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Philosophy Archives

SerenDIPity

I’ve entered a contest run by Cherie and Chris of Technomadia, where they’ve asked travellers (like me!) to write about how serendipity has influenced our lives. If you want to know why I’ve written SerenDIPity like that, check out this post about the contest. If you’re already here via Technomadia, welcome!

And if you’re not? Well, we can’t all be perfect. Welcome anyway :0)

This is my story.

 

Paradise Lost?

I left England for Thailand, intending to spend three months volunteering in an animal clinic. I had visions of a tiny paradise island – and I was dead right! Koh Phangan had everything I could have asked for – postcard-perfect beaches, dense tropical jungle and a party scene so wild I very nearly didn’t survive it.

It was so good, I couldn’t even think about going home.

Actually I missed my flight.

It was accidentally-on-purpose. I’d sort of seen it coming; I hadn’t bothered to check my ticket for a long time, and I wasn’t exactly devastated to find the flight had left without me. I just climbed back into my hammock and appreciated one more fiery sunset over the ocean.

I ended up staying for nearly a year.

I had no desire to go back to England at all – I was taking people Scuba-diving for a living, still working at the animal clinic in-between times and still loving life on that tiny tropical island.

Every day was different; whether guiding customers through shoals of brightly coloured fish, nursing stray dogs back to health at the clinic, or rescuing irate monkeys from places they really shouldn’t be (like restaurants); as far as I was concerned, my life there was perfect.

Palm Tree ClimbingThai BeachEventually though, I began to run out of money; I’d spent everything I could, then borrowed more and spent that too. My diving wages had all gone on dive gear and I was fighting the realisation that my trip was nearly over.  The final blow was when a thief broke into my bungalow and stole the last of my cash. I was getting desperate. Being suddenly penniless 6,000 miles from home, in a country where no-one in authority speaks your language, is pretty scary. Home would be boring – it would certainly mean the end of my adventures – but it would be safe.

Then I got a phone call from my sister. She was on holiday in Australia, staying with a friend she’d met whilst traveling, and the two of them were planning a grand trip around the country. She’d called to see if she could convince me to leave Thailand, fly to Australia, and come with them!

I said I’d have loved to, if only I could afford it.

“No worries!” she said. Her friend Krista had a place I could stay while I looked for work.

It all seemed likely to end in tears – my sister and I have had a volatile relationship in the past, and being dependant entirely on her friend’s charity would be the total opposite of the freedom I’d become accustomed to.

Plus there was paperwork, and visas, and… that ever-present fear of the unknown.

But sometimes you’ve just got to go for it.

Trust to fate, I thought.

I went for it.

I flew into Perth on a maxed out credit card, arriving with nothing but the clothes on my back – the animals had destroyed the rest! My entire luggage allowance was taken up by one huge bag of diving gear.

I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee in the airport.

But then, who can these days?

Gill and Krista came to pick me up in a crumbling van they’d bought and decorated with multi-coloured hand prints! Appropriately enough, they’d called it ‘Rusty’.

Krista had set up an interview for me with a local job agency for the following day.

I started work the day after that.

She drove me in to work herself, and picked me up afterwards, every day for the couple of weeks it took me to get back on my feet. Sometimes she’d even bring me cookies or cake! I had so much fun hanging out with her, I decided to risk joining the grand adventure after all; as soon as I had a bit of cash saved up we all piled into ‘Rusty’ and set off for parts unknown.

Six years later, Krista and I are still travelling.

In that time we’ve hardly been apart, despite being residents of two countries on opposite sides of the world. We’ve had a lot of adventures and done a lot of crazy things – and we always trust to fate, or to Serendipity, to get us where we’re meant to be.

We were married last year in an English castle, with guests from seven different countries helping us celebrate.

I was a bit scared of marriage, at first.

But like with anything else, sometimes you’ve just got to go for it.

