The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

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

Tag: Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Going on fieldwork like…

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

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Look at the 105 upgrade! Pro bike!

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

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

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#nailedit

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

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“We weren’t fighting…honest”

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

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

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New rendition of I am the Walrus by the Beetles 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

Toe

Long time no blog! Leaving one home and finding another

Long time no blog

Hey guys! Long-time no blog right? It’s been a busy few months and certainly a hell of a lot has happened since my last blog which was my Canada part 2 blog. You can read both day one and two here Canada Trip Blog 1: The long trip west Canada Travels: Blog 2 – Airport escort and Toronto Islands. Now that I’ve finished for Christmas I promise I’ll finish that blog series off. I don’t want to rush them or do them half arsed because I want to do that trip justice! So expect a fair few blogs coming at the end of 2016, especially the standard year review blogs that I’ve done for the past few years. 2016 may have been a bad year for many and certainly if you’re a celebrity who was over 60 but for me it’s been a truly interesting and on the whole, a very positive year. I have some great moments to share from my 2016 review so watch this space.

“I loved the place, loved the people and loved the job”

So to fill you guys in on why its been such a void space of blogs in the past few months, I might as well begin with arriving back from Canada in May.

Those of you who follow my blogs and on social media know that April was a bit of a topsy turvy kind of month. I was excited, I needed in fact, that solo adventure away to Canada at the end of the month, but the news that my job post wasn’t going to be renewed due to budget cuts was a real downer. I’d worked as a student and staff in Chester for six years, I loved the place, loved the people and loved the job. So I was pretty bummed that it was going to be over. In the run up to going away to Canada I was in constant negotiations, in the end my terms weren’t met by senior management and it became a “thanks but no thanks” for what they offered me. Which was one day a week and half PhD fees paid for, which would have meant I’d actually lose money. As much as I loved Chester and working there, that’s pitiful for someone at Masters level and working as a Research Assistant on three high profile research projects. So, I made the decision to seek new pastures, which was both exciting and terrifying. I might aswell jumped off a cliff and hoped that half way down I’d sprout a pair of wings. It was a huge gamble.

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Me making that decision like…

During negotiations I really wanted to stay because I absolutely hate change, at least sudden change and I loved the place. Why move from a place of comfort for six years? However that’s when people like me have issues. We imbed ourselves in new places, give it our all, make new friends, build a team around us, and make improvements. We’re comfortable until we achieve everything we can achieve in a place and then you want to move on to do bigger and better things, there is always something new to achieve, another mountain to climb. I’m incredibly hard on myself as a person. There is always something to improve, always something to achieve. Rarely am I satisfied with an achievement if there is another one to get.

It was good that my contract was coming to an end because I’d achieved all I possible could there and I was starting to stagnate in my development. Got my BSc and went to parliament and BCUR with my research, successfully got my MSc, worked on three distinct and challenging research projects as lead research assistant, helped the department win Gold at the NUS green awards and even won the title of University of Chester’s 2016 outstanding academic support staff winner! There was literally nothing else to achieve. That award though I must add a caveat to as its one of my proudest moments this year, it was truly special. That was an award voted for by students, to be nominated was amazing, to win it was truly heart-warming. It’s great to know students felt so grateful for my help this year to recognise me for the award. There are hundreds of very special and dedicated staff who help students out every day, I was honoured to be the one to win. I’ll go into more depth in the 2016 review but I always said I’d give back to students as much as I could just like my old supervisor did for me. So thanks once again!

Just before I left for Canada a PhD came up which was almost written for me. It is funny how life and the universe has a habit of putting you in places that you didn’t think you’d be, but where you need to be. Life has a funny way of closing but opening doors if you work hard and build a door so that if opportunity comes along, it has a place to knock. If it wasn’t for Sara pushing me to apply for it and making me make that final step to seek new, greener grass I doubt I’d be where I am today, I might not have opened that door, so thanks works mum! I went ahead and applied, came back from Canada with a completely new outlook on things, totally relaxed, nailed the interview and got the post. Seriously it’s as over the moon as I have been in so long. It was like absolutely everything was riding on that interview. It’s one of those moments I know I’ll look back on as a major pivot point in my life, if it didn’t go my way, things would have been so much more different than they are now. That wait before going into that interview was the most pressure I’ve ever felt. Just imagine right now if you had an interview in five minutes and you knew the outcome of it would affect your life massively. Then imagine the self-doubt telling you, you’ve got one shot and not to fuck it up. Thankfully, I have a great, if not scary knack of being completely calm and emotionless in high pressured situations. I was probably the calmest I’ve been all year in that interview. I came out really happy and in the mind-set of if I don’t get it, then there isn’t anything I couldn’t have done any better. For instance, while practicing my presentation to the board which was meant to be 10 minutes, it was varying between 8 minutes to 12 minutes. On the day, 9 minutes 59 seconds! Boom.

They wanted me to start right away but I wanted to see out the remaining few months of my contract at Chester. Senior management was a clusterfuck but my department have been nothing but pure gold. The head of department tried absolutely everything to keep me and was so open to negotiations but they were having none of it. The whole team were a family, a vastly under resourced but amazing and dedicated family. I was so excited to start the PhD and that new adventure and challenge I craved but so gutted to say goodbye to Chester and team GID. Six years is a long time to be in once place.

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Team GID!

