely”.

In my head, a million thoughts are rushing around my brain, and an internal dialogue goes on in my head, What have I missed? What has everyone else missed? I’ve planned for this worst-case scenario, but I never thought it would come true, what do I do? Have I failed? Is this a test question? I’ve come so far ahead of the curve people are going to be so let down if I fail. Did I gamble not ever working a Friday? Fuck. Fuck. Breathe Tony. Fight, you know your stuff, believe in your work. Come on! Battle stations!

For the next hour and three quarters, a healthy and in-depth viva discussion occurred with my excellent examiners. I had to take some torpedo hits that I was willing to let happen, but I fought back with my own, defending my thesis and my journey to this point. It was constant, question after question, no time for rest or composure. An intellectual debate of the highest order it had felt as if my brain was in a boxing match. From defending the use of certain words in the thesis, to a discussion of changing my title, to me shouting about the merits of my innovative EVFG that I’d created. Despite that initial blow, I felt that I had recovered throughout the Viva. The examiners seemed pleased with my answers to their tricky questions. I thought I had defended my thesis when needed and let it go when I needed to. For example, I have the term pedagogy in my title, I’ve never liked it, always felt uncomfortable with it in and its corresponding sections in my thesis. It showed in my writing. That torpedo they sent my way was directed right at that. My weakest section, my ships design flaw. They’d honed in on it straight away, a vulnerability I had recognised but put up with because I was in an education department, so it had to be in there, despite my true self being a Geographer, not a pedagogic researcher.

“Pedagogy means something very important to both of us. Why is it in your title? We both agree this is by far your weakest section, everything else is great but this. Let’s get to the bottom of it” was something like how they approached this deciding question of the thesis. I told the truth. I agreed it was my weakest and I explained how I didn’t ever really want it in there but gave it my best shot at putting it in there. I hoped my defence was enough, but there was no real telling from their responses from my perspective. My external sends a giant torpedo my way, I know at this moment that it’s the big one. Depending on my answer, I was either going to be sunk entirely, or I was going to stop that torpedo before it hit me. “Did you make your virtual field guide to enhance the students learning? Or, did you make the virtual field guide to prove a concept exists and if it happened to enhance their learning that was a byproduct?”

I answer without hesitation. The examiners despite the title had seen my vision and my work, I had created this brand new model to prove that as no one has done it before, that the concept could be done and it has benefitted students and educators in their learning on fieldwork, but that is just a fantastic bonus. I’ve proved the concept works, I was so glad that they agreed and were so enthusiastic about it. They saw real merit in it. In this moment I thought I might actually survive.

After what was the longest and quickest 1hr 45 mins of my life and after more thesis defence, the battle of the Viva concluded and I was released to enter the staff room while they spent 30 minutes conferring what my outcome would be. I had no way to tell how it had gone, I had fought back from that opening but I prepared for the worst.

“Oh, here he is!” Tim, my supervisor, exclaimed with a grin as I enter the staff room. “Fucking hell, Tim, that was brutal!” I exhale as I slump into the chair.”Ah can’t have been that bad?” he says jokingly as I turn to him “they want me to change my title, Tim!” I exclaim in exasperation. “Oh” is all he could offer. I then debriefed him on how it went, blow by blow, torpedo by counter torpedo. “I don’t know Tim…after that it could be anything, I suspect moderate but prepare for major. It all depends on if I’ve done enough to let the pedagogy go and defended the VFG well enough…” is my concluding statement of the debrief before I’m interrupted by the internal examiner knocking on the door asking for me and this time Tim, to join me in the room.

The walk up the stairs felt like the longest walk I’ve ever done. In my head, as I always do, expect the worst case scenario, and if its better than that, then that’s a bonus! Sitting down at the table, there were no signs from my external or internal which way this was going to go. My external commends me on how much work I’ve done, which according to him felt like 3 PhDs worth! And commends me on a great and in-depth viva before saying “congratulations Tony, We’d like to award you the PhD pending moderate corrections” I didn’t hear much after that! The examiners went through what corrections where to be made, what to remove and what to add. It had felt earned this moment, despite being mentally exhausted. It had been a hard viva, as hard as everyone says it was going to be. But weirdly, I’m glad it was hard. If the examiners had just said okay that’s great it wouldn’t have felt like the PhD was earnt but now it did. Both Gary and Judith as examiners where exceptional. No question was asked to catch me out, all their questions were to draw out of me clarity of my work and to see me defend every word, every action over the past 2 and a bit years which accumulated in the thesis. A textbook example of how a viva should be done. I can only thank them once again for what was the toughest but ultimately rewarding experience in my academic life thus far.

When I exited the room, I noticed that my old DoS’s door is open, a woman who I could not thank enough for getting me where I am today. If this were indeed a research war, she would have been my commanding officer. Fran was my DoS for just under two years before going on maternity to which my 2nd supervisor Tim took over for the final stretch of the campaign. I also realise at this moment how fortunate I was to have them both! Fran had made her way in especially for my Viva, to be there whether it was good or bad news. I guess while it was nerve-wracking for me, it was in my hands. For Fran, she hadn’t seen or been updated on the PhD for months since she was on maternity so I can only imagine what she must have been feeling as I ventured into that Viva!

I offer a weary, tired knock on her door and enter, god knows how I must have looked! I placed my stuff down on the table as she looked at me with a face that said: “Well, how did it go?”

I manage to raise a smile and just two words “Dr Cliffe!”

Seeing how happy she was for me, it slowly started to sink in just what it was that I had just achieved. In 2 years and 8 months and only working Monday to Thursday on it I had completed a PhD! I give her a quick debrief about the moderate corrections the examiners want me to do. “They’ve given me three months” I relay to her to which she replied “Knowing you, you’ll have it done in three weeks!” she knows me well! I leave and head down the old staircase and out into the bright blue sky and sunshine as I lug my giant thesis between my arms, what once was a mental weight on my shoulders has been lifted as I breathe in that cool fresh air. I offer myself a wry smile as I walk down that path towards my office that I’ve done thousands of times before with the crisp blue skies, lush green rolling grass giving way to the twinkling of the river in the distance capped by the looming Welsh hills. A sight I’d grown fond of over the years, a sight and a path I’ve walked for 2 years 8 months as a student, now finally a Dr.

I walk up to my office and notice a card and a blowup minion sellotaped to our office door. I raise another smile as I peel it away and open the door. For the first time today had I felt comfortable, I was home. H105.

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Thanks Sha!

Opening the door, my dear friend Vic turns around from her PC. I had grown used to and often looked forward to her cheery greeting and smile whenever either of us entered the office for the first time in the day, not so much today. “How did it go?” she asks a hint of nerves I detect. Which is my fault, I told her if I’m not back in 3 hours something awful has happened. A Viva shouldn’t be that long, so if it is that long, I’ve fucked it. As the Viva had started 45 minutes late and post debrief while it had only been 2 hours for me, it was touching 3 hours since I left the office for the Viva! Plus, how I looked hot, sweaty, and shell shocked probably didn’t do much to instil any good vibes from me!

