Chapter 2 Of My Family’s Story

Heyy everyone!! I’m so sorry that it’s been awhile, I’ve been crazy busy lately and will definitely be back with a life update soon as I’ve got loads to tell you all, but for now I thought I’d share the second chapter of the book I’m writing to tell my family’s story. For those of you who haven’t read Chapter One, you can find it HERE. Enjoy and please do let me know what you think x

Chapter 2

Our journey began for real in late April 2019. With one turn of a key in the ignition and the low rumbling of a fifty year old Morris Traveller engine, we were on our way to Hull. A new journey was beginning, a journey that was the next step in lifetimes spent searching for solutions and, although our life experiences and motivation were all very different, each one of us was ready for a challenge.

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When I look back now, I see our challenge as a whole and as this incredible, epic, life transforming journey, but when you break it down,  it was and still is a tapestry of daily ups and downs and small connections with human beings. It was not completed in leaps and bounds, but in lots and lots of small steps. Small steps which eventually led up to all of us sitting in a tiny Morris campervan, about to embark on a challenge that, to our knowledge, no one else had ever been crazy enough to take on.

What holds so many of us back from doing so many things is the fear of stepping outside our comfort zones, of going against what we’ve always thought of as the norm, of choosing to live our lives differently. We’re so often afraid to take the first step towards creating a better life, for us and for others, even when we know it’s the right thing to do. As a family, a big part of us taking on this journey was to show anyone watching that ordinary people can make a difference and that if we could do this crazy challenge, imagine what they could do! In choosing to live differently, to focus on lifting those in need as a priority and not just an afterthought, we wanted other people to look at us and see that we aren’t extraordinary or special, we’ve just made a choice, and they can too.

I remember it all feeling so huge and so unknown and so full of possibilities at first. If you know anything about us, you’ll know that we’ve never been a family who’ve shied away from living life differently or going completely against the norm in pretty much every aspect of who we are, but there is something about that first physical step on any journey that feels so significant. You can spend months and months planning your big adventure and talking over every little detail, imagining what your step into the unknown is going to be like, but nothing prepares you for how it really feels to be on the threshold of change, to not know what’s around the next corner or the hundreds of corners after that, to not have anything more defined to stick to than just the UK coastline and a tenner a day.

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On our way up to Hull we needed somewhere to stop off so we pulled up in the car park of the Gordon Boswell Romany History Museum in Lincolnshire. As we ducked out of the streaming rain into the huge warehouse to see if anyone was around, we found ourselves surrounded by a massive collection of the most beautiful traditional travellers’ wagons and other memorabilia from the Romany gypsies’ colourful culture and history. As we wandered around, an old lady came out from behind a wagon and introduced herself as Margaret, the owner of the museum and the wife of the late Gordon Boswell, a well known and loved advocate for the Romany people and their way of life.

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We spent the day sheltering from the storm with Margaret and her daughter Lenda, both strong, proud and incredibly generous Romany women. At first, they didn’t really know who we were and what we were doing there, but after we explained that we were just about to set off on a journey of our own, they were so eager to tell us all the stories of the journeys their people had taken – be it all the way from northern India over a thousand years or to the Appleby fair over the course of a few weeks.

Their hospitality was incredible. As the high winds brought on by Storm Hannah made the thin metal walls of the warehouse groan and creak, they made us the first of countless cups of tea on our journey and told us all about their incredibly rich and diverse history, all the negative and false stereotypes and misunderstanding they face and how hard they’re working to educate people and show them who they really are. Just sitting round the table talking to them for one day, we could see the strong and long held values the Romany gypsies have, how genuine they are, how they look out for each other, their hospitality and their unbreakable family ties.

Wandering around the museum itself was like stepping into another world, a world of simple, timeless colour and vibrancy. Gordon is infamous for how he could capture people with his stories and you can still hear his voice on a film that plays on repeat as you gaze in wonder at everything the museum holds. I remember thinking how that must be for Margaret, to spend her days amongst all those memories, with his voice narrating it all.

