#StopMicroWaste

This morning I got to go for a walk on a beautiful white sandy beach, on a marine reserve island off Vigo. I was looking forward to exploring a little, finding some pretty shells and taking a little time to relax.

As I stepped onto the beach my eye was drawn, not by the colours of shells but by the bright greens, blues and reds of bits of plastic. Within 20 meters I found a plastic bottle and a little piece of my heart broke. I spent my hour ashore collecting the rubbish I found, and I only covered about 40 square meters. I filled that plastic bottle with scraps of plastic; lollipop sticks, bits of fishing net, bottle tops, cigarette butts, wrappers, bits of polystyrene and a myriad of other unidentifiable plastic bits, most no bigger than my little fingernail.

It made me happy to do something positive with my time, knowing full well that on the grand scale of things, my actions alone make no difference. But if we all did something small, regularly, it would make a difference. Take your rubbish home; pick up rubbish when you see it, wherever you are; don’t let plastics enter our oceans, our rivers, our canals and our streams. Do your bit and together we can help to make our amazing planet better.

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Chief Mates Orals report.

I’ve been very quiet recently, but things have been afoot! Last summer I decided that it was about time I went up for my Chief Mates, so worked out how much money I needed and how long it would take me to pull together and then booked myself on the Warsash Maritime Academy Chief Mates Orals prep course starting in January.

It’s been a hectic few weeks, as well as the Orals prep I had to do Proficiency in Medical Care, Navigation Aids and Equipment Simulator Training and Human Element, Leadership & Management courses. So much to learn and in so little time, I’ve had moments when I thought my brain was going to start dribbling out of my ears, but somehow I made it through and reached the day of reckoning….

Date: 10th March 2016
Time: 1400 start, exam lasted 1hr.
Examiner: S.Akthur – fill in examiner from Norwich

I had to have a chaperone, so once she had turned up he brought me into the room, made sure I was comfortable and went through all of the formalities. He asked me about my previous experience and said that for the purpose of the exam I will be a C/O on a RORO ferry. He didn’t give much away but did prompt for an answer when it was required. It all went really fast, while also feeling like it would never end, and I may have forgotten some things…