“That was fucking brutal! But I did it! Mod corrections!” that hug was most definitely welcome! Vic joked later on that she’d never seen me like that before, that’s how bad it was! Outwardly and in person I have a firm control over my emotions and as such I have this persona of a very confident, calm and self-assured person. So much so that it is an injoke that I’m a robot. That had gone out of the window by time viva had come around! This robot was trying very hard not to malfunction! A few days before the Viva, I was out on a walk with my close friend Ro to clear my head pre-viva. “Wow, I’ve never seen this side to you before! Where is your confidence!?” truth of the matter is I never really have it I just think I have it!

We are the fellowship of the PhD

Vic came with me to the lunch with my supervisors and my examiners and Katie joined too with another welcome hug (and a fantastic Viva present, a llama lamp!). My mind was still spinning. The journey was over although I knew I still had corrections to do but I was confident in getting them done in a quick turnaround. After an hour or so, I thanked my examiners once again and my supervisors and was given what I was told is a tradition for passing a viva. A giant bottle of Champagne from Fran!

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Post Viva smiles!

I walked back with Vic and Katie to the office, just like so many times before. And that’s where it all feels like a double-edged sword for me, a victory and a loss at the same time. I’ve come and did my duty, I’ve fought my fight and I’ve won, I’ve finished, I’ve survived. Yet, I feel guilty that I’m not back in the fight with them anymore, I feel guilty that I won’t be in the office anymore, I feel guilty that I’m on the other side while they’re preparing to go through it all. They’re not colleagues, they’re not even friends or close friends, they’re more than that, so much more than that to me. They truly are a family to me, there are no other people I would have wanted to share this journey with, to stand shoulder to shoulder within this PhD war. In a war where everything does its best to not make you succeed, in a war which makes you doubt your abilities and in a war which takes you to some incredible lows, they’ve been there, a beacon of friendship, advice, solitude, a light in the dark. H105 and its occupants had become a sanctuary in the chaos. A bond that was forged in adversity would never be broken. We’ve faced it all together. I am forever indebted to them for everything, to them, to Laura, to Rosie and the rest of the PGR community. No words can ever express just how much they have meant to me on this journey. We’ve had highs and lows, we’ve laughed in the sun and we’ve wiped tears away in the rain. We’ve travelled to conferences together and had European adventures. We’ve been rocked by life and we’ve each been a shoulder to cry on. We’ve dropped everything to race to be there when tragedy has struck. We’ve celebrated the little and the big wins as if they were our own. I had to fight back a little tear as I read in my card “we are the fellowship of the PhD”. They mean everything to me.

 

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It really does pain me that I’m not going to be on the frontlines with them anymore, but I can offer something I couldn’t before. As the first to go through this process, I feel like I can be that lighthouse in the stormy seas. I have survived and I know they will survive too, I’m going to make sure that they do. Whether it’s the PhD or the Mphil. My family, my H105, forever stronger together. We can beat anyone and anything! The PhD and life here have thrown so much stuff our way, but we continue to defy the odds and come through it all. I cannot wait to be there when we’re all safe, when we’ve all survived, when we’ve all graduated. When we can all sit back whether we’re in academia or not, PhD or Mphil, and raise our glasses, to the best group of people I have ever known, I raise my glass to H105, the true meaning of the fellowship of the PhD.

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H105, the greatest office of them all

 

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!

I do love to get out of the office on fieldwork, however, and this picture sums up any Geographer on fieldwork. Muddy boots!

March also saw one of the greatest Six Nation tournaments that I can ever remember watching, and the mighty Ireland team won a grand slam. Dad and I were very happy!

I was off on one of my first solo trips of the year up north to see one of my favourite people ever!

Chloe has been one of my best friends since we first met on a cold Slapton beach on our first-year Geography field trip. I have a lot of women in my life, and Chloe has always been the one I often seek counsel on anything and everything. Quite simply my life would be very different today if the choices made on that day sitting by the River Dee were different. After talking through everything we both decided to take drastic choices, her to start a PhD and me to turn down the logical job offer and do the irrational thing of becoming an RA. If it weren’t for her clarity, I wouldn’t be here doing this PhD, and I’ve always owed her for that. We hadn’t seen each other for such a long time, since my Master’s graduation and so it was such a fabulous weekend meeting up with her again and exploring Hull. The best part of it all within 30 seconds of meeting up it felt like we’d never been apart. Next time I see her will be at her wedding! We’re all growing up so fast!

From one mentor to another, on my way home I popped into York to see one of my old students and someone who’s become a good friend over the years. It fills me with such pride to see her doing so well in the job up North!

April

April started off a little weird with me witnessing a Sparrowhawk take out a pigeon in my back garden. I love birds of prey, and while it was a bit gruesome to see, it was pretty awesome!

I was still getting bullied in the office by my female coworkers.

This evening was one of the most unexpected but brilliant evenings of the year. Laura and I skipped out on our plans and instead got coffee and roamed Liverpool on one of the first warm days of the year, chatting and laughing until the sun went down. One of those spontaneous evenings which just made it all the better! What a way to start spring.

Before long I was back on my travels again, this time with my sister from another Mr, Emma. This time it was back to the Lakes for a few nights away in a hotel that Beatrix Potter’s holiday home.

The weather was a complete contrast to when I came with Laura in January. The snow had gone, and the sun was up in the low 20’s. Emma not only drove me to the Lakes but drove the boat around Lake Windermere. That was the life!

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What a way to spend a Friday!

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We’ve climbed many metaphorical mountains together over the 10 plus years I’ve known Emma, but this day we climbed an actual mountain. 26c the climb up over 1000ft was tough, but the views were worth it that’s for sure. Well, it was tough for me, Emma accidentally dopped on Nurofen for a migraine and therefore was pain-free hiking up near vertical rock faces at times! Grrr.

Still the best Bath EVER!

It really was a fantastic few days away in the Lakes with many stories to tell that’s for sure!

I finally got around to cementing our office by designing our office door sign. When I finish my PhD, I’m taking this with me as a memento of my time in H105.

May

May I turned 26 and what better way to celebrate than with a long ride on one of the hottest days of the year!

What’s better than that celebration? A double birthday celebration in Wagamama’s that’s what!

May saw one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. The University 3 Minute Thesis final. I’d made it through the preliminary rounds to find myself in the final with amazing contestants from all the different faculties. I’ve never felt more nervous standing up in front of a couple of hundred people with nothing but a static slide and having to talk engagingly for exactly 3 minutes no more, no less, about your PhD. The winner would go on to represent the University in the UK final. I fell short with a 2nd place but I never expected to win, and I was so over the moon to get 2nd place and finally get an Education student on the podium! What a fantastic day and a nice cash prize too! A nice thing to add to the CV.

Sadly in May, I was off to Ireland for less than pleasant reasons, and Ryanscare still suck arse.

May also saw me make my best financial investment this year, buying an espresso machine. There isn’t a day that this baby doesn’t pump out some amazing espressos for me to guzzle down.

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Gone and treated myself! Mmmmm coffee!

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As good as an investment was, it’s a shame Karius in the Champions Leauge wasn’t as good as an investment as my espresso machine.

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Allez allez allez lads!! Come on!

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Best bank holiday ever.

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I've had worse bank holiday weekends

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June

Over the winter and spring, our Sunday rides cumulated in Laura’s first ever sportif, the Croston crusade which we bossed like Pro’s…well-ish. Hey, we finished me a great time, and for me, I made it up Hunters Hill without stopping, that’s 25% gradient in some places, a brutal climb. I was happy and no more happy to cross the line with her. Good job!

