This sweet life

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Do we ever stop to think how precious our days are, or are we too engrossed in our mundane routines? Do we take our one chance at life completely for granted, or do we plan to live to the brim? These are questions we may or may not ask ourselves - more than once - and even act upon but once the initial flurry of excitement has died down, how many of us actually keep up our new attitude and outlook on life?

This is without a doubt one of those posts. Profound and pointless. Reflective and ridiculous. Everything and nothing. And indeed, how do you even begin a post that you know you have to write, yet you don't know why. A fleck in time that you cannot leave unregarded, but the words haven't even begun to take sensible form. I don't even know what I'm trying to convey; all I know is I'm trying to weld an event to a time and a place and a feeling. And I cannot possibly leave this unrecorded. Because something has made me feel such a vast wealth of emotions in such a small era and I believe that this is a turning point in my life.

A girl working in my company died on Monday. She suddenly took ill on Friday whilst on shift, without any sort of warning at all, and lost her gracious fight for life after the weekend. I can't even imagine how her family, friends and co-workers are feeling after such an unexpected turn of events. I can't even think about how she may or may not have felt during the last few days of her life. And I can't even begin to explain why it has hit me so hard. I can't put it into words, but I know why it has and it's because I think about who it happened to: a twentysomething store manager with everything to live for, just busying herself with friends and nights out, who loves photography and generally just enjoys life. Somebody just like me.

I can't relate to the situation at all. On a personal level, I never met the girl - I only knew of her by name and I probably wouldn't have been able to put it together with a face, even if I tried. But because she's part of my vast network of colleagues and I work with people who did actually know her and she was 'one of the family', it has left me raw. On discovering the news on Monday, I actually howled with sadness. I thought about her life; the light snuffed out so sudden and cruelly. I thought about her colleagues and friends and the colour she would have brought to their lives. I despaired over the only fact that we can depend on in our life: that one day, it will inevitably end. But since it's (mostly) not for us to decide, we never know whether we'll be 25 or 85 when time is finally called. So are we making the most of it?

I know I'm not, or at least I feel that way. I do a lot, I try to visit lots of people and places and say 'yes' to everything I can muster up the energy for. I play hard and work harder and don't sleep enough. But maybe I would sleep better if I just tried more. If I took all of those lists and plans and actually made something concrete and physical out of it all. You could make all the '26 before 27' or '101 things' lists in the world, but they fade into insignificance until you're actually doing something about it; if you're actually acting on those fleeting desires. Do you know the amount of people that have dreamed for years and years about accomplishing one huge amazing feat in their life and haven't because they've never got the ball rolling, or they procrastinate too much, or they're scared. Or they just think that tomorrow is a better day to begin again.

The last few days have really set a fire in me. I feel guilty that I could possibly try to take something positive from this experience, but I believe that there are so many messages that are important and timeless to be learnt from this event. And they are all short and sweet, but simple: live for the moment; dream big; anything is possible; never say never; today is the best day; if not now, when?

I'm going to Canada for 10 days in September. These two events are in no way linked. I happened to book my trip to North America in a fit of excitement at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day (I'm not even exaggerating). I held back from mentioning anything to even a lot of my friends because, despite having the booking confirmation and the money taken from my account and all known proof that this was indeed real, there was still that slice of me that thought to myself, 'what if this doesn't happen?' ...but now I know that I have to make it happen. I have to go on this trip. It's the most spontaneous, wildest thing I've ever booked, the furthest I've ever been from home and one of those things I've always wanted to do and never got around to it. I put it off, always imagining that it would happen next year and the year after that and so on. Well, this year is the year. If I was uncertain before, I am more than sure now.

And I will raise a glass to my colleague, and I will not forget how without knowing me she completely changed my outlook on life. And perhaps if this made you think just like I did, something even a tiny fraction of good will come of this. Hold your loved ones close and embrace everything in your path. Never put your dreams on hold. Life is sometimes short, unpredictably cruel but always sweet. Today is a gift; that's why it's called the present.

(Sleep well, kochana.)