– You’ve been employed by a roro company and are joining a new ship as CO, what would you expect to receive before joining a ship? (SEA and information about the company, joining instructions)
– So what’s in your SEA? I talked about payment of wages, the MN Code of Conduct, Drug and alcohol policy and Onboard Complaints Procedure
– So if you have a complaint and it can’t be dealt with onboard, who do you escalate it to? I said the DPA and the company.
– What if the Company can’t deal with it? I said the MCA.
– Which part of the MCA? I didn’t know and he told me there is a MLC department in the MCA.
– What certification do you need under MLC? MLC cert and DMLC part 1 and 2.
– So you’ve joined the ship now, how will you know what your duties are? I said I would expect to get a full set of detailed handover notes and there to be a handover checklist in the SMS.
– Contents of the SMS
– Roll of C/O – Stability, safety, maintenance, PMS, crew hours..
– Passage planning – I mentioned the Bridge Proceedures Guide and APEM, loadline zones, weather/need to ballast, security…
– OK, so the 2nd officer has done the passage plan but doesn’t know how to put on the wheel over points, what advice will you give him? I’d advise him to look at the ships manoeuvring information which would have been put together during sea trials and get the advance, transfer and distance to wheel over point from that.
– Planning a Drill for a totally enclosed LB? Risk assessment, crew briefing, disengage power supply and put plug in, down to embarkation level, check hooks, FPDs, check over the side, lower to the water with no-one in it first…
– Ok so you’ve launched it safely, what about recovery? When the boats away from the ship’s side get the crew to reset and check the hooks.
– Would you launch the boat with crew in it or put the boat down without crew and get them to go down the embarkation ladder? No, if it was a normal drill I’d launch with the crew onboard.
– Put a piece of paper on the table and drew a box, weight 200 tonnes, 3m by 5m. Deck strength is 12t/m. He said that a shoreside crane is going to load this, can you load this weight? 200/(3×5)= 13.3t/m so no you can’t load it unless you spread the weight with dunnage, he asked if I’d done that on my previous ship, yes we did, not only to spread the weight, but to protect the deck surface as well.
– How I would find out about deck strength? Load Density Plan.
– Now you are loading it what do you need to take into consideration? I talked about it as if we were loading it with a ships crane, so angle of list, press up tanks, tend mooring lines, brief crew, risks assessment, secure loose items, inform everyone, take in gangway… Anything else? I drew a blank here
– What do you need to think about when loading your RORO? Security, stability – talked about when I was on a RoRo and when loading constantly checking the stability computer.
– What orders will you leave the 2nd officer when loading overnight? When to call me – if anything unexpected turns up, if anyone unauthorised tries to board, if the plan changes… Anything else? Errr….
– RoRos have their doors quite low down, what if waves started coming in? Ok, yes they should call me if the weather changes – if water gets on to the cars deck its very dangerous because there’s no internal subdivision and therefore lead to FSM.
– How do you know what you can load? IMDG DoC
– What other documentation would you carry ? IMDG Code, cargo manifests for all and for DG…
– How would you ensure everything was secure? I referred to the Cargo Securing Manual being the basis for lashing, but would add extra lashings if the weather was going to be bad.
– What’s the requirement for ships to carry the cargo securing manual? Every ship that carries cargo that may need to be lashed…
– He moved on to stability, asked me to explain an angle of loll with diagrams, so I drew the GZ curve and then a box diagram, talked about G being above M..
– What could cause an angle of loll? I thought we were still talking about loading a RoRo so I said loading the top decks first.
– What about at sea? If you use up too much fuel and water?
– Well all ships use up fuel and water, what else could cause it? Ice accretion.
– How will you deal with it? Remove ice from the high side/ballast on the low side so you make sure you don’t fall over.
– Ok, you’re going to go to anchor now, tell me why you’d do a running moor and show me how you’d do a running moor with this model. You’d do a running moor in a river or channel where the tide/ current is going to change, or if you’re anchoring in an area where your swinging circle is restricted. Stem the tide, drop windward anchor, run on paying out cable, drop leeward anchor, pay out on that and heave in on windward cable until they’re even.
– You’re at anchor and the 2nd officer is on watch, during the night you start to drag anchor, he can’t get the engines up and running in time and you go aground on a reef. The general alarm is sounded. What do you do? Get up to the bridge, make sure the master is up there and has the con and then go down to assess damage, get the fire party going, damage control team is I have enough crew, sound tanks…
– What else? Sound round outside the vessel, try to establish what kind of ground we’re on and consider options for refloating if there’s no damage.
– There is damage down aft, what else are you going to do? Assess the damage to the rudders and props, contact company and class with a view to Salvage with Lloyds open form…
– What else? Well my main priority is the safety of the crew and the ship…
– Ok But what else? Who would you tell? Flag, company, security message to all vessels in the area…
– What else? You’ve got a damaged tank down aft…. I realised he was after pollution reporting and control, so nearest coastal authority by the fastest means possible, within 10 minutes, get booms out etc..

– Finally we moved on, there was a line of buoys on the edge of the desk which I’d clocked right at the start, region A. He got me to stand up and told me the direction of buoyage and the direction of north and asked me to approach each buoy, identify what it was and which side I’d pass it on. He didn’t want the light characteristics. I was going against the direction of buoyage. I turned around a few times to look at it from the direction of buoyage to ensure I passed the lateral marks the right way, saying going with the direction of buoyage I’d leave it on my xxx side, so going against I will leave it on my other side. Isolated danger mark, port and stbd lateral marks, east and west cardianals, a preferred channel marker, (I asked if I could assume I was in the main channel – I was) and a fairway buoy.

– Gave me a radar plotting sheet and put an arrow on to show my heading (190) He then put two magnets on different points of the outer range ring. Asked what I’d do. I said that’s scanty information I’d continue to plot. Gave me two more plots for each and told me they were 6 minute intervals and asked me to put on W, I said I needed my own ship speed, he said 6 kts. That gave me 0.6’ per interval, so 1.2’ for the full plot. I used a pencil to measure off 1.2’ on the range rings and put on W for each. One was crossing from stbd, one was overtaking me on my port quarter so I said, I shall avoid an alteration of port for a vessels fwd of my beam and avoid an alteration of course toward a vessel abeam or abaft the beam so I will make a substantial alteration of course to stbd and put the vessel ahead of me on my port bow. He asked who’s responsibility it is to take action, In restricted vis – everyones!

