The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

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

Tag: life

2010-2019 the decade of change and achievement

2019…The end of a terrific year but also the end of what has been quite the decade! Looking back on the past decade it’s actually been quite the whirlwind. If my 2010 self was to read what I was to do and become in the next nine years, I don’t quite think he’d believe it. I’ve been on a journey of transformation, I’m a million miles away from that jaded and lost boy in 2010. 2010 me was I feel looking back, an outsider who never really fitted in. Present but vacant, slightly out of sync with everyone else. Someone who knew what they wanted to be but was not in a place where they could be that. I started the decade, lost.

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Some Happier 2010 times!

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Some Happier 2010 times!

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Some Happier 2010 times!

Its been well documented those who have followed me on this journey from day one about my disdain for sixth form and what went on in a particular classroom. This blog, while a million miles away from those early days of blog writing as a release and as a weapon, has its roots from the immaturity of sixth form. My passion for writing blogs was born out of that shitshow. There were many gems from Maricourt but there was a toxic group that I could not wait to leave behind.

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Life was better at Uni!

My life got significantly better when at the start of the decade I went to University. I had felt like I was hemmed in, in school. Learn hard, put the effort in, get the grades, get out. That’s what school was to me. One of my standout moments of this decade was and will always be that first-year residential field trip to Slapton in Feb of 2011. This decade I’ve had a few vital and pivotal moments where if I had chosen the other side of the coin, the other decision, life would be vastly different today. The first of that, was that February night on a cold, windswept Slapton beach. I still remember it vividly, the fresh sea breeze that tickled your face, the gentle and rhythmic pulse of the distant lighthouse casting a beam of light across the sand. Looking up and taking in a deep breath of air, exhaling and watching it disappear into the most unbelievably clear sky I had ever seen. It felt like the entire universe was out that night, the bluest of blue stars twinkled above like diamonds.

Before that night, I was ready to quit University. I had made up my mind, it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t challenged enough, I was constantly ill, I hated the commute. I was all but done. This first-year field trip was in my mind, a swansong. It just turned out to my surprise to be the start of an epic journey in academia. That night as we pulled up some driftwood and sat on large boulders, laughing and sharing stories into the night. I suddenly realised that with this group of people, we were all broken in some way and for the first time in my life, that wasn’t an issue. For the first time in such a long time, I had people around me who actually didn’t care about who you are or where in high school. They all had flaws as did I, and they didn’t care. They were human. I formed friendships that night that have lasted the sands of time. That field trip changed everything. I fell back in love with Geography because of that field trip, I realised that I could be who I wanted to be here, with these people.

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Sitting here now having completed a BSc, an MSc and recently a PhD, it seems crazy to me that I was so close to giving up all of that if it wasn’t for that goddamn beach and the chats that night. Not to forget Susan (you had to be there).

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Undergraduate years of 2010-2013 was a period of some crazy emotions. Once I committed to academic life, I found a place I could call home. I found something I was good at and oh boy it was one hell of a good time! Every day in Uni was a laugh with my Uni pals, Anthony, Alex, Mary, Hannah, Chloe, Stacey. The latter, well we all know how that particular episode of the decade turned out. I had fallen in love.  I let my walls down 100% again for someone for the first time in a few years and for those two years it was awe-inspiring, it was beautiful and it was terrifying all at the same time. As time has passed and the wounds have healed, I can look back on those times with a real warm glow. Now longer jaded by heartache and bitterness.  I owe her a lot for building the foundations of the person I am today. There are a lot of aspects of me today that define me that were unlocked by her. For one small example, cooking. I couldn’t cook beans on toast before I met her and would never venture outside of any dish that wasn’t made in the British isles! Yet with an Italian passion for food, that was unlocked in me. Food and cooking is a huge part of who I am now. I love to cook and I’m always cooking food for family and friends and dishes from all over the world!

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Then in 2013, as I was feeling on top of the world…it all came crashing down. The rug was whipped from under my feet. The breakup hit me out of the blue and knocked me for six for years! 2013-14 was brutal. I was depressed, everything was a struggle. Looking back now, I see why I struggled so much with it. As a very guarded person, I felt like I was betrayed when I let all of my walls down, the real emotional me was vulnerable and to then have that heart stood on in the fashion that she did was tough. Did it help that she got with the guy she was ‘just friends with at the party’ that I didn’t go to, two weeks after she broke it up out of the blue? No. No, it didn’t. Did it also help my recovery that we shared every class together and friendship group for that final year? No, that didn’t help either.