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Croston Crusade completed!

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Unfortunately, the highs of that day were overshadowed with the news that my grandad had passed away.

After the funeral it was back to work, banging my head against the desk trying to figure out how to make my models work for the umpteenth time.

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😴

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June is conference season, I had a nice little warm up at the faculty conference before heading out to Split, Croatia for my first ever international conference.

Which was all well and good considering my latest model said it was going to take just a little more than a few days to render :o.

Before heading out to Croatia, I was treated to the amazing night show and the rare phenomenon of the Noctilucent clouds. What a fantastic sight to see they were in this part of the world! They truly are beautiful.

My first international conference was a complete success, and I enjoyed every minute I had in Croatia to round off my June.

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Conference time!

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After Croatia, I flew from there to Geneva Switzerland where Laura met me 😀

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Look who i found in arrivals!😁

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Geneva was a fantastic place to visit, and this was a fantastic evening!

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Not as good as the palm house 😂

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END OF PART ONE

Look back on 2017 via Instagram: Part Two July to December

Okay so we finished the last post at the end of June, let’s dive in and see what other gems i can find for the back end of 2017!

Let’s start off with a little fun shall we? Laura was one of the first people i met while doing a PhD and since then i like to think we’ve grown pretty close as friends and by time July came i thought we knew each other well enough for me to do this and get away with it!

In July after four years of having the same glasses it was finally time for some new ones! Glasses if you wear them all of the time become a part of you. I loved my old glasses but it was time for a subtle change and improvement and i’m glad i did! I now love my glasses!

I was honoured to be a Best Man for my Brother from another mother Luke and even more so to be the Master of Ceremony at his Wedding! It meant a lot and such a thoughtful gift to receive from him on the eve of the wedding! Plenty of whiskey will be drank from this i can assure you!

Wedding day finally arrived and it was a wonderful day and everything worked out great! Luke and Amy deffo win my couple of 2017 award! They also win the wedding of 2017 award too but i only went to theirs in 2017 but even if i went to others i’m sure they would have won too. Stunning venue, great organisation and just a lovely day and night filled with love and laughter!

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Last night 😂

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Wedding night with the family though…oh that crazy wonderful family of mine! I like this picture because it sums up how bonkers we really are!

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50 shades of pug 🤣

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This picture was taken the day after the wedding and is still probably one of my favourite days of 2017. It was one of those perfect days full of laughter! I love these two and there was nothing but laughing and goofing around in the sun. We were the three that were most often in the office together and a little trio formed, we’re all very different and we each have our quirks but one thing we have in common is having a laugh. It was one of those days were if you had the ability to replay it, if you were ever feeling down you’d whack that episode on and watch it time and time again and you’d cry with laughter. That weekend was such a good weekend with nothing but love, laughter and memories. I can still hear the sound of the pug now :D. I had bigged Formby Pinewoods up to these two and it didn’t disappoint!

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"Act naturally you two!" So we did. 😂

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If a picture summed up our friendship i think it would be this one!

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Romantic meal with Quayle. 😉

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After using my excellent fashion skills and hours of shopping with Laura and after trying to find a place to eat i stumbled upon an old Italian restaurant i used to go to. A nice romantic meal for the most coupley non couple of 2017 ;)!

After weeks of literally hitting my head against the desk to get my models to work i did something (i still haven’t figured out what i did!) and it worked and it was a wahoo finally moment! Sometimes you just have to take the credit even if you have no idea what you did. I was happy as this formed a huge part of the PhD and was a breakthrough for me! Plus they cool right?

Another of my favourite images of 2017! Another day full of laughing! Despite our paint war i think us PhD students did a cracking job of painting!

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#PhDfamily

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PhD family is always more than just the PhD! We weren’t painting any old room it was for Vics wonderful new house! She has done an astounding job decorating her house, i mean it is seriously good! If the PhD ever falls through or you get sick of academia Vic then you most certainly have a career in interior design!!

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#Nnnnneeeerrrrfff

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The moment Katie became an official honorary Scouser by getting a selfie with an actual scouser and the Iron Men! That was a fun day out and quite possibly the biggest steak i’ve ever had! I’m sure it was half of an actual cow.

In August we ended up in Prague for a brilliant five day trip! This picture was taken on arrival for our adventure despite the delay! That was a really good trip that had many funny moments in as always with these two. Prague itself was a stunning city and one i’d love to go back to one day!

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Coolest selfie yet 😂😂

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Still by far the coolest selfie i’ve ever been in!

If you wanted to know the dynamics of this group here is a taster…they both just gang up on me and bully me but i wouldn’t have it any other way 😛

In September it was great to present at the EFL conference and having a catch up with my old boss! Never did i think 7 years ago when we first met that we’d become friends and eventually become office buddies together! Dr The Most Scouse Plastic Scouser there is 😉

I just love this picture! The sunrise manages to light up the rainstorm giving a whole new meaning to there is always a silverlining. Special moment and great to capture it on camera. Walking through the park on my way to work is always a pleasure for moments like this. Nature is beautiful, you just have to keep your eyes open for it so that you don’t miss it!

At the end of September my Operations Manual was approved and my licence became official! 2017 achievement award!

At the end of September i started that epic solo adventure. My first stop Iceland was breathtaking and i so long to go back there!

It felt so good to be back in Canada especially for their 150th birthday! Naaaw i always forget how young Canada is compared to its big brother the UK! This was my first day in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Later that day i would travel to Peggy’s cove the most photographed Lighthouse in the world!

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Trying some local food, moose stew! 😊

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After travelling on the plane for 2hrs 30 up to the frozen North East of Canada to St John’s i settled down in a cosy pub to escape the -5c wind chill to try some local food. Moose stew was pretty decent and i just loved the pastry!

The next day i travelled to the most Easterly point of North America! Pretty special to say i’ve stepped foot on the most Easterly piece of North America. Amazingly rugged place and today was the day that i would fall in love with St. John’s and Newfoundland.

I had an amazing time solo travelling so far and nothing i love more than hiking up a mountain alone thousands of mile from home! I loved this place and the caption sums up my feelings perfectly as the sun set!

Even if that solo hike was fucking scary at times!!

Charlotte town completely stole my heart of this trip. There is not a day i don’t wish i was back on this wonderful Island of Prince Edward Island. It was just amazing from start to finish!

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😍

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The 2017 most amazing sunset award goes to my first night on Prince Edward Island!

What happens on travels stays on travels hey?  Hahah.

My most serine moment of 2017 has to be my last night on Prince Edward Island listening to the most beautiful music with another stunning sunset with the birds flying home to roost. God i miss that place!

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The awesome Canadian Cliffe's! 😚

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It was great to end my trip with my first Canadian thanksgiving and again what amazing hospitality they gave me! As the caption states oceans between us but the bond is as strong as ever! As much as i miss Prince Edward Island i miss these guys so much more, family is family no matter where we are in the world!

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Business class upgrade 👌

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One last gift from this trip was a lovely upgrade to Business class home! Sometimes i am just lucky!!

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Great evening at the fireworks! 💥🔥

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November it was back home and back to work but it was great to watch an amazing free firework show on Liverpool’s waterfront with these guys!