– On to the smartie board – wanted to know what it was, day signal and fog signal and actions

– VSL engaged in towing tug under 50m tow over 200m on my port side, Diamonds on both vessels, sound signal one long, two short. Said I’d stand on. It then didn’t alter for me so I said, as it’s apparent he’s not taking action I may take action, Sounded 5 short and rapid and then altered to stbd sounding 1 short. Would you go to port? No as he may still alter to stbd.

– RAM vessel engaged in underwater operations seen from astern. Safe to pass on his port side, Balls and diamonds, one long two short. I will sound 2 short and alter to port to pass on his safe side.

– Vessel probably over 50m aground, 2 black balls, 3 strikes on the bells, rapid ringing of the bell for 5 secs, 3 strikes on the bell and if over 100 rapid ringing of the gong in the aft part of the vessel. Stop, call the master, plot position on chart, APEM to safe water.

He then said that the exam was now over and asked how I felt it had gone. I said I felt that my nerves had played a big part and I was disappointed in myself for not thinking of the pollution aspects of grounding sooner, especially as I’d been smashing Marpol when revising. He said I’d done very well and he thought I’d make a very good chief officer. And you have passed by the way!

Many thanks to the Warsash Lecturers and my coursemates, in particular my housemate Sam, having a study buddy at home was a lifesaver! Also thanks to the other Sam for doing my hair that morning 🙂

Now if anyone knows of any jobs available I’d be extremely grateful!!

Washing elephants: The Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia

I went on holiday to Cambodia this leave, and it was amazing. You can see how amazing it was because photos from this trip are now up on Flickr. We visited Mondulkiri in the East where we met elephants, washed them and generally hung out with them, and then went to Siem Reap where we saw a lot of temples. Both experiences were amazing, but the one that’s really going to stay with me for the longest time is meeting the elephants, and this is why:

There’s no doubt that the initial attraction of riding an elephant has an immediate appeal, especially to western tourists. To me it evokes the olden days (dare I say the pretty side of colonialism?!) with the brightly coloured trappings, the elegant looking baskets, the gentle sway of the elephant’s pace as it transports you from place to place, high above everyone else….. However, when you look closer at the elephant; if you look at it properly as a fellow living creature, not merely as a means of transport, then you realise that there’s only one species that is enjoying this spectacle.

In India, ten or so years ago, I saw elephants with chains on their ankles, trudging up and down the hills to the fort I was visiting, with groups of tourists on their back. I’d thought before I got there that I’d love to ride an elephant up the hill, for that full indian royalty experience, but then I saw them and it was truely heartbreaking; these magnificent creatures, spirits broken and reduced to little more than a slow taxi service. Elephants are not domesticated animals like cows or sheep, they are not bred for purpose, they are captured from the wild as babies, taken from their mothers and families and forced into, what is essentially, slavery. They are not dumb animals; their natural way of life is family based and they form strong bonds within a group, they demonstrate prolonged grief when one dies and share the responsibility of caring for their young; they deserve to be treated with respect and empathy.

Visiting the EVP was, for me, a very moving experience, I’d done some research on what they do there: the attention grabbing and deeply appealing bit for me was getting to wash the elephants. The idea of getting to actually interact with them, splash about and get muddy while doing something to help them sold me on the idea immediately. It wasn’t until I got there though and started to meet them as individuals and hear their stories from Jemma and Jack that I realised quite how amazing the EVP is. The elephants at EVP each have a story, most of which are heartbreaking to hear: Overworked, dehydrated, malnourished and abused; abscesses, snakebites, infections and injuries that would otherwise go untreated. These are all too common reasons for these elephants being there. There are happier stories too though, owners who have become too old to care for their elephant properly, or who have realised that that their elephant needs time to rest and recuperate have brought them there. Almost all of the elephants still bear the scars of their former lives though: Sunken rib cages, blinded eyes, broken tusks, scar tissue evidencing horrific wounds, and then there are the mental scars too, so many of the elephants arrived at the EVP scared, nervous, shy and desperately in need of tender loving care from both their mahouts and the other people at EVP, and from each other. An elephant flaps its ears when it’s happy, and it was a joy to see them so obviously enjoying being washed and scrubbed and then diving into the forest to scoff bamboo and banana trees and throw mud and dirt over themselves again.