We felt a strong connection to these people – not just because of their wandering way of life – but because of what they value. We got a small glimpse into that in the time we spent with Margaret and Lenda and their stories of days gone by and their current very large family. We experienced how hospitable they were when they let us stay the night and when Margaret came running out the next morning to humbly give us a very generous donation to CatZero.

Hospitality, family and welcoming people no matter what their background or circumstances have always been really important to us and a huge part of who we are. For a long time, we’ve just put our beliefs into action in our everyday lives, whether that be by making sure our home is always somewhere that people can drop in for a cup of tea and a chat or whether that be through cooking for all our neighbours and providing the opportunity for them to forge friendships. We’ve always strived to be the catalyst for connection as we know how powerful it is, but we haven’t always been successful and the things we value are often hard to come by in general society. We’ve always searched for this true sense of community, both consciously and subconsciously, I guess. Maybe this would be the chapter of our lives where we’d discover it. Margaret and Lenda had given us hope, even though our challenge hadn’t even officially begun.

And that wasn’t the only major thing that had happened before we’d even started. We were having issues with Mo. As we swung into a park just south of Hull and Dad got underneath the van to investigate, we discovered a hole in our rear axle which was leaking oil all over the place. On top of that, we’d been experiencing some undiagnosed problems with the engine, which was really frustrating as we’d had it all checked out and serviced before we left. Little did we know that this was only the beginning in what would be a saga that would span pretty much the entire journey and thousands of miles, involve many mechanics, breakdowns (from both us and the vehicle) and the kindness of strangers, and result in us zigzagging back and forth across the country in a desperate bid to get Mo fixed. Unaware of what was to come, we temporarily patched up the axle with some tinfoil and a butterknife (brought along not for buttering bread, but for oiking limpets off of rocks as we didn’t know when our £5 a day for food would need supplementing). The engine problems were a bit more worrying though, as we had no idea what was causing them. We had no choice, we had to keep on going. We had to reach Hull.

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From the moment we pulled up on the dock at Hull marina, all leapt out of Mo and climbed the stairs to CatZero’s brightly painted offices, we were welcomed into the CatZero family with the same enthusiasm, smiles and openness that they welcome everyone. As we sat around the table with the team drinking tea, Louie the famous therapy whippet at our feet, people constantly popping in to say hi, I felt like we were really doing something that mattered. That feeling was only amplified by getting to see CatZero’s work in action when Pete took us along to a celebration event for the participants who’d just finished one of CatZero’s programmes.

Seeing all these people, young and old, who’d had a really tough start in life or fallen on hard times just due to their circumstances, stand up and talk about how CatZero had changed their lives, showed them what they were capable of, believed in them when no one else did (least of all themselves), taught them skills, given them a support network, pushed them out of their comfort zone and helped them build themselves a future, was so motivating. Seeing their newfound confidence, even when their voices trembled slightly as they stood up to speak, and the deep bonds they’d obviously forged as a team, I couldn’t stop smiling. They talked about all their highlights – from going sailing after never having even stepped foot on a boat before to cooking for and eating with all the local businessmen and women at their pop up cafe after never having cooked hardly anything in their lives and from doing outdoors team building activities like raftbuilding and camping to gaining loads of qualifications to help them get into work or education.

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After the presentation, we hung around chatting and everyone was overwhelmingly supportive and grateful for what we’d decided to do on CatZero’s behalf. I remember talking to a couple called Lee and Katie who shook mine and Evan’s hands over and over again, telling us that we were their role models for, in their words, ‘giving people who want to change their lives the opportunity to do it’. It was the same when we met Jim, an incredibly successful businessman who was one of the three founders of CatZero. He came up and shook our hands with tears in his eyes and told us that, even though he’s had such a prosperous career, founding CatZero was the best thing he’s ever done.

Over those few days in Hull, we also got to hang out with and really get to know Callum and Caz, two young people whose lives have been completely turned around by CatZero.

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Before he joined one of their programmes a few years back, Callum was addicted to drugs and alcohol, had fallen out with his family and was homeless. He’s now working for CatZero fulltime as a really positive role model for other young people who want to turn their lives around. He’s a capable and talented sailor and actually completed a leg of the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race last year, from the UK to Uruguay, right across the Atlantic ocean. I was extremely jealous.