One of my fav pictures of me and Em taken on a very cold November beach! We did however see many squirrels for the first time in like forever have i ever seen that many squirrels in the woods! It was almost as if they were following me…

That moment that you both turn up to work wearing pretty much the same thing! I still don’t know if that is a good thing or not!? #Twinning

Maybe the Squirrels were following me? The award for WTF!? moment of 2017 goes to this little buddy climbing up my leg in Chester!

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Great yearly catch up with Han and Dan!

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Always a pleasure catching up with Han and Dan and even better in Chester where it all began 7 years ago when me and Han struck up a conversation about Muse because i had a Muse T-shirt on in the first few days of undergrad then the rest is as they say, history!

My luck continued into December where Em had got free tickets for Kasabian and invited me along. Not only did i get a free ticket, i got upgraded on said free ticket and we both got closer to the stage! Awwww yeah! Cracking gig and my first in 7 years!!

It wouldn’t be a review blog if i didn’t mention my favourite ginger! An interesting year for the both of us its safe to say but as always and as per the last few years i know that we will always try to get each other through the madness that is life! We get one selfie every year and i quite like 2017! At least this time we’re not being photobombed by 2016’s giant LED reindeer!

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Happy Christmas from the PhD office!

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But 2017 has been dominated by the PhD and these guys as i spent nearly all of my time with them and in the office so its only fitting to leave 2017 with this image of this crazy lot! I hope 2018 is full of adventure and fun and i look forward to more fun and pictures. Have a great New Year everyone!!

August Blog: Summer on campus, Crime Scene Toilets, DIY SOS and the three Amigo’s go on an adventure ;)

Hey guys, its blogging time again! See I am trying to be more regular with these blogs like I promised so here is this month’s blog, almost exactly a month since my last one which you can find here A perfect weekend: A wedding and Friendships.

So it’s the summer time here, well I use the term summer lightly. It’s been a pretty awful August weather wise. I know this because I’ve been trying to fly my drone all August for PhD work and out of the 24 days so far only 2 have been within the aircraft limits to fly! Just 2! Either it’s been torrential rain or when the sun has occasionally graced us with its presence, the winds have been too strong. No wonder people don’t holiday in this country anymore! It can be pretty annoying seeing the rest of Europe basking in one of the hottest summers on record while we’re experiencing one of the coldest. I didn’t think Brexit included weather but I guess I was wrong.

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Summer time in University is a pretty weird place to be. The whole place feels empty because well…it is. Your supervisors are off on ‘fieldwork’ not ‘holidays’ for like two months, although in the case of my Professor that’s just a normal working month (and good for him! I wish I’m in the position to jet off to these exotic places every week for fieldwork one day!), every other staff member is ‘working’ from home and the only people you see on campus are admin staff, cleaners, the café people and fellow PGR students. I haven’t actually minded the peace and quiet this summer, it certainly has felt different this year at LJMU than it ever did at Chester. Chester in the summer felt like when you would go back to school in the night to help out, for say an open evening. It felt weird, empty, as if you just shouldn’t be there. We’re kept out of the city centre and way out in the sticks on a hill in Aigburth here at Marsh, so it’s always been a quieter campus away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. I like that and that’s certainly not a complaint. The view from the office window and that walk across campus looking out onto the Mersey with the Welsh hills in the background is lovely. Certainly beats the hockey pitch and canal view I had in my old Chester office. So with no students about it’s been very peaceful! Well that was until the foreign exchange devils, sorry kids. Damn autocorrect! Came for two weeks. I should be thankful it was only two weeks at Marsh. In Chester those annoying fuckers were there for the entire summer making our lives a misery. That constant jibber jabber and why they have to scream all the time is beyond me. I get that its extra money for Universities to host these kids but dear lord some of us have to actually work and do things without hearing noisy bastards, who by the evidence of the boys toilets, which while spotless first thing in the morning, would descend into a murder scene. By time I’d go for a wee in the afternoon I half expected to step under a police cordon tape and see some CSI guys working away, while two detectives looked on in the distance while a police chief tells them they have 48 hours to solve the case. Language barrier is one thing but I can’t see not knowing that your wee goes in the toilet and not around the seat is not a universal thing and obviously to flush is something that hasn’t translated. If that wasn’t bad enough they would blast out the Verves – Bitter sweet symphony at the end of the every class. EVERY CLASS! The irony wasn’t lost on me either to that song name as I wept with PTSD every time it played.

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As soon as the violin kicks in for the billionth time.

Apart from those annoying kids the PhD has progressed over the summer and is ticking along. I finally managed to get my first model done. Which was super exciting! It’s been frustrating to be held down by red tape and procedure documents while the rest of the office have really got stuck into data collection. I know my PhD is vastly different to theirs and as a more procedural PhD my data collection was never going to be the same as theirs but its still been frustrating none the less. Data collection is the part where you actually feel like a proper researcher because it’s finally your own work. Writing procedures, literature reviews and methodologies are someone else’s words that you’re using. Anyone can do that with enough patience and coffee. When you go out and collect data and start analysing that’s your work and your voice and that’s the key driver and passion in research. It is for me anyway. Instead I’ve been writing a 22,000 word operations manual. An Ops Manual basically governs absolutely everything I will do with the aircraft for the PhD. So everything from Aviation Law to aircraft specifications which have to go into as much detail as (how do you plug the charger in) to writing down as many possible risks that can occur. You’ve all read a manual at some point right? Actually no. Who does? But people like me still have to write them. Then, you send it off to get checked and they tell you to change every “will do” to “must/should do” in a 22,000 word document, that’s after you wrote the first 22,000 words and they tell you there is a new template so you have to re-write those 22,000 words. Its soul destroying. That document was the most boring and frustrating thing I’ve ever had the displeasure of writing.

The worst part of it all was I then had to condense those 22,000 words into a methodology which is what I’ve been doing for the past three weeks. While using UAVs in fieldwork may sound fun, the sad reality is 90% of it is writing about flying than actually flying the aircraft! I really cannot wait to start proper data collection in the autumn so I can escape my desk!!

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Going on fieldwork like…

Away from the frustrations of the PhD writing, it’s been a frustrating month health and bike wise. I’ve had a persistent back pain niggle (I’m getting old and have to accept that ha-ha) that has been such a twat since I wrote about it in my last blog. That kept me off the bike for a few weeks and then the bike decided to break on me. I was debating on an upgrade for a while and took the plunge, a nice £450 plunge for a new groupset. So that took another week in the bike shop to get fixed. Then when I pick it up it gets a puncture on the way home and I have to walk 5 miles back and then two rides later I get another puncture! So that was an entire month off the bike and only two rides since getting it back. Annoying. But the bike looks Pro and feels a lot faster and lighter. Which is the opposite to me, a lot slower and fatter!

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Look at the 105 upgrade! Pro bike!

