Seeing the Northern Lights has been the Number 2 would-like experience on my Bucket List for some time and I was hoping to arrange a visit to Iceland or one of the Northern-most parts of Scandanavia next year to celebrate my next “big” birthday. After an evening out with the Hubster and Pooch I came across an online advert for a 12-night cruise on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth calling at various ports in Norway travelling up into the Arctic Circle with the aim of “finding” the Northern Lights. The cost was very tempting and, feeling that this could be the moment with all my stars aligned (together with the effect of several glasses of wine), I booked it!
I booked it on Friday evening with the departure date the following Friday- I had just 6 days to get our paperwork in order which, when taking the weekend out of the equation, reduced it to just 4 working days. I have never been on a cruise before and have always avoided them on the basis that I would be bored. I needn’t have worried (another story) but with holidays just starting to take off again after the COVID19 Pandemic, the amount of paperwork required to be completed before we set foot onboard was daunting. Luckily, our passports were valid for travel and, having had lots of medical tests last year, I was already registered with the NHS to access my up to date Corona Virus immunisation status. I knew therefore how to get Hubster registered quickly although, when I applied for his certificate of immunisation the message popped up “…..it could take up to 10 days to hit your account.”
We hadn’t got 10 days! As it happens, it appeared within 48 hours so stress levels were reduced considerably. We also had other forms to complete for both Cunard and the UK Government so when we left for our holiday the following Friday I had a portfolio full of paperwork to hand over.
If only it was that easy…….we still had the last and perhaps most worrying hurdle to overcome, a real-time COVID19 test taken at the port with results sent through to our mobiles within 40 minutes. Would our 3 hour drive down to Southampton be a wasted journey? I couldn’t bear to have got everything sorted within one week from booking only to test positive for COVID and sent home.
Thankfully we both tested negative and were allowed to park our car, unload our bags and get onboard. It was a big relief.
The on-boarding process was very efficient and it wasn’t long before we were shown to our Stateroom (don’t call it a cabin) and we could get ready for “Sail-Away.” Who knew that leaving port was called “Sail-Away”?- and that it is celebrated across the ship ( never call it a boat).
After Sail-Away and watching the harbour lights of Southampton fade into the evening we needed to get ready for our first evening meal onboard-in the Britannia restaurant and so we went to change into our smart casual, jacket and tie outfits whilst enjoying our complimentary bottle of fizz.
Back in 2008, the New Economics Foundation published the “Five Ways to Wellbeing” with 5 funky multi-colour postcards to accompany the launch. Each card details mental health messages under separate headings aimed at improving mental health and wellbeing for everyone. Although the original ideas are over a decade old, they still resonate perhaps even more so whilst we still adapt to our “new normal” lives during and after the COVID19 Pandemic. You can read more about the original report on the NEF website alongside a great follow-up article about the “Five Ways to Wellbeing during the Coronavirus crisis” but I have taken just one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing messages today.
That message is “Give.”
“Giving” doesn’t necessarily incur monetary cost and that’s what is so good about this message. “Giving” is proven to make a person feel better whether you are the giver or recipient. I know it lifts my mood if I can impart just a microbe of happiness into someone’s day as I understand what it’s like to feel isolated, out of my comfort zone and generally miserable. It’s amazing what a smile can do! Here’s some ideas;
Say “Hello” to a stranger
Do a chore for someone
Compliment a parent on their child’s behaviour
Make time to speak to an elderly person
Give someone a hug
Let someone go ahead of you in a queue
Send someone a small, anonymous gift.
There are many small random acts of kindness which fit the bill and I guarantee that (hopefully!) they will be received in the spirit in which they are given so that you spread a little happiness and you will feel good about yourself.
Where do I begin?