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Happier times in 2013

Truth be told though I was seething, I was angry, I was hurt. But actually, I was mad at myself. I am an achiever. It’s what I do, I set a goal and I will achieve it. I have a long list of honours, accolades and achievements. Yet, one had always evaded me. I would trade in all of my awards to just be loved by someone, to grow old with them and to have my own family. When she ended it, to me, it was a colossal failure on my part. It’s something that I did or didn’t do, it was my fault in some way is how I perceived it. I had a taste of that ultimate goal for it to no longer exist. It was tough.

2013 was by far the most challenging year of the decade for me. A week after I was hit by that out of the blue break up, I was informed that my eyes where 0.5 outside of the limit for becoming an Air Traffic Controller. A dream job that I had worked towards ever since I was little. My choices in school and even degree level were all geared up towards becoming an Air Traffic Controller. It’s all I ever wanted to do. In the space of 7 days, I had lost two dreams, out of the blue. I was once again, lost.

From 2010 to the start of 2013, I had discovered for the most part who I was as a person. I grew very self-assured of myself. 2013 knocked me right back to 2010. I didn’t know me anymore. I had spent years having such confidence in myself to looking in the mirror and not even recognising who I was. Every day was an effort. Academia became a lifeline again, amongst all of this dissertations had begun. The only way out of this hole I thought was to put everything into that dissertation. One last hurrah. Do well in this, get a good degree, build myself back up again, reinvent me again. I used all those emotions of anger and hurt and turned them into productivity. Which worked. I aced that dissertation and in the process fell in love with research. I was selected to go and present it at the biggest undergraduate conference in Plymouth. Backed by my supervisor and my friends, I didn’t think I was worthy but they believed. They pushed me to do it. From the back of that, I was selected to present that research in Parliament and came in the top 20 UK undergraduate researchers of the year. Not bad work for when I was at my lowest. That was the slow road to recovery.

Final year was a slog, but I finished with a 2:1. The goal was done. I had never felt prouder than that first graduation day, looking back at the certificate. It didn’t to me denote a degree, whenever I think back to my BSc days, it indicates all those made changes in my life, the soaring highs and greatest of lows. To me, it reminds me that I’m glad that I have that no matter how shit I feel, I have that inner stubbornness that just will never, ever, give up. No matter how much the odds are stacked against me. You pick yourself up, you keep working hard, you never give up.

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2014 and 15 were all about my Masters Things they never tell you about when starting a Masters Degree. Because I was still recovering from 2013 I don’t think at the time I really appreciated those years for what they were. A period of reflection, rebuilding, rebranding, regrowing. By the time our first residential to the desert in October came around, I saw the MSc as a new start. That summer I had clarity, I had dealt with a lot of stuff, I for the first time actually accepted me for me. I now knew what I wanted out of life and one of those things was to collect degrees. I loved research, I wanted to become a researcher. I wanted to help people in a way that I knew I could, via research. The MSc was academically very challenging but I adored that challenge. Being pushed every day intellectually was fun! It was such a great topic to study and my fellow classmates where legends. I feel really bad that we all never really stayed in touch but they were so perfect for that part of my life. I am grateful for every single one of them. That desert field trip without a doubt is the funniest field trip I have ever been on. God, I loved that course!2014…a year of rebuilding and success!

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2015 came another of those giant what-if moments, those crossroad decisions, a flip of a coin, a fork in the road of life. I’d finished my Masters, I’m now healed, I’m back to myself, I have the whole world ahead of me. Then the two jobs come at once. 29k 3 year contract in Nottingham with a global consultancy firm, or a 16k part-time tempory one year job as a research assistant. I was utterly torn between the logically me and the emotional me. Head and my Dad, wherein the consultancy job. No question. Financial security, job security, job progression, independence, moving out, new city. Yet, my heart wasn’t in it. I had fallen in love from Undergrad with research, but it was a lot of work, it didn’t pay well and there was no guarantee it would last longer than a year. I was conflicted, my parents were conflicted. Take the Nottingham job and I would be leaving home, I’d be leaving Liverpool, my life and I’d be on a career path in environmental consultancy.

On the other hand, take the RA job, stay at home but do something I was madly passionate about and really enjoyed but for pretty crap pay.