Wedding photo

Alternative New Year Resolutions

Sick of people going on about New Year’s Resolutions yet? No? Well of course not, because most people stopped making them at age 12.  In spite of this I’ve decided to continue the tradition – but being me, I make a more… alternative kind of resolution. I also waited until half way through January to make them, to give myself time to recover from New Year. That way I could be sure they were true and honest, and not written out of any knee-jerk sentimental idealism. Here’s my aims for 2012:

1) Drown Fewer Bandicoots:

Drowned MarsupialJust because an animal is stupid doesn’t mean it should be allowed to die. Otherwise I’d have no friends left at all.

(Ow! Stop hitting me!)

Seriously though, we have an issue with our pond – it’s so tempting for bandicoots that they throw themselves in with great enthusiasm, completely disregarding the fact that they can’t swim. No wonder they’re endangered.

Roo was making a lovely list of sightings to report to the Dept. of Conservation, until sighting #14 was stiff, smelly and floating.

‘Dear DoC,

Please find enclosed a report on the bandicoot that was living under my verandah until about 2 o clock this morning when he decided to go for a swim. He is now living in a plastic carrier bag in my bin.  Not sure what the official number of them left in the wild is, but please deduct 1 from the total. If you’re looking to wipe out any more of the little critters just send ‘em this way.’

Your friends in Conservation,

Tony and Krista

2) Harass more Pro-Bloggers:

Because they secretly rule the world. Not the politic-y type bit of it, which is boring bullshit anyway, but the bit that matters. They’re the new black. No, not even that is cool enough – they’re the new ninjas. Everyone wants to be one. Except me, thank God! Imagine if I wrote this crap full-time. I’d have people suing me for making their brains dribble out of their ears (and staining their best shirts in the process).

Instead I will poke fun at these paragons of the digital realm, these gate-keepers of all that is good. You never know – I might get a rise out of one of them, and they’re usually far too nice to call the police. Might even sell a few books…

3) Get naked more.

Because you love it. Yeah y’ do. Here’s why:

My bare chest

Told ya so... :0p

4) Take more photos of Random Shit:

I’m not a camera carrier. I lived for a year in Thailand and only took one photo. I’ve quite literally destroyed more cameras than I’ve owned (sorry Roo, Gill, Dad….)

Anyhoo. I do see a lot of odd stuff on my travels and it’s about time I photographed some of it. Especially now I have a shock-proof, water-proof, snowboarding-over-proof camera (which I leave at home because it was expensive) and a good phone (which I leave at home because it doesn’t work in Australia). By way of an example, here’s some stuff I saw in the bargain bins whilst out shopping yesterday:

Some rather expensive trinkets:

Expensive signAnd a severed arm:

Manaquin Arm‘nuff said. And more photos means less words for me to write and you to read – basically, everybody wins.

5) I WILL dress up like a woman. Because that’s also popular.

6) I WILL NOT dress up like a gay ninja. Reason is self-explanatory. Well, that AND – they might get me…

Gay Ninja7) I WILL try to do more crazy shit. I’m not promising I’ll manage anything as crazy as this:

Outdoor Toilet

When ya gotta go...

But you know how I roll. It’s bound to be fun  :0)

So! Your Alternative New Year’s Resolutions? In the comments of you please!

Tony

Ever have that feeling that a year has passed quicker than a dodgy Thai curry?

Yeah, me too. I had that thought again, that if they keep going by at this rate I’m be drooling into a care home pillow before I get to do half the things I want to do.

But then I looked back and thought – yeah. Not too shabby. I did good this year.

So, in celebration of that fact, I’m finally going to do one of those smug bastard ‘How Great Was My Year!’ type posts… oh, yes! Revel in the knowledge that I, a mere mortal (and a pretty rubbish one at that), still managed to do something in 2011. And if I can, so too can you… No, wait a minute. I did it. 2011 is over. So if you didn’t do it already, you’re pretty much screwed. Ah well. Better luck next year…

January: Okay. So I didn’t get off to a flying start… um, let’s just gloss over this one shall we? No-one ever does anything worthwhile in January anyway. That’s a fact.

Bloody January.

