A Blank Slate Life


Are you a planner, a goal setter, a diary filler?

Or are you a floater, a free agent, a take-each-day-as-it-comes-er?

Is one better than the other?

As last year began, I was commencing my first rowing regatta season, training for my first half marathon, planning a trip to New York and about to begin rehearsals for a Shakespeare play. And then the year got really busy.

This year began and in my diary was…. nothing.

The regatta season was something I watched others participate in.

My fitness training entailed walking from the couch to the kitchen for another cup of tea.

There were definitely no holidays on the horizon.

And although Shakespeare beckoned once again, he had no place for me this year.

It felt weird.


But as I sat with it (on the couch with a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate and a period drama on television), I began to see its attractions.

No commitments. No expectations (mine or from others).

I decided a Blank Slate Life would be an interesting experiment.

Blank slate

Within weeks I was tested.

I was invited to join an instrumental and singing group of which I had been a part in the past and one that I had attempted to rejoin at the end of last year until a clothing moth intervened and put me in hospital instead. (It’s hard to play the banjo with six broken ribs.)

I ummed and I ahhed.

And I caved. Besides, I really wanted to go and a Blank Slate Life is not about doing nothing but doing things a bit more spontaneously. And it was only a five week commitment.

Then, on the day I was to attend the first group session, our city was hit by floods and instead of plucking banjo strings that night, I was plucking items out of the flooded rooms of a relative’s home.

Maybe it was a sign.

But then more temptation came in the form of William Shakespeare and his Midsummer Night’s Dream. Seems there was a role for me after all.

How do you say no?

And this week, my spontaneous, relief teaching, I Wonder If They’ll Call Today worklife turned into a Three Days A Week in the One Classroom for the Whole Term setpiece.

Maybe I’m just not meant to live a Blank Slate Life.

Would you, could you do it?

If you already do, can I have your secret?



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A Popup Nomadic Community – Oxfam Trailwalker 2014


Well, the blisters are slowly healing, the limp is becoming imperceptible and the sleep debt is gradually reducing. My Oxfam Trailwalker experience is over for this year and recovery is on the way.

It’s a gruelling event, particularly for those teams who choose to push on through the night to reach the finish line the next morning. Your feet hurt, your muscles ache and you become hypnotically delirious watching that bobbing circle of light on the ground from your head torch, willing your body to keep putting one foot in front of the other, hour after endless hour.


But the wonder that is Trailwalker is that it creates an instant, pop up community. Over 3,000 strangers bond over their pain, their struggles and their mutual confusion as to what possessed them to take on such a thing. It’s a unique, shared experience.

At the start, walkers joke with each other, check out the funny costumes or matching outfits, work out which teams they think will make it and which look like they just wandered down from the shops for a stroll. There’s plenty of laughter, chitchat and general bonhomie.


Later, the conversation tends to start with, “So, how’s it going?” The answer can vary from “Great! How about you?” to a barely audible grunt, depending on how the recipient of the query is faring.

As the pace slows and the walkers thin out, people stop asking how you are. They know how you are because they’re feeling it too. This is when the positive affirmations kick in. “Doing a great job”, “Keep going”, “You’re almost there”.


People who’ve never met and probably will never meet again become each other’s biggest supporters.

Sit on the side of the road to remove a stone from your shoe and the next walker will ask if you’re okay. Then they’ll wait and help you get up again.

At the top of a particularly difficult track, I was handed a lolly (sweet/candy) by another walker “for my trouble”. One small act. Encountering the same team at various points, as rest times and walking paces varied, we would share a joke, a comment, a bit of cheer. We bonded over a piece of flavoured sugar. It was the simple things.

Every community needs its cogs to keep things going. At each checkpoint awaited our Support Crew. Providores, clothiers, caterers, psychologists, cheer squad, they were our angels of mercy.


And the added glue to this moving instant community was the volunteers. People who donated their time to stand in the cold, the dark and the rain to point us in the right direction, give us a word of encouragement and some nourishment. Close to the end, exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally, while I waited for a slower team mate to make her way down the last hill, one volunteer, seeing obvious signs of distress, offered me a hug. It was gratefully received.

The joy, oh the joy, of approaching that finish line, the cheers not only of our supporters but of more strangers in this sudden, gathered community drawing us to the end of our troubles and the satisfaction of a challenge overcome.


There are Trailwalkers who have come back not once, not twice but five and even ten times. At 4.00am, 20 hours in, I couldn’t imagine how anyone would want to come back a second time, let alone multiple times. Then, mere days later, my mind plays nasty tricks and whispers the words “next year…”.

Perhaps it is the community we miss. It certainly isn’t the blisters, the boring bits, the seemingly eternal darkness. But the camaraderie, the shared experience, the chance to give and receive support and encouragement to and from fleeting, nameless friends… That is surely what draws us back time and time again.

Postscript: Those who have been following my blog may be wondering how I fared when I was required back on stage the Sunday after the event. I am pleased to say that no lines were missed and due to the mystery of acting, all stage moves were completed without a perceptible limp (getting down the stairs off stage was another matter).



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More About The Oxfam Than The Trailwalker

Photo: Ruba Saqr/Oxfam

Photo: Ruba Saqr/Oxfam

At 8.00am on Friday, I’ll be heading off with my team to walk 100 kilometres to raise money for Oxfam. Walking through the night, we’re hoping to cross the finish line sometime on Saturday morning. The trail travels along bike paths, bush tracks and roads and includes some nasty hills and long flats.