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Up until a couple of years ago, Caz would never leave her bedroom, really struggled with her mental health, would drink and self harm, didn’t have a great relationship with any of her family and had given herself eight weeks before she took her own life. That’s when she discovered CatZero and they saved her life. She’s now one of the most positive people I know, constantly busy doing something to push herself out of her comfort zone or help others in her community, whether that be volunteering as a Beaver leader or inviting elderly neighbours for dinner. Having never been able to ride a bike or swim, she’s now part of a triathlon club and completed the Coast To Coast Cycle Challenge in 2019. After living on only chicken nuggets and toast all her life, she’s also faced her greatest fear – fruit!!  Raspberries are now her absolute favourite food, but she’s still not too keen on kiwis. Not knowing how to eat it, she once bit into one like an apple and has had nightmares about it ever since!

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Callum and Caz are both huge inspirations to me, with their motivation to change the lives of others and with everything they’ve overcome. They always had the potential to be such incredible people, but up until they came across CatZero, the world was geared against them and they were never given that opportunity. It goes back to a story Dad often tells us, of a boy he once met who wrote a note saying ‘I want to be a good boy, but there’s no one there to help me…’ and then crumpled it up and threw it away. Everyone should have a choice and that’s what CatZero gives them.

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Soon, it was nearly time to leave our CatZero family behind and set off into the unknown. I write this now, looking back on our family sitting in Mo, staging our departure for the TV cameras whilst knowing we’d have to turn around and do it for real again soon. I now know everything that journey held in store for us and I’m so excited to live it all again and share it with you as I write, but at the time, we didn’t know what would happen over the course of the next ten months. In fact, we only planned on being on the road for six.

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People had been telling us for months how crazy our challenge was. In fact, when we got our first taste of being on the radio in the BBC studio in Brighton, the host opened the interview by telling all the listeners that he was going to try and talk us out of it. Obviously he didn’t succeed. I guess in theory, we knew it was crazy and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but it didn’t feel reckless or even particularly scary. When it came to it, we knew it was the right thing for us to be doing, for CatZero and for our continued search for community and a way to truly make a difference. We’d taken lots of little steps to get this far, we could take this one too.

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We took the step, turned the key, started the engine and, just like that, we were off.

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You Are Never Alone + 5 Ways We Can All Make A Difference

Heyy all,

I wrote this on World Mental Health Day, but the signal in the English countryside is sporadic to say the least. Anyway, it’s a bit late, but no less relevant.

I just wanted to share a reminder that anyone can talk to me about anything (big or small) at any time. I don’t want anyone to go through anything alone ❤ Life is tough and it affects us all so message me through my ‘Wanna Talk?’ page any time and I will do my best to be there for you ❤ I know how much of a difference it makes just to have someone there for you and we’ve all gotta stick together if we wanna make this world a better place so I’m serious – message me whenever guys.

A lot of us don’t often know what to do to help others who are struggling with their mental health and although I’m no expert, here’s a list of things that are simple but (from my experience) make a huge difference. 

Make it clear to your friends, family and members of your community that you’re there for them through thick and thin. Even if you take it for granted that they already know, sometimes a reminder that they can trust you and that you’re there no matter what goes a long way. 

Get involved in projects in your community. On my family’s challenge we’ve met so many ordinary but incredible people who are transforming lives in their own town or city just by bringing people together and supporting one another. Being a part of something can mean so much – having a purpose, being surrounded by people who care about you and finding hope for the future is a lifesaver for so many people.

I’ve done loads of volunteering with groups like these recently and whether they use fixing cars, fitness, sailing, arts and crafts or something else, they’re making a huge difference and what you get from being a part of that is absolutely incredible. Bringing people together is truly the solution to so many of the struggles we’re all facing and it’s creating a better future for us all. I’d tell absolutely everyone to do a bit of research (social media is great like that) and find a way to get involved in a project in their community. It’ll be the best step outside your comfort zone that you ever take. 