Taking up my blog again, I realise that not only have I a lot of travels and experiences to share, but I should also bring everyone up to date on my mental health. I started this blog more than 10 years ago after admitting my experiences with depression and subsequently starting to work with my employer, various mental health charities, friends and colleagues to encourage more open and honest discussion and appreciation about and of poor mental health. I broke down barriers and stigma about mental health, I was a media-volunteer for a number of charities leading to articles published in the Daily Mail, Financial Times, Stella magazine (Telegraph) and an appearance every 30 minutes on Sky News! It is possible to suffer from various types of depression and/or anxiety whilst remaining “high-performing” either at work or as an individual. In other words, you can act the part of a “normal, happy person” so that others don’t guess or realise that you are in pieces and struggling to cope. I have always said that I can out-act Meryl Streep every day of the week…… After a while, I retreated from the publicity despite my determination to get the subject of mental health both good and bad out in the open. It was very tiring and took a lot of my energy which I need, even now, to remain mentally stable; I now leave all the media contributions to others who can spare their time and energy. I have mixed-feelings about where we are as a nation regarding poor mental health. Suffice to say that I was saying, explaining and suggesting things 10 years before my time and it all seems rather stale to me now. Thankfully I have moved on. Not just with my own mental health which I now have under control and stablised, but also recognising that, as I predicted many years ago, poor mental health is far more widespread and attributable to many and varied reasons as well as affecting people at different times of their lives than previously thought. Mental health has to be nurtured and maintained alongside your cardio, strength and flexibility exercises. I find it both sad and frustrating that we are still in the embryonic stage of encouraging the value of good mental health habits but any progress is welcome. In the end it’s all about money. Like many other conditions, there is just not enough money or investment in mental health resources. It’s not good enough to rely on charitable organisations to provide support in crisis and we need more qualified psychotherapists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, GPS qualified to deliver mental health care and support, counsellors, Cognitive Behavioural specialists, Psychiatrists on duty 24/7 in A&E departments, less stigma about mental health problems, more training for police and emergency services, and less stigma and more support for those sectioned as a result of their behaviour. I have been lucky….I have always had amazing support from my GPs, employer, family and friends. Not everyone is so lucky…so whilst I am not directly involved in mental health initiatives at the moment, I do have a lot of information to impart if you need it. Happy to help 🙂
To start my blogging again feels like coming home. I always keep a journal but doing it online means that I can pepper my posts with pictures and photographs much easier than on paper. I have a lot of catching up to do but am looking forward to re-connecting with my blog-hobnobs.
I recently found a set of watercolour pencils which I bought many moons ago but have hardly used. Feeling very lazy today I decided to use them to complete another page of my colouring book, “Ivy and the Inky Butterfly” by Johanna Basford. I found a page of flowers and leaves to tie in with doing something connected with nature with this result;
Hurrah! I never thought I would cheer when it rains but I did today. I love the warm sunshine and being able to sit outside in the wildlife garden and just chill out to the sound of birdsong, scuffling of hedgehogs and the gentle “plop” of the frogs jumping back into the pond but my garden needs water! It started off as a light drizzle this morning but has gradually increased to a steady rain this afternoon. I just hope it doesn’t last long!
At first I was able to sit under my apple tree as now it is in full leaf I am sheltered from most of the wet stuff but I soon found that my glasses were steaming up and splattered with rain so I put Plan B into action.
I have many and varied bird feeding stations in the garden. Different feeders, at different heights and filled with a variety of food. I soon realised that I would be spending most of my day indoors, so I thought I’d shake it up a bit.
I filled a teapot with a pre-prepared mix of “songbird” food but with extra black sunflower seeds and mealworms (dried). I then moved it from its normal position in the open garden, to well inside the canopy of the apple tree. This is very near to my Girl Cave and where I usually sit to watch and learn. Whoever finds it will either be lucky or pretty astute and brave. I then set my trail camera up to watch whilst I was happy and warm indoors….
So look who got there first? No surprise it was a flock of starlings both adults and their young queueing up to take their turn and dip their head into the teapot.
Its easy to dislike these birds. They are noisy (gobby), demanding, hang around in gangs and are happy to chase off other birds if they want to eat. But they are also clever and if you look close, their feathers are almost luminescent in shades of blue and green. I can’t say that they are my favourites; they are too skwarky and opinionated for me but I do respect their intelligence and ability to feed their many juveniles.
Sadly, walking the dog through the countryside yesterday brought on my hay fever and therefore today I decided to make the most of my Wildlife Garden and stay home. I created my Wildlife Garden in 2016 on a piece of land hidden behind our garage. Hubby spent a lot of time and hard work growing beans in very dry and barren soil, even though we had worked diligently to improve the soil with manure, conditioner etc. I managed to persuade him to give up gracefully so I could take it over for my Wildlife Project.
Luckily it has been very successful and 4 years later I enjoy sightings of many varieties of birds, insects, hedgehogs, frogs and the odd dragonfly. We even have a couple of squirrels which come to scavenge the peanuts.
My favourite bird which visits my garden is the goldfinch but only because of the vivid colours of its feathers. It’s almost tropical. Unlike the cheeky and almost tame blackbirds and robins, the goldfinches are a bit skittish so if I am to get a photo I need to set my camera up well before they arrive with the shutter button within reach of my hand without alerting them to movement. If they spot anything out of kilter they fly off.
I have managed to take some photos over the last couple of days so here’s my Random Act of Wildness contribution for Day 2.