So a few blogs back I spoke about goal setting and as always I will preach the benefits of setting and completing goals to high heaven because I just think there’s no better feeling than achievement. Striving forwards something gives you purpose, worth, and you should do it for no other reason than the fact that you can and that you deserve it. As the year teeters down to its final days I pull together a list of all the things I would like to achieve or work on in 2019, and I mull over the highlights of and lowlights of 2018.
My New Year’s resolutions list is a bit of an unofficial one as I have been guilty in the past of planning far too much and having to cancel things when more important things come up or something just isn’t feasible. I also have this annoying habit of trying to predict what my future self would like which is totally nuts considering I’m a different person now to who I was three days ago, so assuming I won’t have changed my ideas by summer next year is a bit ludicrous. But let’s start by ‘avin a gander over the year we’ve just had.
This year has been mad. Completely life altering, brilliant, very strange and totally unexpected. I couldn’t have predicted a single thing that happened in 2018, nor could I have prevented what was inevitably going to occur regardless. The year started off a bit shit. I was stuck in a freezing cold flat with absolutely no money to heat it, no money in general for that matter. Living in London had bled me dry with the unaccounted-for lack of work due to it being winter and my job being mostly seasonal.
I was working for an events company that were treating me like a child and paying me like one- all the while trying to keep my spirits up despite the constant cloud of icy grey that relentlessly coated the skies above me. I didn’t see the sun for weeks. My skin was horrible and my hair was dry. I have terrible circulation and struggle to keep warm in the summer months let alone during the colder weather and spent a good 80% of my day in bed which is not good at all for your mental or physical health.
I could see no way out. I was waiting for the summer work season to re-start both eagerly and with dread as I can’t put into words how much I hate passenger ferries. Working on yachts wasn’t an option for me because the thought of going back to that way of life gave my panic attacks, but the mundane routine of rotational shipping, wiping down slot machines and clearing away trays of food with crusty macaroni cheese stuck to them, was almost just as bad. I actually thought I was going absolutely nowhere in life and that’s saying something because I’m usually positive Penny about my future etc. But it had gotten to the stage where I thought I was truly trapped.
And then I received a phone call that changed everything and kick-started my working life. I went from living in London to working on my first Royal Research Ship, RRS James Clark Ross, and thank God I listened to the voice in my head that told me, clear as day, to go for it after struggling to make a decision based on my previous experiences at sea. Venturing down to the Falkland Islands and Antarctica then back across the Atlantic, stopping off at the world’s most remote inhabited Island, Tristan Da Cunha, then St Helena and finally steaming it back to the UK. I thought it couldn’t get any better than that, stitch and bitch on a Saturday (knitting, crochet and talk about everyone else on the ship), al fresco movie nights with the projector on the aft deck, building a pool out of pallets for when we passed through the tropics.
I had good company on board and made a few good friends, but there was something missing and I still felt myself counting down the days till I had my freedom again. After the trip finished I went a bit crazy and totally abused my leave and my earnings by going on four holidays, having countless London brunches and dinners and just doing whatever the hell I wanted really which was excellent but a little over the top perhaps…
I had it pretty ingrained in my mind that I was going to be rejoining the ship for the next expedition to the arctic and was pretty let down to learn I wasn’t going to be back for that particular trip. I was gutted that I was going to have to resume London life, even though thankfully it was now summer and I had managed to escape the icy lows and return to a much more enjoyable temperature. But then I got another call, because life was throwing me a bone.
I joined RRS Discovery in Durban in July where the ship was having annual work done and knew almost immediately that I had found my place. A weird revelation for me because I have never in my life felt like I have ‘fit in’ at work. I had always hated every single job I had ever had and felt strongly that working was the biggest struggle I faced in life. I would do a job for a few months, become depressed and anxious, burn myself out and then quit when I was too depleted to show up; a very unsustainable way of earning as you can imagine.
But here, on this ship with these people, everything just sort of fell into place. I found myself actually not wanting the trip to end, Monday quiz nights at Murphy’s where they had pomegranate G+T on tap, the banter, the weather, my crew- it was all just great. And here I am on my second trip with the Natural Environmental Research Council, sailing through the pacific and feeling even more at home in my little cabin than before.