Some were more outgoing than others; one elephant in particular, Onion, was feeling particularly down and in need of love: She had come to the EVP in 2010; having been difficult to control for a while, her then owners took extreme measures and cut a hole in her forehead which they then kept open and dug hooks into it each day to force her to do their will. After a few weeks of this she snapped mentally and they realised there was nothing they could do to make her work any more. She was brought to the EVP, broken in so many ways, and they started her on the long road to recovery. Unusually for an elephant, who generally form matriarchal groups and leave the males to wander alone, she formed a strong bond of friendship with a male elephant called Bob. They had a lot in common, having both been massively overworked in the logging industry and both having been deeply traumatised by their experiences, together they mooched around the forest and were doing well. Devastatingly, the week before we visited, Bob died. It was sudden and unexpected and shook the entire community deeply. The Bunong villagers came out en-masse and helped with his burial and performed a week of ceremonies to help his spirit pass from this world to the next, but out of everyone, Onion was the most deeply affected. She’d just lost her best friend and constant companion, and was looking for him and missing him deeply. The day after we arrived at the project, about a week after Bob had passed away, it was decided to give her a change of scenery and move her and the other three elephants from the valley they had shared with Bob for the last two years to the grassy hilltop. Moving the elephants around also gives them a change in diet and new things to learn about. We walked down the slopes of Heaven (the valley is named so because they have planted extensive amounts of extra bamboo, making it a kind of elephant all you can eat buffet) and met the elephants at the river where they had a wash and a splash. Their mahouts then directed them up the hill. This was obviously exciting for the other three elephants, who plowed up the hill, happily snacking on bamboo as they went. Onion though wanted to hang back, she was reluctant to leave the place that she so strongly associated with Bob, but also didn’t want to be left behind by the others; she came up the hill slowly, unsure and uncertain. That afternoon their mahouts brought them to the elephant washing station at Base Camp. (The elephants in the other two valleys go down to the river to wash, but when they are on top of the hill there is no easy to reach bathing area, so the EVP has a purpose built elephant washing area, fed by streams and with a trough they can drink from, this is where the volunteers get the full on soaking wet experience of elephant washing: hurling buckets of water over the elephants and scrubbing the mud off with brushes and hoses) This was a new experience for the elephants who had been brought up the hill that morning and while the other three were quite content to receive the superstar treatment of being washed with no effort from themselves, Onion stayed only briefly before deciding she had had enough. The next afternoon they were brought down to the washing station again, this time Onion stayed much longer, she seemed much more relaxed and chilled out, and also she was quite definitely intrigued by the scent of another male elephant who had been there about half an hour before! After washing we wandered up the hill and met up with her and the others, the other three stayed at the edge of the trees, pulling up grass and mud and happily throwing it over themselves. Onion though, almost gambolled into the open grassy area, and came right up to us, ears flapping and looking much happier than she had done the day before. It’s going to take her a long time to get over losing Bob, but I felt that we saw her make a big step in the right direction that day, she’s starting to spend more time with the other female elephants and make friends with them, and I hope to hear that she continues on this track in the future.

It’s not just the elephants that EVP looks after though, these elephants will never be able to go back to the wild, and while they spend their days learning how to behave as wild elephants do again, they need a mahout to look after them too. Traditionally, in the Mondulkiri region, the indigenous Bunong people have always used elephants as part of their way of life, and the EVP is working to help them maintain that relationship. When an elephant is brought to the EVP the owner continues to own it, and the EVP pays them a rental fee, the owner therefore does not lose the income they would make from working the elephant and has a reason to let them stay there. In addition, the EVP pays a salary to the mahout who looks after the elephant, this is very often a member of the family that owns the elephant, or they pay one of the local villagers to become a mahout if the owner does not or cannot look after it themselves. In instances where the owner does not want the elephant at all, the EVP raises funds to buy the elephant from the owner and then signs it over to a member of the local village who is then paid a salary to be the elephants mahout. In addition to this, the EVP supports the Bunong people with a healthcare program (while I was there there were 5 people from the villages in the local hospital, where everything, including the bed, medicine and food has to be paid for by the family, which they cannot possibly afford, so the EVP helps); they provide funding for education at all levels and help for the young people of the Bunong to find employment; they are assisting with funding and advice in the long process of land titling (Despite the Bunong people having lived in this area for thousands of years, they have no piece of paper that says that the land is theirs and therefore, officially, it belongs to the government. The land titling process involves mapping the area thoroughly using GPS and then submitting an application to the government to be granted the title deed to it, which given their love of bureaucracy and paperwork is a long and costly process! It is possible though and there have already been a few other places in Cambodia where this has been achieved); And, they are working closely with the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) to protect the remaining forest in this area. This involves paying for full time rangers to patrol the perimeters of the protected area, to stop illegal logging and poaching and ensure that the wild elephant population has enough forest to live and grow in.