February: 1) Learnt to spell ‘February’. Actually I did that just now, so it doesn’t count. Hmmm. February, February, must have done something…Snow Angel

Oh yeah! I went to France. My sister Gill and her hubby Chris were working there (they have ‘jobs’ you see. How strange!). So the missis, the mother and I headed over to do a spot of snowboarding. It was a great trip – Gill introduced us to the Ski (and après ski) culture, which was new to us (New Zealand not being much for culture of any kind, unless it’s rugby ball-shaped.) I then got KILLED by an irate, uncultured New Zealander! With a rugby ball.

Okay, I didn’t. I did ride insanely fast down a mountain (possibly drunk), fall badly and hurt myself, rendering me unable to do much more than drink for the rest of the holiday. Oh, and I ate fondue.  Because, y’know, I’m not cheesy enough already  :0)

MarchI went to Jordan. In the same company – Mum having paid for the entire trip due to fears of going alone. Jordan was an incredible place, with history literally lying around on the floor for you to pick up, take home and give as presents to horrified (yet secretly pleased) archaeologists you may know. Ahem. The two things I remember most about Jordan are 1) how amazing the ancient sites would have been if they weren’t crammed with assholes trying to sell me shit, and 2) the millions of assholes trying to sell me shit.

Oh, and 3) all the unnecessary shit I bought.

But it was great fun, and I had the rare opportunity to sneak into a Wonder of the World without paying the exorbitant entrance fee (of £50!) by impersonating an Australian who had already paid it. See, how much fun travelling can be?

I blogged about it HERE and HERE.

Ruins in Jordan

Find a monument. Climb on it. That's how I roll...

April – I recovered. Not from the holidays, but from a bit of news I received at the York Festival of Writing. It was there that I discovered I would never be published in the conventional sense – two agents out of two said they loved my work, but simply couldn’t sell it. Travel books, it seems, are only to be written by the already-famous. I had a blast at the Festival (my account of it is HERE) and returned with a New Mission: Publish Myself! And an epic hangover.

May – You know what? I honestly can’t remember. If you know where I was, or what I was doing in May, 2011 – please drop me a line. Unless it’s really, really embarrassing. What’s that? It IS? Oh, right then. Best keep it to yourself.

June: Just vanished. The preparations for my baby sister’s wedding took over everything, and then – oh yeah. MY BABY SISTER GOT MARRIED!!!

Wedding

Ain't she pretty!

July was a mixed bag. I will remember it forever as the month I finally married my gorgeous girlfriend Krista. In fact we got married twice, once (legally) to a CD of Dueling Banjos, which was not at all how I’d imagined it, and again a few minutes later, in the secret garden of Taunton Castle, to the trilling of a harp. It was magical – so much so that I’ve yet to blog about it at all… um… yeah. Getting married does tend to drive things like blogging out of the mind.

I will remember July as the month I launched my book: ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ took off better than I’d dared hope, sliding up the Amazon charts to #1 in all it’s categories and #423 overall. Ever since I’ve been meaning to ask someone more knowledgeable that I, whether or not that qualifies me as a ‘bestselling author’. Well, a man can dream…

I will also remember July as the month my Uncle Paul, stalwart guardian of his family, passed on to Whatever Comes Next. I never told him until right at the end, but he was the strongest man I’ve ever known. Uncle Paul, I love you, and I miss you. Sleep tight.

Where are we now? August. Krista and I took our first Honeymoon in Spain, a gift from my parents. It was just what I needed – to unplug, just for a week, from everything. The internet; the book launch; the insanely busy life I had somehow created for myself over the last six months – and my grief. Spain was a time of healing for me, a time of tanning on the beach, and a time of… well. It was my honeymoon!

September! Jeez, I better finish this quick – or anyone who’s still reading will be bleeding out of their eyeballs by the end! September I decided to apply for a visa to emigrate to Australia. I’d been meaning to look into it for months, but stuff kinda got in the way. See above for details. Immediately I noticed three things:

1)   It was going to cost me a fortune. Just over £2,000 so far, and counting.

2)   It was going to take Forever. Six months in fact; as of writing, I still don’t have my visa, or the legal right to work in Australia. Which is kind of a shame, as I’m living here.

3)   It was going to be a lot of work. Just the application form was over 40 pages long and every page turn revealed a new delight. Such as this innocuous question; ‘Is your spouse Australian? Yes? Please attach her birth certificate.’