Then that talk at the river happened. Both of us, me and Chloe at a crossroads in life, both with massive decisions to make. Chloe, I have no doubt is my guardian angel. At the beach in Slapton, there during the hard times, there again at the river now a big life decision was to be made. My confidant, my guiding light, my soundboard. I summed Chloe up and the rest of my close friends up so well in this blog here:My dedication to the inner circle! After hours for the first time in a while, I had clarity over that decision. My mind was made up all because of her, I made the decision. I declined the consultancy job and for the first time ever the logical me went with my heart. I took the RA job. I turned onto the path of academia which has led me to where I am today.

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2015-2016 where the RA years (My 2016, a cracking year! ) (My Facebook status’ of the year and what a story it tells of 2015.) An incredibly rewarding, stressful, intense training I could ever receive being an RA in the department. I thought my development rate was staggering from BSc to MSc, but as an RA, I developed more in those years there than I had all the other years combined. I adored that job, as much as it was mental! It cemented to me that this is what I wanted to do as a career now. The research was home, I had found not where I expected to be but clearly where I was meant to be. I worked on a vast amount of projects, learnt so much and got to work with the most incredibly supportive colleagues a young RA could ever ask for! I was pushed to my limits and beyond in that job. It only became apparent when I started my PhD how much training I had unknowingly been through as the departments RA. I was a seasoned researcher soldier by the time the PhD wars came. I felt like a general when I walked into PhD life. To this day, those intense years where the best in terms of training for research and my career and it put me in a great position.

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Here we go again, three-year cycles in life, all going well and here comes the downer. Funding cuts across the University. RAs well we’re disposable. First to be cut was me. Here I am again, back at this familiar road. Find something I’m good at and I like and here comes something to take it away. Oddly, I was different this time. The disappointment didn’t come as a surprise, things were going too well so I was expecting this to occur. But more than that, after so many disappointments and setbacks in my life I was just like meh, okay, it’s another one, I’ll deal with it like I always do. No worries! I was gutted to be leaving the department but I also felt that maybe this was a blessing in disguise. A new chance to see this as rather than a setback, a new adventure, a new challenge. Since 2013 I’ve had the mindset of turning negatives into positives, even if that is only a small positive. I had learnt all that I could there, I couldn’t progress without a PhD. So PhD it is.

I’ve always been a firm believer that if you have the right attitude in life, if you work hard, then you build a door. If you do that, then life will give you opportunities and if you’ve worked hard and in the right way, then the opportunity will come and knock at that door that you’ve built. The day after I was told I was going to be unemployed, the PhD scholarship at LJMU was posted. My boss saw it, sent it to me. I quote “Jesus Tony, this PhD looks like it’s been written for you! Drones in fieldwork! You should apply”. There was an opportunity, knocking very loudly! I was so very nearly not going to apply until my work mum Sara knocked some sense into me (one of the very many unsung heroes of this decade for me! Thank you Sara!). I applied, did the interview, got the scholarship and the rest is history as they say!

2016-2019 and that’s where we end this decade. The PhD years. These past three years would never have happened without that decision way back in 2010 or that one in 2015. It’s a weird life when you think about it. If I had my way, I like to think I would have been an air traffic controller now, with a wife and maybe a kid. But life has a funny way of getting you where you need to be, not where you want to be. Here I am, in 2019, as a Doctor. I never thought or even entertained the thought that one day I would be Dr Cliffe, I’d be an editor of a Journal and a Senior Lecturer at 27 years old. Yet, for all of that journey, I am immensely proud that I am here. That I never gave up and that I feel I am where I’m meant to be right now. The past three years have undoubtedly been the best of the decade. I have so much love for my time on the PhD and the people who were in it My final day and my goodbye. I have grown again as a person to someone who I feel is the best and most rounded version of me there has ever been. The past three years have been the most intellectually challenging journey. It’s also been the most personally challenging as I’ve worked towards the highest academic qualification you can get. It’s been a fabulous time, especially all the friendships, relationships and travel that it brought me!

However, the past three years would not have been possible without my fellow PGRs, especially H105. They have been my rock throughout all of this! Friends that I know I will have forever! The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105  A perfect weekend: A wedding and Friendships Yet, they’re not alone in my thoughts as I look back on this decade. You see, for every fail and trust me I have 1000 fails to every one of my successes. You see, whether I’ve failed or I’ve achieved I’ve never been alone. I’ve had people in my life for those ten years who’ve been through everything, I’ve had people who’ve come and gone. Each time was leaving a piece of them with me that has changed me. People have left me with positives and some with lessons. I’ve had so many unsung heroes on this journey, so many people who when I lost faith, put their faith in me. I’ve had the most amazing mentors who backed me when I didn’t back myself, who pushed me beyond my perceived limits to see what I was truly capable of. This decade is littered with the most amazing, kind-hearted, dedicated, and loyal people I have ever met. I have had friends like Chloe, Emma, Hannah, Luke, Laura, Vic, Katie, the list goes on who have stood by me through thick and thin. Who has never waivered, who always believe in me and what I stand for. Without out, I wouldn’t be possible.