Apart from those frustrations though it’s been a very funny month, as always lately! As always that’s down to those special people I spend nearly every day with. I’m trying my best to not use the term PhD friends here. I got a stern talking to in the office for referring to them as PhD friends as that sounds like that’s all they are to me and they weren’t too happy about that! That couldn’t be further from the truth as they’re not only friends but very good friends at that both inside and outside of the office. PhD friends is just their identifier. Same goes for my “Uni” friends, “Maricourt” friends, “Chester” friends, “Legacy” friends and “other” categories. But anyway I’ve done enough grovelling 😛

While last month was highlighted by the epic trip to Formby woods, this month had a few new adventures in store. The first was certainly a new one for me, helping Vic to paint her house while an actual TV crew filmed it. Vic has been one of the very lucky people to buy one of those £1 houses in Liverpool and its either Chanel 4 or 5 who are documenting the transformation. So me, Laura and Katie along with a few of Vics friends all rolled up our sleeves and got stuck into painting. It’s certainly my first Paint Party! I don’t really do DIY. I’m more of a write the manual on how to do DIY than to actually do it. Which is pretty evident by my masking taping skills. I look forward to every tradesman taking the piss out of that when that comes on TV. As if trying to not fuck up your mates house wasn’t enough pressure, having a camera crew film you, while asking you questions, while you’re shaking like a shitting dog because you’re standing on a step ladder and you’re scared of heights was certainly interesting, to say the least. I’m really excited for Vic because it’s such a brilliant project to be involved in and the house looks amazing so far! How often do you get to effectively design your own home from scratch! Really cool project, with a really cool spin on it from a really cool chick. I can’t wait to see the finished project and I can’t wait to see if I’m on the documentary for 5 seconds, hopefully editing out numerous mentions of the PhD and my god awful masking skills!

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#nailedit

However I am used to painting, I painted my room and I’m used to painting aircraft models as a kid albeit that was on a much smaller scale. Me, Laura and Katie were assigned one room and boy did we smash it! Seriously if the PhD ever falls though I’m pretty sure we can make it in the painting and decorating business! It was a hell of a lot of fun which I’m sure the paint fumes added to. Of course me and Katie are big kids, so while Laura was the sensible one, me and Katie had a paint war. In the end we called it a draw or more importantly Laura told us to “grow up”. Rematch is deffo on the cards one day you! A worthy adversary ;). I’m still unsure on what was the most effective weapon for a paint war. I had the brush which was great for the dabs to the face, whereas her roller technique covered more area but was less agile. It’s a tough one to call!

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“We weren’t fighting…honest”

Speaking of Katie I had my first shopping experience with her this month. Worst. Female. Shopper. Ever. ;). I do joke. Certainly a contrast to my shopping trip with Laura though to which we went into M&S about 5 times before buying the shoes we saw the first time we entered. Thankfully I’d happily go shopping with either again. I’ve been shopping with some women before were throwing yourself down an escalator is a much more appealing prospect. Thankfully that thought never crossed my mind with either of them! It’s good to know that my B in GCSE textiles and numerous girl shopping trips growing up hasn’t failed my eye for picking out excellent women’s fashion. That and watching numerous next top models and say yes to the dress episodes. I’m not even ashamed. If you’re going to be a bag carrier, you might as well be an informed one. Straight Gok Wan at your service (n.b.  I actually just mean Gok Wan because I think he’s a very clever man and isn’t actually gay, think about it and tell me I’m wrong.)

The tour of Merseyside continued this month for Katie as I took her to one of my three favourite spots in Merseyside. Formby Pinewoods had already been ticked off, the next was Crosby beach. It’s a go to spot on the bike and for walks for me and you can’t live in Liverpool and not get a selfie with the Iron Men. It’s written into scouse law. So it was an honour to complete Katie’s honorary Scouser initiation. That was a really fun day and I still think I have sand in places that shouldn’t haha.

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New rendition of I am the Walrus by the Beetles 😉

It’s been well over a month since I did any travelling. The last being at the end of June in the Isle of Man for the British road race championships. It has been nice to have a month off travelling but now I can’t wait to go on this next Tony Travels adventure with the girls. Don’t forget to follow the usual hashtag of #TonyTravels when I’m away. I set out at the start of the year to go away every month of 2017. While that failed straight away as I didn’t go anywhere in January #fail, I managed to get away to somewhere every month since until July anyway. I’m about to embark on my next adventure to Prague. Then it’s Iceland in September followed by the North Atlantic coast of Canada in October. These next three trips will probably and sadly be my last of the year, so I don’t think I’ll be away for 11 of the 12 months but 8 of the 12 isn’t bad at all! That’s for a few reasons I guess. I’ve tried to arrange plans to go away for a Christmas market but schedules and locations clashed and cost which sadly made those final two trips a nonstarter. Sadly too by time the new academic year kicks in the PhD is really going to ramp up in terms of work load. While my supervisors wouldn’t mind me taking a few days off a month, I really wouldn’t want the extra pressure of trying to catch up on work. Especially as that will be my data collection phase. Finally, it’s time to be an adult. We’ve had serious discussions about moving in together and I couldn’t really afford to rent a house and still go off travelling! But that’s okay, I think it will be nice to start a new adventure at home.

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For now though, it’s ready for my travels again. This time I’m actually flying the furthest East I’ve ever been, to central Europe to the beautiful city of Prague with Laura and Katie. I’m really excited but I am a little well nervous isn’t the word but apprehensive probably is. I travel a lot on my own. There is a very deep innate joy in that, for instance I cannot wait to be walking in the wildness of Iceland or the red beaches of the North Atlantic Canadian coast alone. There is just a great sense of freedom and exploration with self-travel. However, that’s not to say I dislike travelling with people, far from it! It’s an amazing thing to do to share in these new adventures with people you care about. It’s just as good as solo travel, it’s just different that’s all. This year I’ve had a few travel partners, Emma, Shaun and Luke and the stag do crew. Where my apprehension lies is for example I’ve known Emma for far too many years now and we’ve been away on trips before to London etc. She knows all my quirks and likewise I know her and we’ve built up enough tolerance to each other to that spending a few days together in Amsterdam we didn’t feel the need to kill each other. I mean only once did that ever sort of happen and that was in London trying to find fucking platform 9 and ¾! I’ve never wanted to kill my sister from another Mr before or since, except for that day haha.

I’ve known Laura for just under a year now and Katie only five months. Which is crazy because it feels like I’ve known these two crazy cats for just as long as Emma or Shaun. I get on incredibly well with both of them, I mean it’s kinda’ scary how much we all do get on and are on each other’s wavelength. I dread to think how different the PhD and just life in general would be if we never met or never got on as well as we do. Plus it’s great that we’re still getting to know each other a little bit more each and every day. I know enough about them after spending most of my time with them that I don’t really see anything that would cause me to be annoyed on the trip to Prague. We’re very compatible. I’m more worried about them hating me or trying to kill me in Prague rather than me to them! I haven’t picked up on any such vibes…yet… so I’m pretty sure we’ll be okay. We all stayed over the other night, had some food and watched some tv and that was after a week together. So we didn’t kill each other that night, in fact it was a really funny night, so I guess we passed that test, so Prague should be a breeze! Although they weren’t best pleased with my 5.45 a.m. alarm call. Ooops. That will be firmly off in Prague!

