This weekend has gone by in a bit of a blur.
Apart from a retinal scan on Saturday, which meant that the afternoon was quite literally blurry due to the eye drops, I had found out the day before that I had been awarded no less than six different placings in the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) competition for 2018. Ecstatic, shell-shocked, excited, numb – all of these applied and still do to some extent.
I have been celebrating over the weekend, both in the real world and on social media, what is an actual undeniable achievement in the world of garden photography. But it still hasn’t quite sunk in. This is a really big deal for me. I need to keep telling myself it’s real, that there hasn’t been some huge mistake – such is the gap between my self-confidence and reality. But here I am, with the little bits of paper, and a weighty, glossy book, to prove it.
With that evidence and with the passage of time over the last couple of days, I have realised the real truth of ‘all things must pass’. The good and the bad, the suffering and the euphoria, we endure and we enjoy, and then life moves on. So perhaps I can move through this moment, appreciating it but without attaching too much importance to it. Enjoying it without too much expectation, or pressure on myself to perform in a certain way in the future. Living now and looking forward to the future – whatever it may bring. ‘Life is short: smile while you still have teeth.’ (anon)
The IGPOTY exhibition is open to the public until 11th March, 2018.
A few friends have posted things to do with anxiety recently, so I thought I would share what I personally find really useful, and many of my clients seem to do too.
1 Concentrating on this moment (and the next, and the next)
When I get anxious about something which may (or may not) happen in the future, (for example,going walking up a mountain in Wales when I don’t think I’m fit enough) I say to myself, ‘right now you are ok. everything is ok. Concentrate on this, right now it’s all ok’. And repeat.
2 Do something to get some distance
A long day dancing like a crazy person at a local music festival helped me to start to come to terms with the possibility that we may never manage to sell our house on the terms we would like…
3 Breathe and count
This is great in those moments when you feel the agitation or panic rising, sometimes without you consciously knowing why. The counting is important: it takes your mind away from doing the worry temporarily and allows your body to calm itself.
So, belly breathing, expanding your stomach like a balloon as you breathe in, and letting it collapse gently as you breathe out: in for 2, out for 3; then in for 3, out for 4; then in for 4, out for 5, and so on, to the point that feels comfortable for you. Don’t push it. This is not a test.
4 Tell someone
It doesn’t have to be a big deal, maybe as simple as ‘I am feeling a bit jittery right now’. Choose someone you trust to be supportive.
5 Learning to not mind
This one is longer term and needs work. In my case, a LOT of work. It is also potentially the most helpful. It’s about letting go of needing things to be a particular way. For example, ‘I must get a job’, ‘I should be better at keeping in touch with my family’, ‘I ought to do more about rejecting plastic in my local supermarket’, ‘I need us to be able to sell the house soon’ (you see a theme developing here?)
Trying to let go of the ‘should’, ‘must’, ought’, ‘want’, need’ words, trying to be ok with my flaws, and to accept what the world throws at me. Kind of close to ‘everything happens for a reason’ but not so glib perhaps; more, ‘let me be ok with what happens even if it’s not what I wanted to happen right now’.When you find out how to do this seamlessly and easily, please let me know.
What an amazing performance of King Lear last night, courtesy of a live link from Stratford to Cinema City in Norwich.
Incredibly powerful performances by the cast, but also such a relevant play for our deeply troubled times. I had never seen/read it before so I had not realised it was such a huge play, centred on man’s capacity for cruelty to fellow man, and also both deliberately plotted and opportunistic power-grabbing. And this all born of hatred/greed/envy which itself is born of resentment, anger and overwhelmingly, fear. Hmmm.
A quote which particularly resonated with me:
’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.
Remind you of anyone?
I need to say this once, although most of it has been said already, much better, by others, so please forgive me.
I am really upset and quite frightened about what has happened and more importantly what will happen, in the immediate and long-term future.
The only people I am angry at, from the depths of my soul, are the so-called leaders, who have cynically and calculatingly manipulated the truth into scare-mongering half-facts and outright lies. On both sides.
Special mention must go to David Cameron who brought this whole mess upon us in the first place in an attempt to secure his own parliamentary position, and then walked away so brazenly yesterday. He’ll be all right, the rich and powerful always are, no matter what. He has left behind a legacy of mistrust, bitterness and a deeply divided and hurting society.