I feel as I end this decade that I am incredibly wealthy in terms of the company that I now keep. 2010 me was a lost boy who didn’t fit in. 2019 me is a man who has found a home, a family. I may not be where I thought I would be, but I’m where I feel I’m meant to be.

Let’s see what the new decade holds, 2010-2010 was the decade of achievement…I’m ready for the adventure of this new decade. What it will be called I guess I’ll find out in 10 years, but I am ready for it to be written!

 

Decade of Achievement

  • A – Levels
  • UK’s first parliamentary school speaker award winner
  • UK Good Citizen of the year award
  • BSc Geography
  • Novel published on Amazon
  • Top 20 UK undergraduate researchers (2013)
  • MSc Sustainability
  • Outstanding Academic Support staff overall winner 2016
  • Editor of IJSaP
  • 4 papers published
  • PhD
  • Driving Licence
  • Senior Lecturer
  • Deputy Chair of Ethics
  • Post Graduate Assessment Officer

 

A dedication to the mentors

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

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

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

Inspiration 

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

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

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

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

Push you to your limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir. All rounds fired, no Jam. Sir”

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

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

Take a chance

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

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

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

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

 

Look out for you

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

 

 

My 2019 so far: January to July

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

January

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

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

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

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Wokkah!!!

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

 

February

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

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

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New plant for the bedroom!

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Love my Bonsai!

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

March:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best mothers day card, ever.

April:

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

My favourite shot of the year!

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

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

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

May:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ready for D-Day anniversary para drops

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June:

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

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Yaaaaaas!!!! #LFC

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

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

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

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

chloe

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

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

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What a day! Alpaca walking ❤

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Nice few days away with the fam

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July:

Graduation day arrived!!

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Time to graduate!

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Graduation photos have arrived!

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Mission Accomplished!

This family are awesome!

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Great afternoon with the fam!

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

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

 

 

 

My dedication to the inner circle!

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

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

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

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

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

Luke:

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My bro!

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

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

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

Chloe:

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My fav spud

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

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

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

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Emma:

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My sister from another Mr!

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

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

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Putting up with my shit since 2006!

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

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

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Han:

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My fav midlander!

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

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

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Ro:

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My fav ginge

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

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

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Final words:

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

Thank you!

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

Another Single Valentines day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t even hesitate in answering.

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

A look back on 2018 part 2

July

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

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

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

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

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Selfie mode on the S9 plus is awesome!

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

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Moth traps set for tonight

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

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Front row flightline seats! Let's goooo!

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F35 is a bit loud!

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I still snigger at this. Lolz.

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

August

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

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

A summer of editing and writing

Amazing what painkillers and determination will get you.

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

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

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

September

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

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

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Mmmmmmm BBQ!

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And plenty of time catching up with the best people!

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Sunday impromptu walks! 😁

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

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Light pollution over Leeds at night.

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Finally, a few days off came. Happy times!

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Woo not in work for over a week! 😁

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

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

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

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I finally visited my favourite club!

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

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

October

October started off pretty well I’d say!

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

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One phd draft equals half a forest

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

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

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

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

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It's a bit cold here.

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

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

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Coffee views!

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And the Fjord, wow. They were stunning.

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😍

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

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

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

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

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Frozen in the rain but worth it!

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

And the Pumpkin of the year…

November

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

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#autumn🍁

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Remembrance Sunday help a poignant and special meaning this year.

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

This sums up editing a PhD thesis.

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

December

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

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Yearly christmas market selfie! 🎅

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

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

We finally got a new kitchen!

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Our new kitchen is done!

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

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Tree is finally up! Merry Cliffemas!

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

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

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

Until next year,

Toe

X

Farewell Great Uncle Peter

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Eulogy for Peter:

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

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

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

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Hard work gets you your dream… eventually

A dream a long time coming.

Well what can I say other than the past three days have been the most pressured and hectic few days for a long time. Imagine doing your GCSE’s then your A levels and then your Undergraduate degree in the space of two days…in an exam hall which is on fire…and you’re covered in petrol. Pretty much sums up three days of intensive examinations!