So although 2018 was mostly just a year of working, it was the year I found contentment in a job. It was a breakthrough in the constant anxieties of not finding a long term solution to earning and enjoying my life simultaneously. And although being a stewardess is not ideal and there may or may not be a few changes coming up in 2019, being paid to travel the world, making money and spending very little, free food and accommodation for half the year, free gym, endless time to read books and watch TV series, write blogs and escape society and all its pressures makes this job pretty perfect for me.
It also ties in very nicely to my being an environmental advocate, giving that I work on a science research ship, therefore the sole purpose of the work we do on board is to discover, protect and study the environment in all its forms. I’ve worked with people filming for the BBC’s frozen planet ll, RSPB guys whose job is to bird watch, photographers, geologists, marine biologists and other ists I couldn’t even name. I work in a place where plastic bottles are banned, where people actually care about global warming and where you’re weird if you don’t have your own reusable coffee cup.
This year has been a big one for hammering my bucket list, I ticked off things I would never have thought to have added- so here goes. I started the year by going skiing in Andorra and whilst there I relaxed in Europe’s largest spa, which was my last trip before I headed off to sea. I became the third generation of my family to visit the Falkland Islands. I stood in silence on the tip of the bow as we cut through four, five metre thick ice in Antarctic waters, blinding white as far as the eye could see. I saw icebergs bigger than blocks of flats, seals chilling not 100m away from me. Squads of penguins waddling and sliding on their bellies and giant orange back squid dancing in the lights of the hull. I watched bioluminescence glitter in the wash behind the ship and laid on my back gazing at the thousands of stars and visible constellations in the unpolluted skies above the ocean.
I held the southernmost species of bird when it landed timidly on the aft deck, saw a mini Portugese man o’war and watched pods of dolphins dip and dive alongside. I ticked off my 7th and final continent and I sailed across the Atlantic, crossing the equator. I visited the world’s most remote inhabited island and befriended its lovely natives, swam on a black sand beach and explored the island where Napoleon was exiled. I ticked off my 7th and final continent, crossed the equator sailed across the Atlantic.
I went on my first solo holiday to Malta and spent the week reading, learning and hunting down Game Of Thrones filming locations. I ate my way around Barcelona and marvelled at La Sagrada Familia. I hiked the mountains in Austria with my dad and swam in the stunning (albeit icy) lake of Hallstatt. I joined a second ship in South Africa. My local friends took me on a Safari and I was gloriously rewarded with sightings; mama and baby rhino, lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes, crocodiles and more. I watched the springboks play rugby and learned more about Nelson Mandela, apartheid and the history of South Africa than I ever thought I would have. I fell in love. I hiked to the top of Table Mountain and gazed out over Cape Town, promising that I would come back. I visited my brother in Berlin twice, and partied too hard… twice.
I was enchanted by Edinburgh and thought I may like to own property there someday, I drove past Loch Ness, stayed in Inverness and decided my future boyfriend will be Scottish. I explored Cinque Terre, Italy, and turned 21 in Florence. I played captain on a little speedboat on Lake Como, Romeo o Romeo’d in Verona and ate my weight in gelato in Venice. I leaned near the Tower Of Pisa and read some really great books. I got way too drunk in Santos, Brazil and arrived sober in the gate way to Antarctica, Punta Arenas, Chile. I gazed at the snow capped mountains as we sailed through the Magellan Straits and held my hat on through a gale force 10 storm. I’m now currently sat in a cosy apartment in New Jersey where I’ll be for Christmas, after spending the past few days right in the middle of Manhattan, and Times Square for new years.
I actually need to take a breather after that! So that’s 14 countries, two of which I visited twice, my 7th and final continent and a massive handful of weird and wonderful experiences. I have laughed so, so much and cried probably about the same amount. I have met some really lovely new people, and let go of some old ones too. I have breathed so much life into my time as I always have and hope to continue to do. 2018 has been miles better than a truly awful 2017- and all I can ask is that 2019 be as good if not better. It’s good for the soul to reflect on all the good things you’ve done over the year, I think we forget how much we actually do achieve when we are so used to measuring our success against that of other peoples. It doesn’t matter if it’s as big as visiting a new country, or as small as finishing a crossword- if it makes you happy then it’s worth being proud of.