What a mission. It delayed all other plans while I collected Police Clearance Certificates from every country I’ve lived in for more than a year (!), hundreds of documents supporting the validity of my relationship with Roo, sworn statements from Australians, medicals, financial reports… well, fictitious financial reports anyway. I mean come on! What government in their right mind would honestly let me in?*

*If you’re reading this, Australia, I’m sorry. Please let me live in you.

Octoberbegan the odyssey which became known as ‘The Grand Adventure!’. Actually it was always called that. I hoped to gather enough crazy experiences to fill another book; alas, England in the dank, cold Autumn, is not a Mecca for adventure. Well, unless you’re a train spotter. We had a great time, (almost) hiking the length of Hadrian’s Wall, and returned home just in time to Grandad-sit while my parents took a much deserved holiday.

Monument... on it. Innit.

The Grand Adventure blog (which was actually bloody funny!) is HERE, HERE and HERE.

November: this was when the reality of emigrating to Australia began to sink in. Largely because it was happening at the end of the month! Roo and I packed our cases, realized we had FAR too much stuff to put in them, and ordered a ‘small box’ from a shipping company. They sent us a large and a small ‘just in case’. Clever bastards! I suspect our story is not unusual; we quickly gave up on the small box and filled the large. Then we placed a quick call to the shipping company, altered our quote slightly, and started filling the small as well. About the time Roo floated the question ‘I wonder how much they charge for a third box…’ I called time; anything that wasn’t packed already was staying. Cue another frantic round of unpacking and re-packing, with Roo shoving stuff in one side and me removing it from the other. In the end our boxes were less than 1 kilo under the maximum allowed weight – between them. It truly was a feat of tessellation. We left England praying to every God that our bathroom scales were accurate…

December.Malaysia. Theme parks inside shopping malls, insane luxury in a 5-star villa (a wedding gift courtesy of Roo’s family) and much assorted ridiculousness. It rained torrentially every day in Kuala Lumpur, so we skipped on to Perth – where it rained torrentially every day. The hottest year since records began, but for once a wet one – the perfect way to acclimatize after a year and a half in England! Since then we’ve been to the beach (and got sunburnt), been to the gym (and got busted), been outside (and got bitten), been inside (and still got bitten), and I have personally killed over a dozen cockroaches (every shoe has at least some limbs stuck to it). I did not, however, kill a scorpion – that honour was bestowed upon Sonja, Roo’s sister, who caught the little bugger trying to sneak into the fridge.

Theme Park

All this is INSIDE a shopping centre - I shit you not!

Australia, eh? It’s a pretty crazy place. Who knows what next year will bring…

PS. Roo and I, along with my family, also renovated three houses during the course of the year! The story of one of them is HERE.

So. Tell me. What did you guys get up to?

We interrupt this journey for a RANT!

Theresa May

IDIOT.

Well, I just happened to see a bit of the Tory Conference on TV today (in my defence, I was in the gym!). Dumb-ass Theresa May was waffling on about how she was going to get tough on immigration.

But how is she going to do it? No word there of the strategies she will use to make it happen – just strong-sounding, yet ultimately empty, statements.

I know how to sort out the immigration problem. In fact I know how they could sort out the whole bloody country in three (rather dramatic) steps:

1) IMMIGRATION: Go door to door around every address in the country, comparing all residents against the electoral register. Any bugger who could potentially be an illegal immigrant should be sent to a detention centre, where each case is investigated and all illegal immigrants are held until there are enough for a deportation boat to their country. This will remove about 1/3 of the excess population, leaving more jobs and more government funds to go around. Foreign criminals should be deported penniless, all their assets seized and contributed to public funds in lieu of keeping them in expensive jails in Britain. Haulage companies should be issued huge fines (£5,000 each for the company and the driver) if illegal immigrants are found hiding in their trucks. Police have the power and active encouragement to stop and search trucks coming from all the main ports instead of spending their resources chasing speeders. All illegal immigrants are immediately interred in camps and deported asap.