A long time ago and for as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. That’s all I ever talked about as a kid. I had a love of aviation ever since my first flight when I was a few months old, in a Shoebox aircraft with a gap in the door (ah the joys of 1990’s health and safety). As I grew older I understood the physics of it all, I was amazed and inspired by these giant feats of engineering lurching up into the sky on nothing but fast flowing air moving from high to low pressure over a wing creating lift. Whenever I’m on a plane it can be quite the feeling of knowing just a few fast flowing air particles are all that’s keeping you up suspended in the sky. Okay, it’s not that simple…we have Bernoulli’s principle and the formula of lift coefficient, thrust and angles of attack to consider (a formula I now know like my own mobile number after these past few days!) but in concept it’s pretty straight forward. Civil aviation amazed me due to the size, military aviation was full of power, noise and agility. I think you’d have to be pretty soulless to not see a Eurofighter Typhoon on full reheat and not be impressed by the agility, speed and bone shaking noise. Above all of that though it always came down to a simple desire to fly. As much as the physics and the engineering amazed me, it was what aviation provides. Freedom. I was jealous that some people get paid to always have a sunny office above the clouds, they can go wherever they want to, no roads, no traffic lights. You’re soaring away in an azure blue sky leaving all the crap below you (not chemtrails either! 😉 ). That sense of adventure and freedom to explore is what captivated me the most about flying. Whenever I saw a plane I wondered where they were going, what are they thinking as they fly over with a splendid view, everything in perspective of how small we are down below. The freedom of the skies was always something that captivated me.

I have a desire to travel and aviation was always a way for me to do that. There was that adventure and exploration I always wanted as a kid. I think that came from flicking through this really old musty smelling Atlas in the loft as a child. So many different exotic places to explore. That Atlas actually got me into Geography! So anyway, as long as I could remember I wanted to be a pilot but like most childhood dreams they very rarely become a reality. For me when I started year 7 in high school I got glasses and that was pretty much the dream dead in the water in terms of commercial flying. Pretty gutting but realistically the chances of a childhood dream career coming true where pretty slim so I took that on the chin. The joys of being a rational realist! Yet that never stopped me wanting to fly. My love of aviation grew but there was always the well-known fact that to fly was always going to be a bridge too far. Always just out of reach. I have a few personal goals in life of things I want to do and things I want to achieve. Holding a pilot’s licence was always one of them. Commercial aviation was a no go, military the same so that only left a private pilot’s licence. An avenue for my dream but one that was behind a giant gate called finance. To get a private pilot’s licence costs a stupid amount of money. Certainly one I could never afford!

I was fortunate to join the Royal Air Force cadets when I was 13 as I saw that as my one of only chance to physically fly an aircraft and fly one for free. I still remember my first flight as if it were yesterday. Standing on parade on Friday night in those horrible itchy wool jumpers and berets waiting to be dismissed, crimping your toes together to keep the blood flowing so you didn’t collapse under the heat. I was only in the service for a few months and this was the first time that the squadron had some flying spots for some time. I impressed the officers with my aircraft knowledge in all the lectures and I put my name down on the list. A slim chance, especially as a new cadet.

“Cliffe!”  The OC voice boomed.

“Yes…Sir” my voice a squeaky nervous 13 year old lacked any quiver of authority.

“Well done, you’re going flying on Sunday. Be here at 08.00hrs”

“Thank you Sir!” a smile as wide as an aircraft wing appeared across my face.

When I got to RAF Woodvale it was windy and raining. Not the best for flying but I didn’t care. This was exciting. I had waited a long time to fly a plane and for many years it was out of reach. I was under no illusion that this one flight might be the only time I ever get to fly a plane. I sat in the briefing room with the other lucky cadets, jealous of the older ones who’d been on flights before, others the chosen few to be on flying scholarships. I watched as each one departed, each time the rain came down harder and with each flight my chance of flying seemed to be so agonisingly close but so far away at the same time.

“Cliffe, you’re up” a warm smile from the guys in the fitting room. Slipping into that famous green flying suit was an amazing feeling. Pulling on your white gloves, the weight of that big heavy helmet, life jacket and knowing you had a parachute strapped to your back made everything suddenly very, very real! If you’ve never worn a parachute before, that D-ring that you have to pull to activate the chute is like a giant red button. You’re not meant to press it but it looks so enticing to do!