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I’m really excited to spend five days away with them both. There has not been a day in each other’s company were we haven’t laughed our heads off. I know this trip is going to be one hell of a funny one and I cannot wait! It seems weird that it was only a few months ago me and Laura were sitting in Coopers Coffee which is actually starting to become this groups Central Perks! Where over the biggest full English I mentioned about my trying to get away every month idea and Laura mentioned how she wants to go to Prague. Prague has been on my list for ages, especially seeing the pics and the stories than Han and Dan had from there. We both agreed to go and two days later it was booked! We opened it up to the group and Katie gladly joined us. Its seemed ages away this trip and now its here and eeeek I really cannot wait! Beautiful city with two of the best peeps, it’s going to be a blast. Certainly blog worthy I suspect!

On a soppier note to end this month’s blog. They’ve both graduated into my inner circle. Which is a special place as a whole five people reside there. I have friends, good friends, close friends and then the inner circle of trust friends. Despite my blogs and social media being very open and honest, I am still a very private person. There is a lot of things I keep to myself and we all have personas that we display to different people. I am fortunate that the persona I give off is very close to the real Tony. However barriers exist to protect myself because trust is earnt and I place a massive emphasis on loyalty and trust. That usually takes a year maybe even two for me to fully develop enough confidence in someone that I can be me with. For me to completely trust them 100%. That comes from their interactions with not only me but how they interact and deal with others. But for these guys our friendship has progressed so much, so quickly and they’re such awesome people that I have enough to know that they’re special people in my life and I’m grateful for it.

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So it’s time to sign off for this month, pack my bags and go spend what will hopefully be five very fun days away! Be sure to check back in for a trip report blog soon!

Until next time!

Toe

A perfect weekend: A wedding and Friendships

Hey guys!

I wasn’t planning on writing another blog this month but last weekend was so awesome that it deserved its own outright blog! Plus I am currently sitting here doped up on painkillers after pulling my back out…not through some rigorous exercise or manly task –oh no. It went twang when I bent down to pick up the remote control off the floor. Eugh! 25 going on 80.

But before becoming the hunchback of Notre dam, last weekend was a very good one indeed. We go through each day having periods of happiness and laughs but often in-between those moments it’s often punctuated by lots of mundane things like travelling to work, answering emails or sitting in your own world of music (of which I have great choices of playlists…well I think so anyway). It’s rare to have a solid few days of nothing but laughs and enjoyment with the people you care about the most.

Before I take you back to the weekend, I guess I should really check your ticket and welcome you aboard the time travel train. Next stop 15 years ago.

15 years ago this guy comes around to my house. He was in my sister’s class so a few years older than me. He’d just moved in around the corner and he came around for tea. I didn’t know who he was and not that I really cared either. At least I didn’t until I hear him talking about planes with my Dad. Hmmm I thought, maybe this guy is an avgeek too. I had some really cool cloud wallpaper, let me remind you I was 10 years old at this point! I also had this really cool wallpaper boarder that had different military aircraft on it. As a side note it’s weird how boarders on wallpaper just isn’t a thing anymore! Anyway, I show him my awesome wallpaper and then we have a heated discussion about whether one of the aircraft depicted was an F-18 or an F-15. “No! The F-18 has vertical double tailfins. It’s an F18!” …”It’s an F15! The F15 has double vertical tailfins, the F-18 has slanted double tail fins.” And so on and so on. Safe to say my ten year old self was wrong and he was right. Welcome to the first conversation of a beautiful bromance with one of my oldest and most dearest guy mates, Luke. To call him a mate is a disservice to our friendship. I don’t see him as a friend, I don’t even seen him as a best friend. He’s my brother.

It’s no secret that I have a lot of women in my life and very strong and powerful ones at that, who shape who I am and are a massive part of my life. I’ve written a few blogs over the years as to why that is and I do cherish my female friends dearly. As much as I share so much with them, somethings just need a guy and I have a small select number of guy friends but Luke, my bro, has always been the biggest. From that first argument well actually discussion, I don’t think we’ve ever had a proper argument or falling out, we’ve been bro’s since. So much so that every day in summer he was around here, every weekend around my house, my parents call him son number 2 and likewise he calls them 2nd Mum and Dad! He has been there constantly for 15 years and offers everything a Brother would, advice, friendship, support, laughs and copious amounts of bullying ;). We’re two very different people, if you ever watch Hawaii Five-0 the Bromance Steve and Danno have is very much the two of us! One is very out going, gun ho, lives in the moment and gets stuff done. The other, like me, is very reserved, methodical, and prefers sarcasm and wit to make up for my lack of physical prowess. Nothing more outlines how different we are as people as this memory.

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Let me take you back to a baking hot early spring weekend day and as usual we’re playing some sort of game in the back garden. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of being around at my house, in my back garden we have this giant…humungous cherry tree. It’s about as tall as two houses and in full bloom about the width of one. It towers over everything, this big old mighty tree.

“I’m going to climb that tree…yep…I’m gonna’ do it!” he says with all the bravado of a teenage guy.

I shift uneasily on my feet “I’m not so sure mate. That’s very high, it’s quite windy and the tree hasn’t fully formed from winter yet. The branches won’t be very strong to take your weight. I don’t think the odds are good. I’d leave it.” I explain in typical Tony fashion.

“Nah. I’ll be fine! You worry too much!”

I watch as this boy turns into a spider monkey and rockets up the tree, branch to branch, shimmying up the main trunk like he was raised in the jungle. He disappears in the early spring blossom and then reappears at the top with a triumphant yell! With a whistle he exclaims “What a view!”

I call back “I’m sure it is! Stay safe up there!”

“Ha yeah. Hope I don’t fall!”

“Touch wood!” I retort.

“Yeah…Touch wood!”

While I turn my back to touch the wooden bench I was sitting on, I look on in a state of confusion and then a wry smile creeps across my face. I watch this spider monkey negotiate his way back down the tree, yearning for the next branch, then carefully placing his feet, I try to hold back my laugh as I realise what’s going on. I mean I could warn him, I could tell him but what sort of Brother would I be if I did?! He gets near the bottom and he’s hanging on by a few fingers, stretching with all of his reach…nearly there…little bit more. Ah. Finally. His finger touches the wooden fence before he retracts himself back up to the branch.

Through some laugher “Why the hell did you just do that?”

“Errrr Duh Tony. You said touch wood. So I touched wood!” he replied in a matter of fact tone.

“Dude. What’s a tree made out of?”

“….”

“You’re in a tree…made of wood.” I can’t even finish without laughing.

“Hmmm. Point taken!”

But for 15 years I’ve had a brother that I never had before and he is my closest guy mate. I’ve been there through his relationships and likewise he’s been through mine. I’ll still always be forever grateful for when my ex broke up with me he came around every day for a week, even after work to cheer me up and take my mind off it. What a top guy!

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So I’ve seen Luke grow into the man he is today and when Amy came along many years ago, it was the final missing piece for him. A beautiful, intelligent, funny and family orientated woman. I am a sucker for romance and for everything I’ve wrote and the stories I’ve wrote over the years, I’d struggle to put together two characters who are so suited as Luke and Amy are! When they announced their engagement I could not be happier!

While sitting in a Toronto hotel room trying to fight off the losing battle of jetlag after arriving in Canada, I get a message from him asking if I would do him the honour of being one of his best men. I was honoured and not even a fuzzy jetlagged mind had any hesitations in saying yes. Adam his real brother and Jay one of his oldest friends, were the other two best men. He’s a lucky guy to have such awesome dudes in his life, if I do say so myself!

