Orkney from Thurso beach
There is a time in life when the heart overrides the head and this happened to me last November. Looking back from the distance of 6 months I was probably going through some form of mental breakdown. Not quite a depression but pretty close to it. Heading towards my 50th birthday, in a rut at work, stresses and strains in my private life, everything feeling as though it was falling in on me and a sense of longing for a change otherwise I'd go under. Nothing was bad, but nothing really gave me any satisfaction or purpose in life anymore. I needed a break, I really did need a break and so after negotiations at work a 6 week leave was agreed for April 2014.
What this break has done more than anything has allowed me time away from the hum drum tedium of day to day living and specifically during 10 days on the road by myself in Scotland, a chance to sit on many a beach and think, no responsibilities other than which beach to sit on or what to have off the menu at the hotel. During these 10 days on my own I managed to dispel the grim reaper of doubt and depression and mixing with fresh sea air became focussed on the future. So that's that said and done.
Now I'm back it has made me realise a lot of distractions I'd become focussed on over the years are really not what I now need. Top of that list is the blanket news coverage we are all subject to. As my need for de-toxing took hold one thing I realised was that I spent a lot of time reading news feeds, papers and social media sites for breaking stories, looking for the new lead in a conservation idea. Being human this meant that I sometimes diverted off into a side alley of news only to then disappear down another alley. It is mentally exhausting, leaving little energy for doing other things. News had to go for the 6 weeks and it did. Only now returning to my normal life have I read about a ferry sinking on South Korea, Ukraine, Syria, middle aged men being arrested over sexual allegations and the rise of Ukip and so on. What has really struck me however is that coming back to the news after 5 weeks it is exactly the same as before I left, same topics, just different people involved or different countries. In the 5 weeks I'd been away from TV, internet or radio I'd missed absolutely nothing. Thus I am resolved to maintain this news blackout as much as possible going forward.
Next on the list was Twitter. I have a love hate relationship with Twitter, especially a lot of tweets that are just haranguing, moans, or generally negative. There are of course some positive sides to Tweets, but, and this may be due to whom I follow, most of the Tweets I read were negative. For a while I wondered if this was pushing me to some edge of despair. And so as with the news I had a Twitter blackout. I returned to Twitter yesterday and reading my feed it was all haranguing, moans, and generally negative. And again as with media news it is the same people saying the same things over and over again. I started to feel my old frustrations rising as I was going to reply to some tweets and then something in me said, why? 'You don't know any of these people from Adam and so really it is not real life'. That confirmed in me what I'd lone worried about Twitter, more so than with Facebook. Anyone can reply to anyone else and sometimes bizarre stand off's were taking place between people who had never met. Increasingly I found this strange and surreal. Therefore after only a day back on Twitter I recalled how I felt not having access to it, in a word good. Therefore with some genuine sadness I have reduced my sessions on @Wessex_Reiver Twitter account to 5 minutes at some point in the day, no more.
So what has all this to do this posting? Actually it has a lot to do with it. Part of my cathartic moods on Orkney made me realise that for me, and I can only speak for myself, I need people, real people around me. Social media had become a distraction, a way of thinking I had more contact with people than I actually did. Talking from behind a keyboard is not real life. Which makes me wonder what is real life now? One way to illustrate this is that I made a point of taking cash with me on my break. I had to go to a building society and draw out £500. And apart from the room accommodation which was paid for everything else on that 10 day tour was paid for by cash. Nothing new or ground breaking here but when you see money changing hands rather than passing over a plastic debit card, I began to stop and wonder whether I really wanted or needed that souvenir, or extra coffee. It became the norm each morning to count the notes in my wallet and say "hum I spent £20 yesterday, what on?" By the end of the 10 days I still had £180 left and that included paying for 2,100 miles worth of diesel.
Where am I going with this? Well for me life has become removed from reality. We are paid in kind, we never see our money, it is just a figure on a bank statement, we pay for goods via a plastic card and at the end of the month out bank tells me that I have spent all my money, money I never saw anyway. I used to think plastic debit cards saved money, now I know different. Paying £8.99 for something with a plastic card is cheap, breaking onto a £10 note and receiving £1.01p in change makes me think, "is that all the change I get for that sandwich and a fancy coffee"?
This is what the break did, made me re-evaluate what is important and what shocked me is how very little of what we do is important. Being able to sit on a beach for 2 hours thinking about absolutely nothing is priceless. And so to remind me a few images to look back fondly on.
Tickets for the ferry
Waiting my turn at Scrabster ferry terminal
Hoy from Hoy Sound
First view of Orkney
A beach with a view
An artists paradise
We only have one chance at life
Location of my first encounter with Orcadian hospitality
Windbreak with a view
Matts café truck (I was told to go here)
Ring of Brodgar
A very good night's sleep to you all....