2010 I arrived there as a person I barely recognise looking back now. Six years has changed an awful lot within me for the better. Looking back on it now, it was kind of fitting how full circle it all felt when I finished my final day in the office. Back in 2010, I couldn’t wait to start University. I’d long since outgrown school, again achieved everything there was to achieve, even getting headboy and going to parliament to win the first ever national school speakers award. Never truly fitted in. Fed up of small minded people who didn’t see the bigger picture outside of school, more than fed up of bitching, backstabbing and immaturity at Maricourt. It wasn’t the case of big fish in a small pond, it was more the case of a normal fish being suffocated by toxic algae. So I started Uni as a young boy who desperately wanted to spread his wings and find himself and yearned for that new adventure. Boy, what an adventure it was. People who never went to Uni will never understand it. I’m not talking about the course content here but the journey you go through. Add to that love and heartbreak which you all know so well about from my blogs! Six years later i left as a man, who had his adventure, found himself and was ready for a new exciting adventure. Chester will always be a big part of me and I still keep in touch with old friends from Uni and still go out with my old work mates and that will always continue.

I signed off my job in a big way, presenting at the International Conference of Higher Education in Amsterdam. What a way to end the Chester story! Amsterdam is worthy of its own blog for the stuff that went on but such an awesome place and experience. All expenses paid trip to Amsterdam is one way to sign off! I loved it so much that me and Emma are going back next March. I cannot wait!

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Can’t wait to go back

I had a few weeks off over summer before starting my PhD in September and it was my first proper break for two years. It was amazing to wake up without an alarm, no four hour commute each day, cycle when I wanted to, plenty of walks and photography. The odd glimmer of romance faded as quickly as my Costa club cards could amass and as usual the fishing line was cast and while some catch a big fish, some catch a boot, I caught thin air! From that Amsterdam conference I was offered the position of Co-editor on a new International Journal of Students as Partners. That’s a really interesting and challenging volunteer work I do. To be an editor at my age and stage in my career is unheard of. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. That keeps me busy!  Ah, such a happy and relaxing time. By time it came to start the PhD, I was fully relaxed, recharged and motivated.

I wouldn’t say I had cold feet but I was very apprehensive in the week running up to my first day. The size of what I was about to take on suddenly became very, very real. Also complete shock that I was actually going to be paid for once to do my own research on a really interesting topic and not for someone else! It almost felt like I was expecting an email one day to say waheeey, this is all one big sick joke. Thankfully it is real! I was nervous about the challenge. I had no doubt in my ability to do a PhD, this is a person who has far too much misplaced self confidence/ arrogance in himself to let that bother me. It was more the getting to know a new unfamiliar place, putting your mark down there and building a foundation to work from. It was the people I’d meet to. Would they like me? Would I like them? I’d just left a tight knit family of work colleagues. Would I find that bond again? I’m here for at least three years. The first step on this three year journey was about to begin and I really was stepping into the unknown.

“It’s only been a short few months but already it feels like a family”

The first month was a really weird one. I’d gone from spending every day around people, staff, students, noise to sitting in an office alone. I started on the 1st of September and the new PhD students weren’t starting till the end of the month. I’d leave my house and wouldn’t utter a single word until I arrived back home 7 hours later. They say PhD’s are one of the loneliest things you can ever do, I just didn’t think they meant that literal. On the plus side because I had worked as a Research Assistant doing anything and everything in the department that I was so used to working at a fast and efficient pace. The word count rocketed up, especially with no distractions from an empty office. My supervisors were blown away with how much work I had done, I think its normal because that’s what I was paid to do in Chester! It was only in October and November that this new office, this new life path felt like home and felt like I was in the right place, doing the right thing. Those of you who know me well, will know that as much as I am self centred and egotistical narcissist, I love to surround myself with a core group of good, honest and different people. I work best in a good working machine. I like to think of my inner circle of most trusted friends are testament to that statement.

This brings me onto the new team. You also know I often joke that my life is a TV series on a parallel universe with the random things that happen to me. Like all good series you’ll have your favourite characters. If my life was a series then the Chester series had just finished, we’d have the summer break and now the LJMU chapter of my life was about to begin. People started to fill up the office, we started to get to know each other and while that process is still on going and will continue to develop, it already feels like home. If an audience was watching and was gutted that the old characters of Chester where no longer season regulars, they’d be more than happy with these guys! It’s only been a short few months but already it feels like a family. As much as friends and family take an interest in your PhD, they honestly haven’t got a bloody clue what you go through. Trying to explain why completing an RD9R form is worse than standing on multiple upturned plugs to them, you just get a “its only a form” or a “oh right” as they think you’re a drama queen. Say RD9R to a EHC LJMU PhD student and it might promote rage or tears or both. These guys are all starting at the same time as me, we’re all aboard HMS Wingit sailing through the choppy seas of the PhD Ocean. They’re there for you with advice any day and hour of the week. We’re all in this together and they just get it. They’re a cracking bunch of people and I look forward to the years ahead with them.

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“Wisdom leads to the stars” A logo i made for our new office. Team EHC.

So, there we have it, a busy few months and certainly big changes have occurred but all for the better. I’ve already started to achieve here, I’ve done so much work already that I’ve been fast tracked to the PhD direct route, which means I can finish in two years if I wanted, rather than the required minimum of three years. Meaning I get to skip the MpHil and transfer Viva. I’ve also passed my 3I’s programme which means I’m now an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. I always feel like I should own a cloak or something with that title, or a monocle. It means I get to add AFHEA after my name now.  I get to buy my drone next year, I’ll be a fully qualified UAV pilot by this time next year and the exciting data collection part of my PhD will begin. It’s going to be another challenging year for sure but hopefully another rewarding one. I finished the other day for Christmas, so I’m going to sit back for a few weeks, recharge and get some time to catch up with my blogs. I’ll try my hardest to keep them regular but PhD, you never know!

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Merry Cliffemas

Until next time.

Toe