I remember walking waddling to the crew room under all the weight of the safety gear. Top Gun made that walk look so easy! I was suddenly terrified. These aircraft are tiny but they can do loops, rolls…and I’m going to be in the cockpit! It was weird waiting for that moment. The helmet insinuates your breathing. It’s all you can hear, the voices outside are just muffles so everyone else relies on hand signals. “Fwirst… ime?” ….”What!?…Oh. First time? Yeah 1st flight” I say with a raised finger. The marshaller had a big smile on his face and a thumbs up, let’s go! The smell of aviation fuel is one of the greatest smells ever, I remember stepping onto the wing, being guided by the ground crews about where to put my feet and helped me lower myself into the cramped cockpit. All the dials in front of me, that joystick between my legs, my shinny polished boots reflecting the grey sky above the cockpit. Before I knew it my breathing I couldn’t hear any more, it was replaced by an electrical whine as my helmet was plugged into the aircraft and the radio coms so that I could talk to the flight instructor next to me to my right. The ground crew pulled on the straps and I was locked into that plane tighter than a bear hug. The pilot to my right was flicking switches and going through checklists and I just took a deep breath, drinking it all in, the smells, the noise, the view. I get a tap on my helmet from the ground crew with two thumbs up. I reciprocate the gesture and the canopy is closed shut above my head.

“Can you hear me?” the typical British RAF pilot’s voice booms in my helmet.

“Yes Sir!”

“I’m Squadron Leader Kings, nice to meet you. How many flights have you done in the tutor?”

“Hi Sir, I’m Cadet Cliffe…errm. First flight sir”

“Excellent! You’re going to love it!”

After briefing from him which was basically do not touch anything at all, we taxied to the runway, the radio chatter between us and air traffic filled my ears along with the noise of the engines. If you’ve never flown in an aircraft that isn’t a big airliner, it’s a completely different world. It’s hard to explain and while sitting in this tiny plane you’re looking forward. No longer consigned to looking outwards to the side from a cramped window seat. “Here we go”. Throttles advanced forward and before I knew it we were climbing into the rain and wind. It was bumpy as hell but I didn’t mind at all as I watched the rain stream passed the cockpit dome. We headed to my town and we flew in circles over my house, my mum and dad even came out in the rain to watch as he completed a few passes over them. What a moment to see your childhood street from the air like that…and then he said it. “You have control”

“I…I have control sir”

I placed my hands on the joystick with an almighty grip, I bank the stick the left slightly and the aircraft moved to the left, I moved it to the right and it moved to the right. Holy fuck. I’m flying a plane!

“Patch of blue sky over there, head that way. You’re doing really well.”

I was flying a plane…an actual real aircraft! Something that seemed so unattainable was actually happening. When we got to the blue patch I hear the words “I have control” and I relinquished my grip on the controls and my short time flying a plane was over. I was a little sad but still so on a high from the experience that I wasn’t expecting what came next. In one sharp movement of the stick the horizon lurched, my stomach churched and the G force made my heart rate work harder. I look up through the glass and I don’t see sky…it’s the ground below. We’re flying upside down! We did some aerobatics in a tiny patch of blue sky, loops, rolls, experiencing 0 G as he took off his flying glove and I watched it float in the air. What an experience. Before too long I was back on the ground, exhilarated. He shook my hand before I left the cockpit and he said “Cadet Cliffe, congratulations! You’ve just flown a plane, you’re an aviator now”.

I went onto have a really good flying career in cadets. I was very fortunate to get triple the hours any one normal cadet would get. I spent a few hours flying myself with just the pilot next to me enjoying the views and manoeuvres. When it was time to leave cadets despite many hours of flying I never made it onto any flying scholarships, I guess I used all my luck getting those flights in. So I left with many happy memories of flying but still no pilot’s licence. RAF flying was free and sadly private pilot’s licences are not so the only flying I carried on doing was on the computer which isn’t the same. I had a taste of the dream and it was good while it lasted. I was fortunate enough to fly a plane once, let alone many times.

I continued to love aviation and took many more flights, I must have over 500 commercial flights by now as we’d go on holiday often but always as a passenger, never a pilot.

Fast forward many years later and I find myself in a field, at the controls of an aircraft being assessed for my flight exam for a pilots licence. Granted it’s not the pilot’s licence I thought I would be getting but it was a pilot’s licence never the less. It’s weird how dreams and goals work out. Many of you know how for many years once I knew I could never be a pilot as a job that I wanted to be an air traffic controller. A dream job for an avgeek like me and especially one who loved order and problem solving. Every decision post year 9 in school was geared up towards making the selection process for Air Traffic Control. What subjects I picked, the hours getting my head around formulas knowing I needed good math