It’s the little things. Send your friend a random text telling them how much they mean to you. Leave uplifting notes in library books. If you notice that someone you know seems down, try to find small ways to show them you care. If someone wants to talk, find time to listen. 

Educate yourself. Read up about mental health. Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions. Listen to people’s stories. Don’t judge. So many people are misunderstood because of other people’s ignorance. Be part of the solution, not the problem. 

Be real and encourage others to do the same. In our society, there’s so much pressure to be something we’re not and to hide our true selves to fit in, but that’s where the issues start. It’s not easy, but once we start being open, honest and real and accept others for who they are too, others feel like they can too and society changes for the better. 

So there you have it – five ways we can all make a difference. Mental health is something so many of us struggle with, it’s tough, it’s real, it’s raw, it’s painful. Let’s come together, support one another and show others that they’re not alone.

I’ve posted this on here before, but it was ages ago so I’d like to share it again. It’s a poem I wrote and I would ramble on about it, but I’m going to let it speak for itself. Just remember….you are never alone ❤

What would you add to my list of ways we can all make a difference? Any thoughts to share? All my love xx

 

Rant On Changing The World, The Importance Of Community In Our Society + My Challenge To You

Warning – this is going to be one very ranty post about a ton of things I’ve been thinking about recently so it might not make any sense. Please bear with me though ahaha. This blog is the one place I can just write my heart out and be totally honest so if anyone would give me their thoughts on this, I’d really appreciate hearing what you have to say 🙂

Everything I see around me shows me just how important it is to make a difference. Watching anthropology (the study of humanity) videos when I can snatch some spare Wi-Fi, hearing people talk about their stories, it makes me realise that our world is such a beautiful, messed up place full of such good, but broken people.

It’s the good things too – not just the bad, like when you see people standing up and making a difference in their communities, people like our friends Finlay and Ella who are striking for climate crisis and taking action for our generation, all the other inspiring people we’ve been meeting on this journey and, most of all, the team at CatZero (the charity my family are raising money for on our challenge).

It’s things I read and watch and the conversations I have. It’s Tip from the episode of ‘the Waltons’ that I watched with my family the other day- he’s the life of the party, so full of stories and extravagance and energy, but it’s all a fake. He has no purpose and no one and he’s dying inside because of it. I’ve written about it countless times because I see it so much in my generation. So many people I know are so over-the-top crazy and take nothing seriously, but I know them well enough to see how much they’re struggling underneath it all. They’ll never admit it though and it breaks my heart.

My Mum tells everyone that this trip is born out of my concern for my generation and the issues we’re facing and, although it’s just a word, I feel like such a fake when she says that. What do I know of their struggles? I feel like screaming. It’s not concern, it’s desperation. Tell me again that I should be ‘concerned’ when my friends are getting pregnant, overdosing on drugs, killing themselves, hurting themselves, being held back by their depression and anxiety, feeling alone and hopeless, tell me again that I should be ‘concerned’. I rattle it off like a list, but these are lives we’re talking about here. Human lives. Lives that being destroyed. Your sister. Your son. Your granddaughter. Your best friend. Tell me I’m being dramatic.

We’ve passed through so many little towns on the East Coast of Scotland, all places with bad reputations for drugs and poverty, visitors to that part of the country go round them or pass straight through and never stop. We were welcomed with open arms. These places are struggling, but they have such a strong sense of community, they are coming together and actively doing something to support one another.

Community is truly the answer. If people had a support network of people who cared about them and who they knew they could always depend on, if they were working together to achieve something and keep their community thriving, it would make such a difference.

Greta Thunberg stopped talking because of the effect the way our planet is heading was having on her and some days I understand how she feels, but every day there’s places for me to go and things for me to do and people for me to meet and I’m learning that action is the only way.

I often feel like I’m not doing enough. I lie awake at night because I’m overwhelmed by it all. When I write this, it makes me sounds so selfless, but that’s not the reality at all. I just feel the pain of my generation kinda like it’s my own and although that hurts a lot, it’s also incredibly motivating.