We all did what we believed to be right yesterday, from a genuine wish for a better future, whichever way we voted. We need, more than anything, in the coming days, weeks and months, to connect back with each other in any ways we can in order to to heal our differences. Whether it be through sport, music, online media, or summer street partying, let’s do something together. And build on what unites us, not what could tear us apart.
Let me talk about comfort. I can no longer deal with scuzzy camp-sites, taps hanging off walls, mosquito nets with holes on, walls with holes in, resident geckoes, or any other wildlife inside my bedroom. Don’t ask me to, I really can’t.
I need a toilet that works, a shower that pushes out a consistent stream of at least tepid water, a bed with some kind of linen, and if it’s really hot, an air-conditioner that works and doesn’t sound like a Boeing 747 taking off. I need food that I can eat with confidence and a supply of potable water. In other words I am a namby-pamby, middle-aged westerner.
So the next few days aboard the Mary Anne were kind of interesting for me. To cut a long story short, the generator was only working partially from when we boarded, and on the afternoon of the fourth day it stopped. Completely. The engine was ok, so we were still able to move, but no power for lighting, cooking or air-con, and for a few hours even the water stopped. I refer you back to the beginning of my last para. We were on the west side of Isabela island, about the furthest we could be from the main port on Santa Cruz. It was not good.
However. The crew were amazing, working so hard through the night to try and fix it (they didn’t). On the first night without power they took our dinner by panga (aka dinghy/zodiac) to our sister ship, The Passion, cooked it and brought it back. We ate dinner under the stars with no noise apart from desultory chatting. It was stressful (what’s going to happen, how do we cope with this) but beautiful. At the end of the evening, though, even the emergency lighting failed, and we felt our way gingerly down the steep steps to our cabins. At this point it was very, very quiet and very, very dark. I was glad of my £2.50 LED camping torch, thrown into my luggage at the last moment.
The following morning a power line is somehow rigged between us and the Passion, and the emergency lighting and water are back on. Huge inward sigh of relief. In the afternoon a spare part arrives by speed-boat. But will it work?
By the evening, still no power, so we are panga’ed over to the Passion and for a joint meal with the passengers there, the wine flowing freely in more than one sense. It was really interesting to see the inside of a modern boat: very beautiful, a lot more spacious than ours – but, to me, Passion-less. As a fellow traveller murmured to me,’ It’s just like being in a large apartment’. Our boat is a proper boat – if only it was working. Then, the lights flicker on across the water. It’s fixed! Another, happier, panga ride under the stars, spotting the southern cross and enjoying the breeze on our faces, and a release of tension as we boarded and made our way to cabins with lights and taps and toilets that worked.
Those two days were an object lesson in how much I rely on creature comforts. I wasn’t the only one, there were others arguably more stressed-out than me. But I have to acknowledge that this is how I am now, no matter how much I would rather believe otherwise. That’s a challenging pill to swallow, particularly when I look at the wider world and how much hardship others are enduring on a daily basis. I am not proud of myself. And maybe I can change in the future. But perhaps, for now, I can just accept that I am who I am, and that’s ok.
I was going to write about being a garden and travel photographer and writer. I was going to try and make this funny and entertaining. Then I read a blog by a young friend of mine: Let’s be game changers
This made me really think about why I am doing this. Initially, it was to publicise my photography, to raise my profile, to get more widely known, to make a living. And that’s still up there. But actually, those aren’t the only reasons. I want people to recognise who I am. I want them to understand me a little more. Maybe I want them to like me a little more. Most of all, living in the backwaters of Norfolk (UK), I want to connect with the wider world. But not all of the time. Definitely not every day and probably not even every week. For me, being online is not a substitute for real world living (although sometimes it’s a lot easier).
Being a photographer and writer isn’t all that I am. I am also a psychotherapist, working with adults in private practice, and with young people with drug and alcohol-related issues (and a lot more besides) for the Matthew Project in Norwich. I was going to say part-time, but that sounds like I do it on the side, like I’m not quite committed to it. Untrue. When I’m doing whatever I’m doing I do it wholeheartedly. I have always tried to keep these different sides of my life separate, to maintain professional boundaries. And maybe I will decide to again. But just for now, I want to be me. All of me. Hope that’s ok with you.