In Bruges

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Back in December last year (jeez how weird does that sound?!), I managed a little daytrip to the Belgium. That's right folks: my vagabond bonnet is well and truly on my head. Whilst I could probably do the whole of Belgium in an entire day, I stuck to Bruges and Bruges alone and with good reason: this town really is something else entirely. If you want to visit a European city that really feels preserved and well-looked-after and get around it in less than a day, then Bruges is your place. Sometimes I feel like I could say this about every single place I travel to, but Bruges literally is one of the most beautiful places I have ever, ever been to. And I've been told a million times not to exaggerate.

The entire purpose of my trip was to check out the Christmas markets with a friend and a friend of said friend. I can imagine that the pedestrianised, cobbled streets look of Bruges is appealing throughout the year but I get the impression that at Christmastime, Bruges is even more picturesque than usual, coming to life with both crowds and outstanding decoration.

Without being clichéd, if you are going to go to Bruges, you simply must overindulge in everything bad for you. Namely chocolate in solid or liquid form, and waffles. Our visit to The Old Chocolate House on Mariastraat satisfied all those niggling little cravings in that category - and the bold claim to have 'the best hot chocolate in the world' certainly wasn't overexaggerated in the slightest! For around 9€ each you could have a gargantuan waffle with your choice of chocolate sauce or whipped cream plus sugar galore, plus a soup-bowl sized bowl of steaming hot milk in which you could melt a selection of chocolates to create your most perfect beverage.

Speaking of beverages, you most definitely cannot visit Belgium without sinking down a cool glass of Belgian beer. The aptly named Beer Wall Bar on Wollestraat is absolutely the place to satisfy such a thirst - with a choice of over 1,000 beers. No lie! The bar inside has a few seats and an eye-catching wall assembled out of beer crates but the place to be sat whilst you enjoy your drink is in the beer garden alongside the canal. Simply stunning.

My friend Debs and me shared (yeah, pennies were running low by the end of the day) a glass of Brugse Zot straight from the tap. This blonde beer was absolutely gorgeous and I already have a want to head to the nearest Belgo bar just to hunt it down. Divine stuff.

Whilst it looks pretty cracking in the daylight, Bruges really comes to life at night in an awe-inspiring, retina-pleasuring way. Especially alongside the canals! I could wax lyrical about the wonders of city-breaking at night and how Bruges was such a delight in this respect but I don't think I need to say anymore whatsoever. Just gawp at those photos and imagine that I'm still doing that, almost a month after my trip. Because I am. Forever longing for Bruges since 2012. IDST.

Hello 2013

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The first day of the first month of a brand new year and it's all blues skies and sunshine. What a beautiful beginning.

It may be too cliché for some - and it certainly is almost too much for me - but really, what better way is there to start on an entirely clean slate than the turn of a new year? I'm really hoping that 2013 is a good year for me; not strictly my year, but in the sense that I find myself somewhat. I don't really do resolutions but it's always the usual for me: I hope to read more, I wish to get back to a good state of fitness, I yearn to travel more and yet again I will not let this Photo 365 desire lay to rest. You know.

In a quick reflection of 2012, let's just say it was a bit of a rollercoaster. The needle was a-flickering all year but I am happy to say it was nestled firmly in the middle at the conclusion. Not too great but not too sad either. I kissed hello and goodbye to my car, I made new friends and discovered which of the old ones were true, loved and lost and began to learn about why. I travelled to Edinburgh, Copenhagen and Krakow. I went to the gigs of The Bronx, Bloc Party (like finally), Head Automatica, Reel Big Fish, Sayanything, and Canterbury twice. And perhaps one of the Big Positives for me: after all that bleedin' training, I finally became the manager of my shop. If ever I think it's been a dismal year, I just remind myself that in that fact alone, I have achieved so damn much and nobody can take that away for me.

So I await the rest of 2013 with my best foot forward. I can't wait to see what opportunities not only lie ahead of me, but that I can create for myself. Because this year is all about making things happen.

Happy New Year, y'all!