So after the planning, picking out the suits and the stag do, in the run up to the wedding he asked if I would do a reading at the wedding service and if I would be Master of Ceremony. Jay would look after the rings and do the rings at the service and Adam would do the best man speech. Errrm let me think about that, position of power, organisation, and I get the kick ass title of master of ceremony hmmm. YES! I asked if I could wear a cloak and have a cane but apparently that wasn’t appropriate. L I can’t have it all! It was only until I went away and googled what my role involved did I realise what it was I actually just signed up for! Plus, every time I told anyone what my title was for the wedding they would take a sharp intake of breath and would say “wow. No pressure. Don’t fuck it up”.

For those of you who don’t know, the Master of Ceremony is as one website put it. The key linchpin in making a successful and smooth wedding day. Your duties include,

·         Being the wedding host- Greeting members of the wedding, introducing the day’s events on the microphone and telling people important things like speeches, when to sit, where to sit, when the first dance will be etc.

·         Run on schedule – Liaise with wedding venue staff and others to make sure everything is in place when and where it should be.

·         Trouble shooter – Deal with any problems. At no point should the bride and groom hear of any problems.

·         Make sure the guests and most importantly the bride and groom have the best and smoothest day possible.

So, no pressure! I didn’t mind the pressure as that’s when I’m at my best. Leading and being responsible for stuff, as an ENTJ it’s literally in the blood! Plus, I absolutely love public speaking so it was a role I was well suited for, even if I’d never really done a wedding before or done any of this before!

All best men worked incredibly hard that day to make sure it was such a smooth and enjoyable day. The venue was stunning. Old country manor style feel and the location for the service inside a converted barn was breath-taking and classy and just wow. I really cannot wait to see the official pictures!

It hit home how special it was when I was waiting outside for Amy and the bridesmaids to arrive and Luke was in the barn and all the guests were waiting patiently with a buzz of excitement. When they arrived it was show time. After a few words with them and making sure everything was set, we exchanged some thumbs up and as I walked up the aisle, I put my hand on his shoulder “She’s hear mate. She looks stunning! Show time!” then sat down next to him. When the music started and everyone turned around as she walked up the aisle and then seeing their two beaming smiles when they saw each other. Oh man! So cute!

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My Bro just before he got married!

The service was wonderful and I didn’t mess up my funny reading to which both he and Amy wanted me to do in ‘Your story’ voice. So plenty of emphasis and fun on some of the words. After pictures they both went to the beach with the photographer and then came back for the speeches and food and I did my MC duties before the night time started. What really struck me was when I had just one final thing to do at the end of the night and that was sorting the cake cutting. I’d been liaising all day with the staff and expected the cake room to be open at 9pm, right after the first dance. The kitchen staff were running behind schedule and I was helping them out while trying to organise the first dance and the tossing of the bouquet. When the first dance was announced I took a moment to just stop for a second for the first time that day and just look around from the back of the hall. Seeing two people so in love during their first dance and then watching everyone else join in, seeing everyone with a smile on their face. Such a wonderful moment. Its seldom we get those days when everyone is happy and there is nothing but love in the room. I knew at that point that I had done my job and that the wedding with everyone else’s help, had gone off without a hitch. I slipped away back to the kitchen before the end of the first dance to get the cake ready and managed to do my last thing, albeit two minutes behind schedule. Which isn’t too bad after everything!

Once my official duties were over and feeling real pressure which was leading the Macarena dance on the dance floor, which is terrifying. Give me the pressure of not fucking up my mates wedding any day than leading that dance! I was knackered ha-ha. It was great to see so many happy faces and it was great to see so many of my family there too! It was great to catch up. Weddings are truly special and one day when and if I ever have my own, I hope my wedding is just as good as theirs and I know Luke as my best man would do a wonderful job! My final duty was to announce last orders and after my goodbyes I was home by 12 and bed by 12.30. A successful, wonderful and very happy day!

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The Fam

Congratulations to you two amazing people! I hope you have a long, healthy and very happy life together Mr & Mrs Talbot!

A week before the wedding I was out riding with Laura and she suggested that me, her and Katie do something that weekend. Katie had recently moved to Liverpool and we all wanted to do something together and I personally didn’t want her to feel too lonely moving into a new place. We had all discussed the lakes but I thought I wasn’t going to be free until the afternoon, I honestly thought the wedding night would have gone on longer. I had promised Katie ages ago when she moved here, that I’d show her one of my favourite places in Merseyside, Formby Pinewoods. There, Crosby beach and Clieves Hill are my favourite spots.

I woke up at 6 a.m. on the Sunday morning still on a buzz from the day before and after some discussion between us all, we decided to go to the woods. Again more pressure. I had built this place up to be awesome and I promised the sight of squirrels! I was so looking forward to spending the day with these two. I often make reference to my life being some sort of TV series and that Sunday would be one of those episodes where you would just go back to time and time again to watch. Just pure comedy gold.

The PhD started off with a big cast of series regulars and slowly due to people moving away or different circumstances that the core group of people, has slowly reduced. In everyday are now only me, Laura and Katie. Rosie and Vic are in every so often but its Katie and Laura who I see every day and it’s no surprise that our friendship has grown together. Three different people but three people who work incredibly well together. I mentioned before the way your day has moments of joy and laughter in it and then is punctuated by the boring mundane things like work or travel. I’m so glad to be in that office because it’s more a case of laughter and joy than anything else. I’m the happiest I have ever been for a number of years and that’s most certainly down to having two great people to have a laugh with every day. It never feels like work with my ladies 😉 !

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Cool AF

I don’t think I have laughed as much as I did that day. There are far, far, far too many noteworthy moments that in all fairness, probably deserve a blog in their own right! From selfies, to pisstaking out of my excellent descending skills, to the infamous 50 shades of pug. In fact. No. I can’t even begin to explain or even try to type anything remotely about that, without having tears in my eyes from laughing. I will never look at a Pug or a member of a family. EVER.AGAIN! hahahaha. Fuck me. It was one of those you had to be there moments! Just pure comedy. On par if not surpassed by the office monkey GIF! Firmly blaming you for that one again Katie!!

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Its balancing act

There were so many and I mean so many, innuendos on that trip! I had promised them both that I would show them a squirrel (and no that is not a euphemism!). Just as they were about to give up on it and call me a liar, this little beauty of a squirrel appeared and bounded through the trees right by us to be fed. Thank you Mr Squirrel for not making me look like a dick!

Sunday was one of those rare days of pure comedy and joy and love. I think by time I come to do my end of year blog that day will firmly be in the top 5, if not top 3. A truly wonderful and fun day with two amazing people. I had built this place up and I think it delivered!

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We can’t go anywhere without a coffee stop first!

So sadly by time Monday came it was back to work and two fantastic, heart-warming, fun and loving two days was over. If those two days are anything to go and especially that Sunday, then when Prague comes around with those two in a months’ time, I can only imagine what blog that is going to make. I cannot wait!

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, sometimes in life you get given perfect days. Days when you have no troubles in the world, the weather is great and your company is greater and the only tears in your eyes are from laughter. Make the most of them. Take time to just stop and look around and enjoy it. Capture the moments in pictures and memorise them. It makes those mundane things in life worth it. Surround yourself with people who can love life and who love you. I am incredibly fortunate to have so many beautiful, caring and funny people in my life. Long may that continue!