So I’ve been watching the weather forecast closely. Well, more than closely. Obsessively.

It’s not good.

This morning it included the words “cloudy”, “rain”, “thunderstorms” and “hail”.

Really not good.

But whenever I start to feel sooky about the weather, I remind myself:

I am not a Syrian refugee, watching my family shiver in a tent in Lebanon, wondering when we will be able to go home, if ever.

I am not a Bangladeshi fisherman, watching my home wash away in the floods.

I am not an indigenous man in Brazil being forced off my land by a multinational company, watching the disappearance of not only my livelihood but also my traditional way of life.

I am not an African mother watching my child waste away in my arms from a preventable disease.

Taking on Oxfam Trailwalker for me has never really been about the walk. It’s always been more about the Oxfam than the Trailwalker. It’s a means to an end to raise as much money as I can to help Oxfam do its work around the world.

So the refugee can start a new life.

So the fisherman can have a safe home.

So the indigenous man can continue his traditional ways.

So the mother does not have to watch her child die.

So bring on the rain. ……… Meh, it’s just a bit of wet.




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A War of Expectations

War of Expectations

I expected to be there. After walking this long journey with him, how could I not?

They expected me to be here. Commitment required it.

A war of expectations. Meet the expectations of others or the one of my heart?

A choice seemingly easy. Except for my own expectations, born of a sense of obligation and of high standards for myself.

If not here, I risk failure, letting down others in the process.

If not there, I miss the culmination of a decades-long journey, a moment that will never come again.

A war of expectations.

The expectations of others wins out. Consideration of the needs of others outweighs the yearning of my own heart.

We may be slaves to expectation but so often the expectations of our heart are not the ones we serve.

A war of expectations.

May my heart find peace one day.


(Congratulations to my brother-in-law who today was ordained as a Minister of the Word after a long and difficult journey. Wish so much I could have been there but the show must go on.)

Written in response to events that timed with the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge – Great Expectations.



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Life In The Oncoming Traffic


Sorry. I haven’t posted for a while. Possibly because my life is basically insane right now.

Most of it comes from my inability to use a certain word friends have tried for years to train me to say. I know it has two letters and I’m pretty sure it starts with N but that’s as far as I’ve got.

Why is my life insane? Well, I have three boys for a start. That should be enough right there. Send in your sympathy cards.

But that’s never enough craziness for me.

I’m currently rehearsing for a play. It opens on Thursday night and runs for three weekends.

I’m also training for a 100km walk to raise money for Oxfam. That starts a week from Friday and I hope to cross the finish line sometime on the Saturday morning.

“Hang on. Doesn’t that mean you’ve got both things on at once?”

Oh, well done! Give that reader a prize!

Yes, on the second weekend I will be walking Friday and Saturday and then performing on the Sunday. If I can walk. Or even if I can’t. (There’s no understudy.)

Let’s hope the local theatre critic doesn’t decide to come that Sunday.

So, I suspect there will not be many blog posts between now and about mid to late May when it’s all over. And I’ve had time to sleep for a week. Which I can’t. Because boys.

“This isn’t life in the fast lane, it’s life in the oncoming traffic.” – Terry Pratchett



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Chasing Time

Chasing Time

I’ve lost half an hour. I’m not sure where or when I lost it exactly but it’s definitely missing.

I’ve been running constantly late for everything recently. I figure if I can just insert another half an hour at a strategic point, I’ll be able to catch up. A Time Winder would be helpful right about now. Or a TARDIS. Or any time machine really. I don’t want much. I’m not asking to go back 20 years and do a reboot (as tempting as that may be). Just a little hop back, or maybe a couple of hops so I can get ahead.

I love time. Since hiding behind the cushions from the Cybermen or marvelling at a town that can have a shop that survives hundreds of years with the same shop window dummy, I’ve found time and its mysteries a fascinating topic.

The magic of time is its simultaneous steadiness and rubberiness. I mean, scientifically, time progresses in an orderly manner – 60 seconds to a minute*, 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day**, 365 days to a year*** – and yet in our day to day living the same amount of time can take all day or only a moment. Spend an hour in a tedious committee meeting and it feels like it’s gone on all night. Spend the same hour doing something you love – singing, fishing, sorting your sock drawer – and the hour disappears in seconds.

Time even changes depending on how old you are, have you noticed? When you’re a kid, summer holidays seem to last forever. The start of school is years away and you’ve got all the time in the world to do what you want. As you get older, the years seem to take less and less time to get to the end. It’s already well into October and I’m still somewhere back in the middle of May. It’s no wonder I’m running chronically late.

It gets worse when you have children. One minute you’re battling sleepless nights and toddler tantrums and the next minute they’re young men and women. (And you’re still battling sleepless nights, waiting for them to come home from a party. Time doesn’t change everything.)

Whether your life is moving through time like you have a jetpack attached or like you’re riding on the back of a giant snail, in the end the time you’re given is the time you’ve got. All you can do is make the most of it while you can.

The following song says it all. (It should. I wrote it.)

By the way, if anyone happens to find my missing half an hour, I’d appreciate a prompt return. Thanks.

*Except when they have to add that extra second every now and again because all the numbers are approximate.

**Except that the Earth actually rotates on its axis in 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.09 seconds.

***Except for leap years when they add another day because really a year is about 365 and 1/4 days.****

****I told you the numbers were approximate.



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