2) SPENDING: Carry out the ultimate wastage investigation throughout the government. Find every department that is paying £18 for a box of paperclips because they come from a HM approved supplier and make ‘em go to Staples. Find every gigantic office block owned by the government ‘just in case’ and sell ‘em. Demolish every ridiculous subcommittee engaged in pointless policy wrangling and statistical analysis of five-year economic trends. Publish salary details for every elected person and civil servant and bring them all in line with equivalent private salaries. Fire all insanely overpriced advisors and consultants. As a result create more jobs with training in the same areas! And chuck all that spare cash at the NHS. I get a feeling they could put it to good use.

3) EMPLOYMENT: Make it illegal for any company to out-source their production/call centres/suppliers to another country if there is a suitable equivalent available in Britain, OR THE CAPACITY TO DEVELOP ONE. Any company wishing to shift their manufacturing base to India should have to prove that there is a genuine and pressing reason – and increased profit is NOT an allowable consideration. So if we can build a train in England, or have the potential to create a factory and workforce to build that train, it is illegal for the company to have it built in Germany or Poland.

And that’s it! Then, when we have a strong economy, comprised of people who are entitled to be here, with sufficient jobs and public funds for all – and on top of all that, a government we can trust, who are leading by example – THEN we can worry about tackling the bloody deficit! It’s always been there, it’s always been growing and every other country has the same problem, most of them much worse than ours. Does it affect our day to day lives? Whether we can feed our children? No. So leave it the hell alone until our more pressing domestic problems are sorted out!

Right! Rant over. Sorry about that folks. What do you think? Got any better ideas?  :0)

Meditations on the Abyss…

Nah, just kidding! I thought it was about time for a deeply philosophical blog title. Hard to believe I made exactly ONE POST before it all went pear-shaped.

Well, since my last (and first!) post there has been a death in the family, which has taken my focus away from the digital world completely. It wasn’t a particularly close relative as these things go, but still there was grieving and a mountain of administration to get through.

It’s made me think a lot about death and, subsequently, about life. I might as well tell you what I mean by that. My Great Aunt Eunice passed suddenly and surprisingly on November 13th. She was in hospital with a minor ailment when her heart began to give out. The amazing thing is that my parents missed the call from the doctors which told them “Come in NOW.” It was several hours later that the message got through – just in time for me to arrive home from London, in fact. All together we leapt in the car and drove north for three hours. We arrived at the hospital, every member of her close family still living, and an hour after we got there she expired in our midst. Now this may not seem remarkable until you consider that she’d been at death’s door for most of the day; despite the delays and the distance, the break-neck mission down the motorway and all the hours elapsed twixt call and arrival – she died within an hour of us getting there. She waited for us – there’s no other way I can put it, other than a fantastic coincidence. No, that old lady KNEW we were coming, and she held on, and on – until she KNEW we were there. And then, safe in that knowledge, she could finally let go.

(This is the bit where I well up. Please excuse me.)

So what did it teach me? Well, one major thing, a lesson I’ve learned again and again in many different ways and times – but one which can’t be re-iterated enough.

In the end, love is all that matters. That old lady had led an amazing life. She’d seen hardship like few people I know, as a nurse in World War 2 and then raising a son only to lose him to a drunk driver. Later on she lost her husband, but she still kept soldiering on. And when the final curtain called, she waited to be surrounded by the people she still cared for, checking to make sure we were all okay before she went on to join those that waited for her.

She died quite well off, owing to various circumstances of her life. But she didn’t die grasping the money. Does anyone wait for the deal to be transacted, the sale to be made or the interest to be paid, before they die? I very much doubt it.

There’s only one thing which keeps a dying woman alive, hanging on, just waiting… and that’s love. Her family, or what’s left of us. So I guess my point, or my message if you like – that I took home from this, and so can you – is go out and Love. Get closer to your family. Remind them you love them, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Especially if it doesn’t come naturally. Because at the end, when everything else just stops mattering – that’s who will be there for you. That’s who you’ll be waiting for. And that’s who you’ll be saying good-bye to.

So make it count.

Love

Tony

R.I.P. Eunice Boulton, Matriarch of the Slater Clan, 22nd July 1923 – 13th November 2010. Joe and Stewart are waiting for you. Go with them.