All of these projects together make the EVP a realistic and sustainable long term project, but it takes a lot of money to keep them going, which is where we, the paying tourists, come in. The local town Sen Monorom, (which is populated mainly by Khmer, not the locally indigenous Bunong) is sadly suspicious of the EVP and believes that they are secretly lining their pockets and killing tourism in the area because they actively discourage riding elephants. What they seem to fail to realise is that without tourists, the project would go under. On our way to the EVP we stopped off at the ELIE office in town, a rented house which is also where Jack, the managing director, lives, it’s a tiny house up a dirt track, certainly not the home of someone who’s raking it in. And after we had left the project on Friday evening, and were having a few beers with the volunteers and managers, Jemma (the assistant manager) was celebrating having finally got hot running water after renting her place for two and half years! When Jack was still getting the project off the ground, and visitors and donations were too few to make the budget, he would go back to the UK and work on his fathers farm, driving combine harvesters for 16 hours a day, just to make enough money to keep the project going. These are not the lifestyles and actions of people who are making a profit, these are the lives and actions of people who care deeply, not just about the elephants, but the people of the Bunong, and Cambodia, and the habitat that links them all. Without the forest, both the captive and the wild elephant population will die out.

Whether or not the Government gives permission for the Bunong people to capture new wild elephants in the future to continue their traditional way of life is a contentious point (it is now illegal to do so), and one that will have to be addressed at some point. The EVP is deeply against this, but the Bunong people hold a deep seated religious belief that it is wrong to breed elephants in captivity (they are animalist in their beliefs, and believe that there are 5 forest spirits that come together to create a new elephant; if one is born in captivity they hold ceremonies and sacrifice livestock to appease the forest spirits). Meanwhile there are many elephants that are already working in Cambodia, (and Thailand) that would benefit from the EVP or a similar project. While I disagree strongly with taking elephants from the wild, I also feel it would be a shame to allow the Bunong traditional way of life to die out completely. In their traditional way of life, elephants are treated as part of the family, they work for a few hours a day and are then taken into the forest to eat, wash and rest. The commercial pressures of the modern world have forced many elephant owners into working them all day, pulling logs or carrying tourists, which is not how elephants were originally used and the elephants at the EVP with their sunken rib cages and scars both physical and mental, are testament to why it should not be allowed. If the EVP can continue it’s good work, the working elephants in the area will have access to medical care, a place to rest and recover from illness and somewhere to retire to when they can work no more. If they are given enough support they will be able to rescue abused elephants from further afield and the traditions of the Bunong people will be able to continue without either side having to renegade on their deep seated beliefs. And with further education and awareness of how fragile a balance it is between man and nature, I believe the Cambodian people will come to see how important it is that they retain what remains of their forests and wildlife and realise that the best tourism option is when we get to visit their country, and leave happy knowing we have helped make someone’s life a little bit better, be it elephant or human, or preferably both.

Please visit the EVP website to learn more about the work they are doing and the elephants who live there: www.elephantvalleyproject.org

If you would like to donate to the EVP you can do so here: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/elephantvalleyproject

 

Shiny new blog, same old waffle

Welcome to my shiny new page! All the posts from the last 6 years (grief it’s strange to think how long ago my journey to this point actually started!) have been lovingly moved over, and I’ve put them into categories and given them tags too. I’ve managed to get all the pre-cadetship sailing posts into the right place, so it’s now one blog instead of two. At some point I might even put a photo up as my header, but this one will do for now.