I’m well aware that it’s easy to ramble on about the faults in society and the struggles of young people (well, all people really) without coming up with any answers so that’s why my family are on a search. It’s been continued throughout this journey since starting a lifetime ago, though I think some of what we’ve experienced on this adventure even just in the last seven weeks has been just about the closest we’ve ever come to finding what we believe is the answer – true community.

It exists in little pockets around the world, for sure. Places like those little Scottish towns, but what we need is community on a worldwide scale. People committed to the well-being of their fellow people, people who care about the future generations, people who work in harmony instead of fighting and starting wars. It sounds a long way off, but it starts here, at home. Your family is a mini community of its own and families are just another thing that have broken down in our society today. If we started applying that same mindset of commitment and understanding to the people closest to us, it might just make a difference and you never know, it may reach Donald Trump eventually hehe.

I went on a climate strike with some friends the other day and it made me realise just how good it felt to stand up for something I believe in. That’s what it’s like on this challenge too. I want to challenge everyone (YOU included) just to take one small step towards making a difference in the world we live in.

Here’s something I wrote in my journal a couple of weeks ago that is kinda relevant to what I’m talking (ranting) about today –

I’m nearly ready for bed now and my hair is still wet from the sea. The island of Tiree off of the West coast of Scotland has always been my favourite place in the world, but Durness beach (where we are today) may be a contender for second place.

As soon as Mo (our van) pulled up, I leapt out of the back, skidded down the sand dune, ran across the beach and into the sea. The waves were crashing and the water was so beautiful and blue and so I proceeded to spend the next couple of hours in the ocean. I honestly think that one of the times when I’m at my happiest is when I’m swimming in the sea. It’s hard to describe the feeling except to say that it’s almost the opposite of hopelessness.

It’s simple, pure, sweet freedom and it’s so different from the ache that’s sometimes fills my heart. That’s partly why I love swimming so much. I can’t over-think and every single part of me is focused, plus I love the power and control I feel over my own movement and strength. Also, when I swim as part of a team, it’s like another mini community feeling. Being a part of something positive is so important and it’s what we all need.

Being on top of the world is an extreme, but it gives me hope and it makes me realise that we will all be okay.

I can’t get knocked down by negativity or what use I am to the revolution? As my friend Ruby always tells me, you can’t help anyone if you’re crying on the floor – focus on what you can do, focus on the solution.

We’ve all got to do what we can to help others and play our part in creating a better world. It won’t always be easy, but we’ve got to try. Small steps, people, small steps. Please do let me know how you get on!! I’m also well aware that it’s  not always easy to know what you can do to make a difference so if anyone wants to discuss it, shoot me an email through my contact page and we can have a conversation and figure it out together xx

btw, what posts do you all wanna see coming up? I had the idea to do one with letters to people who’ve meant a lot to me throughout my life or there’s always more rants haha…?? Let me know in the comments xx

Use Our Voices – Spoken Word Poetry Guest Post by Vaishnavi + And A Discussion On CHANGE


Heyy guys,

It’s so important that we as young people stand up and use our voices in whatever ways we can and that we support each other in doing so. I recently discovered that the awesome Vaishnavi at Written In The Stars is a fellow spoken word poet and so when she reached out and asked me about guest posting, I jumped at the chance to share some of her incredible work with you all! I’m going to let her take over now, but before I go there’s just a couple of things I wanna mention…..

  1. If there’s something you believe in, speak up about it. Do not be afraid to fight for your future. You may not think you can make a difference and it will definitely not always be easy, but never be scared to take the first small step.
  2. If there’s someone else trying to get their voice heard and make a difference, help them and support them in whatever ways you can. We rise by building others up and we are so much more powerful when we work together.
  3. Finally, I have so much post inspiration atm ahhhhhhh. Basically don’t be too surprised if my demented ramblings start popping up in your reader rather often haha