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Three Amigo’s

Thanks for a great two days ❤

Until next time,

Toe

X

My 2016, a cracking year!

2016 has been a nightmare for many people this year, especially if you were a celebrity over 40 and if you were foreign after that Brexit vote well…things haven’t been great. 2016 in a wider sense has had a lot of, to put it mildly, a lot of messed up things. Brexit (still livid about it, yes I am a remoaner and proud!), Trump but we all knew that was going to happen, Syria, Refugees, Honey G, the list is kinda’ endless. For me on the other hand it has been a fantastic year, where the only major downside to 2016 was discovering I’m now lactose intolerant. Considering I used to eat cheese for breakfast, Lunch and Tea that disappointment was on par with my love life. Still even with that downer came a silver lining, I’ve lost 1.5 stone this year!
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Seriously though, this year has been a brilliant year and that’s for a few reasons. The main reason is this year has been a year for me and most importantly, a year that has been by in large drama free. That is certainly an extremely rare thing over the past few years. It’s almost why I haven’t written many blogs this year, there hasn’t been any drama to write about! 2016 has felt like a brand new chapter and moving forward into a new phase of my life which is leaving stuff behind and branching out and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. This year has felt like the final culmination of the long rebuild post 2013 disaster year. I am currently at the happiest I have been since 2011/12, I’m completely satisfied with where I am in life at the moment and who I am and where I am going. That seed was sewn in 2015 and 2016 has done nothing but build upon that. It has been a turbulent few years with love life, friend’s life, leaving places, starting work that it was never going to be straight forward, or easy, but 2016 has been not just fun but an adventure and a truly fun one at that.

It’s been a lucky year, opportunities opened up at the right time, I won loads of scratch cards this year, the works euro sweepstake, the Grand National for the 8th year in a row (it’s a gift!) and £600 from a £5 bet on the day before the national and to being upgraded to business class on my flight home from Canada! It’s been a fun year with new adventures and trying new things, from the simple as using chopsticks for the first time and trying new and different cuisines. To visiting a new countries and presenting at my first ever international conference. I take away so many positive memories from this year.
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I’ve made new friends this year, haven’t really lost any either which is a good thing. Old friendships have been cemented and deepend, new ones have grown and flourished, and it’s been great to reconnect and strengthen ties with family members overseas.

I’ve been on some brilliant trips this year from Ireland to Amsterdam but Canada stands out as the highlight. What a brilliant adventure that was with a solo trip halfway across the world to visit family. Everything was so good about that trip. There are a few stand out moments I take away from that. The first is landing and then being given a tour of the A380 by my cousin’s husband in Toronto. What an experience that was! Not many people can say they arrive in Canada and get a police escort through immigration and then a private tour of an Emirates A380 just after it’s landed. Thank you once again Dave!

My solo trip around Toronto Islands was wonderful, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s a stunning set of islands but my highlight was bushwhacking and then a clearing opened up onto a deserted beach which appeared with a lone picnic table, azure blue waters and sky, sun beating down and the stunning backdrop of Toronto Skyline. That was a surreal and serine moment of 2016.

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Visiting Niagara Falls is always an experience and it never ceases to amaze me. However as beautiful and an experience the scenery was in Canada, that trip was all about the family. Meeting new family members for the first time, cementing and enhancing old family relations it was brilliant. Spending a week reconnecting with my cousin in Edmonton was truly the highlight of the year. We were always close as kids but growing up for one reason or another we weren’t as close anymore. This trip was just like old times and I’m so glad he invited me out there and I’m so glad I went. What an awesome week that was, with his kind and funny family. It was a real eye opener to see someone who moved there from Ireland a few years ago really make their mark there, with a beautiful partner and two wonderful kids. I couldn’t help that week but see myself in that position in a few years. They truly are living the life and I was incredibly jealous of them! I was absolutely gutted to leave Canada after two weeks but I will be back!

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2016 has been the fittest year for me, I’ve cycled more than I ever have before covering 1825 miles, over 29,000 feet of climbing and smashing PB’s left, right and centre. I only managed 800 in 2015 so this season has been great. I feel I’m at the fittest I’ve ever been, becoming lactose intolerant in the summer as much as it sucked to not eat cheese anymore, It made me eat healthier and I’m 1.5 stone lighter at the end of 2016 than I was when it started.

There has been ending this year, the most notable one was a change in career and ending six years at my second home at the University of Chester. It was very sad to leave because I have so much history in that place. Who I am today was forged in the six years there. I loved my studies their and loved my time as staff their even more. My fellow colleagues where outstanding and a real family and it does suck that I don’t get to talk to them every day but it is great that we all still keep in touch.

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If you’re going to leave a place, you might as well go out on a high and that’s something that I did. Winning the University of Chester’s 2016 outstanding academic support staff award was a true honour. I never in a million years thought I’d be nominated, let alone win it. That means so much to me because it’s voted for by students, so for them to give back my hard work in helping them is truly rewarding. I helped the department win their first ever gold NUS green impact awards and I presented at my first international conference in Amsterdam. From the back of that I’m now a Co-editor of a international journal! I know, its crazy at my age! I loved Amsterdam so much that I’m going back next year with my partner in crime Emma. I cannot wait!

But as one door closed the other opened and that was the PhD which although only three months in I am fully enjoying it! I’ve done so much work already that I’ve been fast-tracked on the PhD which means I can finish in 2 years instead of the usual 3. Not many people get that opportunity. I also passed my 3 I’s programme and became an associate fellow of the higher education academy, meaning I get even more letters after my name! The PhD and the people in my office are no doubt going to be a central plot point for 2017 and I can’t wait because it’s going to be awesome!

Another year passes and 2016 was another year single. It shouldn’t surprise me anymore, I have accepted that I’ll probably be single for ever now. But that’s cool, I hope to be a rich cool bachelor one day. 2016 was again devoid of pretty much any interest from any women at all. The one who did eventually ended up with another guy, again why am I surprised? Yet I’ve said this plenty of times in blogs I am completely happy single, for the first time in four years I am open again to the idea of relationships but she’d have to be pretty special to enhance was is already a really rewarding single life. Will the woman I’ve been waiting for eventually appear in 2017? Unlikely, let’s be honest but we never really know. Still waiting on my Amy Adams lookalike, ginger haired, cyclist avgeek pilot to come along…I can dream.

It’s been a pleasure to share this journey with you and I hope 2017 tops this year. All about the PhD next year and hopefully I’ll finally get around to driving and passing my test (I know I’ve said that since like 2010 but I am actually serious this year), I will finally get my pilots license this year too, all be it an UAV one but it is a CAA pilots licence so I will have eventually in some form ticked off a life goal. Few new countries to visit next year which is exciting and 2017 promises to be exciting and rewarding, I’m sure of it.

I entered 2016 with a new positive attitude and outlook on life and on myself and its payed off. Life will always throw you curve balls and things might not always go your way but if you stay positive, stay kind and help people through stuff then good things will come to you. I wish all my followers a brilliant 2017, I hope it’s fantastic and I hope my 2017 is a special one. I look forward to sharing 2017 with you as always through these blogs. May you continue to enjoy them and I hope once again, you have a truly wonderful year!