I know the font on some of the posts is a bit small, there doesn’t seem to be a font size option in the publisher, so if it’s too small, zoom the page in a bit!

I’m off back to the wilds of the South Atlantic on the 17th (my birthday 😦 ) and will be attempting to send blogs via email from time to time, so fingers crossed! Oh and I’ll be tring to knuckle down and edit a ton of photos too.

Oh and by the way, I passed my driving theory this leave!

Ship life Vs Real Life Part 2: Real Life

I write this on a train; this in itself is quite a novelty for me, as until recently my laptop was incapable of working unless plugged into the mains. Now I have a shiny new little beast that weighs half of what the old one did and has hours of battery life. I love it.

Being on a train however, is not a novelty. It is how I spend a good proportion of my leave. This is real life. And I do not love it.

I am, I know, incredibly lucky to have the friends I have. I have collected an incredible set of people who never cease to amaze and inspire me. They are creative, intelligent, adventurous and crazy and I love them dearly. Unfortunately, many of them don’t really know each other, having only met through me on odd occasions. There are the friends I met when I was young and living at home, there are the friends I met when I lived in Winchester, then there are those I met while indulging in wonderfully silly LRP weekend events across the country, and now there are those I have met at sea too. And none of them live in the same place.

As soon as I announce that I am coming home, I am beset by the question:  “So when are you going to come and see me?” I hate that question, but then again, it’s nice to be wanted. Inevitably I will, of course, end up travelling halfway across the country to see them, spending hours, if not days, of my precious leave on the train, squishing my belongings into a rucksack and myself in between commuters and cider fuelled tramps. And it’s wonderful to see them, but there is also within me a tinge of resentment, the sullen teenager that resides within me still, muttering, “Why do I always have to come to you, why can’t you come to see me for once?”

I get 4 months leave a year, in two blocks. And yes that probably sounds like an age to most of you. However, do the maths: 52 weeks in a year, so that’s 104 days of weekends, then add the 28 days  of statutory leave you get in your average job, then add in at least 8 days of bank holidays and you will find that you get 140 days off work every year. 4 months, if they average at 30 days per month, works out at 120 days off in a year.

So my time off is precious. And I try to spend it wisely, but when one has just spent 4 months working solidly, 10 or more hours a day, 7 days a week, then what I really want to do, initially a least, is cocoon myself away and just not do anything. I want 4 months’ worth of weekends: I want my lazy lie ins with my lover, I want my late nights getting drunk on good wine in front of the tv, I want to go to the supermarket and buy the food I have spent months thinking about, in short, actually,  I want to revel in domesticity.

I long for a place of my own, but as yet there are insufficient funds in my account. And while I officially reside at my parent’s house, I probably spend more time at my boyfriend’s house. He also lives with his mother, and I find myself amused regularly at the exchanges between them; he, at 34, sounding like a petulant teenager, and she the put-upon mother. Sometimes I think they sound more like a bickering old married couple. But when I return home to my parents, I find myself hearing the petulant teenager in my own voice, and feel the very physical sense of annoyance that wriggles under my shoulder blades when I am told to do something. For example, when I had my own place, I always did the washing up in the morning – why end a lovely relaxed evening with work? And I always found that having done one task, I was spurred on to do more. But at home my mother insists it is done that night, so I am dragged from my comfortable seat on the sofa to come and help with the drying up. Likewise with other household and garden tasks, I have no issue with doing them, in fact, I quite enjoy them, but I would like to be allowed do them when I decide, not be given instruction. I realise run the risk here of sounding exactly like the petulant teenager I gently mock my boyfriend for sounding like. I do try and help as much as I can, I do my laundry when I get home from sea (although my skills in this department pale into insignificance next to my mother, who insists upon soaking almost everything first, and irons when I would simply hang up to dry and be done with it). I sometimes cook, but my mother usually has menus planned out for the whole weekend, which narrows my contribution down to chief chopper of vegetables and stirrer of saucepans, and that is a poor substitute for actually cooking.