Anyway, over to Vaishnavi 🙂

Hi everyone! My name is Vaishnavi, but since it’s a mouthful, you can just think of me as Vaish. Gracie gave me the opportunity to share a poem I wrote to you guys, and I couldn’t be more grateful. she is such a funny, sweet, and overall delightful individual and friend, as you guys already know. This poem was important for me to write because first of all, it was for a prompt (a strong emotion) AND I have to present it. After spending days and days toiling over what to write, this came to me in bits and pieces, and little by little, the pieces of me (and hundreds of other voices) were tumbling out. I hope this poem makes you think about this important factor in our lives~
DA POEM PEEPS (hehe Gracie’s back could you tell? Anyway, enjoy this masterpiece of Vaishnavi’s)

Iridescent and looming

Change

Making my mouth contort into words horrifyingly unlike me

I try to run away while tripping over my own two feet

But like a shadow

It’s always, frustratingly, there

Maybe if I tiptoe

It would be as if I was never here
I could finally get a glimpse

Of sunlight

Pure sunlight

A chance to breathe again

Away from the darkness which already consumed my friends

Away from a shrieking tragedy, begging to enter

An aftertaste

Away from this monster who’s taking my life by the limbs and shaking it furiously

Like a play-thing

I’m unable to wear my crown

The cold envelopes my shaking body, sneaking up on me like the tendrils of early smoke

Taunting me

“You can’t hide anymore, we’re coming for you.”

WIth any remaining strength

I turn towards a dimming light in the hearth

A blossom of a memory

A piece of a younger me

One more naive

But in a flash, it’s gone

Like it was never really there

Were they merely echoes or projections of unparalleled strength?

Then
My heart is shattered glass

Everything turns cold and lonely

Then I’m forced to look

Up

I meet the glacier-blue eyes which strike chords in my mind

Penetrating my every. last. thought.

An unwanted gaze of a black, apathetic, beast

Then in a split second, just a split second

Everything hurts

When I’m forced by this unknown creature

To look inside me

And meddle with a few things.

A warped vision where everything twists and turns

A tremendous fist

Reaches for my soul

The foundation of everything I am

The fist goes right back and adds everything I will be and-

And-

I’m absolutely terrified of this weakness

But then-

But then if everything is doomed, why is everything clearing up
And sunlight piercing through-

Sunlight everywhere

I look at my hands and I feel renewed

I look back and forth, trying to find the beast that had earlier come

But-
But there was no trace of it

Vanished

Like it was never really there

There’s a gentle breeze caressing me, just within reach

My heart skips a beat

Ever so slowly, I open my eyes

And I come back to where I was

Where I’d always been

At my bed, the windows allowing the songs of the suburbs to sneak past, fingers hovering over the dusty keys

Hesitation

The sentence marks an unfinished thought

And I come upon a new thought– and I’m amazed and shocked

I’m different.

Is there a way

That I could’ve been mistaken?

I search through my memory of my past self

Through rose-tinted glasses

And peer at the life of little me

I feel strange

Confused, but calm

No longer can I see this blurry vision of a beast named change

Just

Someone holding their arms out

A patient, yet an austere fortitude

Allowing you

To come forth

Because everyone changes

Over time, these memories get sutured into my ribcage

Soft and warm undying things

That once made up me

Shades of paint, blossoming wholly inside me

Like they’re trying to impress someone

Remnants and flashes softly follow by heart, immortal but

The colors will always be the same

There is emotion caught up amongst my tongue

Holding me back

I breathe and I say

I say-

“Hey… It’s me again.”

And an exhale”

Thanks so much for sticking through, and thanks Gracie!! What do you guys think about change? 

 

(Gracie again) Come on guys, let’s use our voices and have a discussion? What do you think about change? What does it mean to you? 

#BlueForSudan

*this image is not my own*

Over burning, revolutionary red, today Sudan paints blue,

Though it hurts to hold the paintbrush, they must show the world the truth.

Though the red blood runs in the streets and holds the power in its hands,

They scream for peace, their fists held high,

We say #BlueForSudan

We can’t stop their suffering, but we are not entirely powerless. Use your blog/social media to raise awareness of what’s happening in Sudan and to show them that they are not alone #BlueForSudan #PaintSudanBlue