My main contribution, as I see it, is in the garden. We have a large garden, which is a struggle for my parents to keep up with as they get older. Over the last 32 years that my family has lived in our house, my mother has slowly, painstakingly, and with the aid of a lot of compost, sand, manure and sheer bloody determination, taken a wasteland of weeds and overgrown shrubs growing on 500 ft of blue clay, and turned it into a garden. It is a work in progress, and when she makes a concerted effort to attack one area, inevitably, another area runs amok and the docks and nettles and grasses move in. I am their nemesis. I leave the planting and nurturing to her, but there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained from ripping up weeds and depositing huge heaps of them onto the bonfire. And while it is satisfying, it is also useful and helpful and lets me live happy in the knowledge that I’ve done the donkey work and they won’t break their backs trying to do it.

As I said, though, I spend more of my time at my boyfriend’s house, and have to admit I probably do more there than I do at home, but I get to do it on my own terms: I wash up, I cook, I buy groceries, including all the fancy things I feel eating in the shopping basket. I even do his laundry sometimes, when I’m doing my own. I tidy his room, put his clothes away and make the bed. Sometimes.

So I get my longed for domesticity, I get time with the family, and I get time with the man I love. But this gets broken up into little segments of a few days at a time, because there are all these other people demanding my time too, people who live in Devon, or Winchester, or Bristol. All of these places are too far to pop over for a pint, and as I may only get to see them once a year, they want to see me for a day or more, not a few hours. And I go, I spend hours on the train (the learning to drive new year’s resolution has not yet come to fruition) and I am glad to see them, in the hopes that at some point they will reciprocate.

Now, I threw a party earlier this leave. I decided a long time ago that as I turned 30 in March and I had never had a proper party I would have it in the summer. A full weekend if people wanted to stay, plenty of space in the garden of all to camp. Lots of food, lots of booze. I sent out messages in February asking what dates suited people the best. I had a few responses. I set a date and sent out invites. To about 70 people. I had to send invites via facebook because I was on the other side of the world (which is a pretty good excuse for not sending paper invites I reckon). I subsequently sent out about 5 messages to the invitees asking them to please RSVP. In the end, about 30 people said they could come. Not bad I guess. And then they started dropping out. The injuries, illness and sudden discovery of being newly pregnant I can forgive. Shit happens. But it still felt like a kick in the teeth when only 18 people actually turned up. This included my parents, sister and boyfriend. And the neighbours. The number of friends who made the effort to drag themselves across the country was depressingly low (injuries, illness and sudden discovery of being newly pregnant notwithstanding). I love my friends, and I know they love me, but after 3 and a half years of being in this job, there’s some things they still just don’t get.

New Year, New Life!

I’m sitting here with a glass of hot spiced cider, and realising that, as Dorothy said to Toto, I’m not in Kansas anymore. It’s strange, I feel rather lost at the moment, for the first time in three years I have no schedule, no deadline and, most importantly of all, no idea where my next wage is going to come from. (This has not stopped me from purchasing far too many pairs of boots on ebay mind!) So my New Years resolutions are quite simple-

1. Get a job – this will provide me with the money to do the next resolution.

2. Learn to drive – this will enable me to get to jobs and see friends without having to deal with trains all the time. It will also give me something to do when on leave.

3. Go to the on-board gym more than once in a blue moon – this will balance out the fact that driving means I no longer have to lug cases through stations, which is one of my primary sources of exercise. That and cycling to and from college, which I also no longer have to do.

I haven’t started looking for a job until now because a) I wanted Christmas and New Year with my loved ones and b) I felt that I deserved a break. I had a wonderful family Christmas at home, with not only Ma, Pa, Sister and her new husband, but also the Beast and his mother. I had a completely tech free day, (although we had to watch the Queen’s Speech) full of exquisite food, fancy drinks (including a 1927 port and a 1906 brandy), a roaring log fire and scrabble to round it all off (which of course I lost!). New Years was seen in with friends and also included an gluttony of food and drink. My waistline has somewhat expanded over the last few weeks!

Now however, with January looming cold and bleak I am finding my feet are starting to itch a little and I am resolved to get my paperwork in order and begin the process of applications and interviews. If anyone knows of any jobs going out there, please do let me know!!

Meanwhile I wish you and yours all the very best for 2012, and hope to see you on the high seas soon.

S4 xx