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>> Towards the Within <<

p1090693You know you’re in a good place when you no longer are interested in looking back, you prefer to enjoy the journey. It felt good to feel the sunshine on my face again. It was such a challenge to stay awake on the bus ride home, I was that annoying person that kept passing out and waking up far too near to the stranger sat next to you. Luckily for me she was nice, and offered me sweets and snacks for energy. I was being picked up by Michelle to return to her lovely home for a restful night’s sleep. I had the following day to recover, and to nest into the cottage again, along with the thoughtful items I’d been given from friends and family including those sensory items like incense and candles, tasty chutneys and glazes, photographs and books that would ultimately make it feel more like home. img_20170106_200639_900

I’ve struggled since the residency finding time and headspace to be as creative as I would like. Now that I am comfortable with the job routine it’s clearing my mind a little, and gaining a workspace in the cottage has enabled me to access the progress of the artwork so far. I know that as soon as I get the fire burning I will be up and running again. I have made a few taster sketches of pieces I want to work on, including delicate studies of venturing through the cave, particularly with very low light. img_20161222_205026_605

At work we offer photography tours, which I always love to guide, I enjoy learning from the artist’s, and can feel that deep creative connection which reminds me of why I am doing the job in the first place. When exploring and taking time to sit and look at the incredible surroundings, although a daily occurrence, it is still a meditation that I do not take for granted. Of course the connection is stronger when the customers are having the same intense feelings (which is fairly often) -it’s a beautiful thing to be part of that with them.

Yosuke Kashiwakura is a Japanese photographer who had booked in to take photographs of the glow worms for a National Geographic article. Myself and Heath took him down to the main glow worm cavern and watched him setup his sweet looking camera, with limited English we let him figure out what he wanted, which took no time at all. He had Heath stand down stream of the river, head torch glowing, and created an astonishing portrait shot of him. Capturing the cave formations the glow-worms were clustering in an around, and Heath standing enigmatically in the distance.

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The Christmas celebrations were complete at home and I felt a strange emptiness as it approached Christmas Eve back in New Zealand. I was working and the sun was shining, I was afraid I was masking emotions of the first experience of Christmas time without loved ones around me. I decided that because everything was ‘upside-down’ to what I was used to in the UK that I would embrace the surreal couple of days ahead and try and make it memorable for different reasons. Having previously enjoyed spontaneously exploring with Heath I asked if he’d like to join me on a Christmas Eve exploration- a chance to locate those areas that have drawn curiosity, and to experience the cave in quite literally, a new light. We enjoy each other’s easy company and are able to talk and climb freely, stopping from time to time to reflect and enjoy a celebratory beer. The glow worms really put on a performance, the best we’d ever seen, they began to gently light our faces as we opened up to each other. It was a real buzz to find areas even Heath hadn’t been to before, despite his growing up with the cave in ‘his garden’. A particular highlight after crawling over stalagmite formations was an inviting tunnel in blue and copper hues, we took it as far as we could.

p1090703It’s an addiction- the natural high of exploration, wanting to fulfil curiosity, playing around down there for what turned into around a 5 hour trip. The last area on my ‘checklist’ was to take a dip in the crystal clear water of the Lime Cave, and of course to see where it lead to. It was very muddy! But freeing all the same. My thoughts were heavily distracted in the best possible way as the night drew to a natural close and Christmas Day arrived.

I was kindly invited to Bevian (Heath’s father) and his partner Myra’s home for a Christmas lunch in Te Awamutu, along with Michelle and Stefan. I still fall in love with the landscape and immense amount of space around New Zealand properties (that is out of the cities I mean). They were all sitting in the sunshine of the garden as I was presented with kind gifts and a tasty BBQ lunch.

dsc_1398After a little deliberation I headed back to Heath’s in Pirongia. As kind as the offer was I was concerned at feeling like a spare part due to his kids and girlfriend staying there. Nobody likes to be the gooseberry, but I knew for the first time I didn’t want to head back to the cottage on my own and that I needed to be around people- I run away too easily. Well the bottle of wine stopped me driving anywhere and as I relaxed Colette and Heath were great company and a phone call from Hendrik was comforting after so long not hearing each other’s voices. I left early morning, still feeling heady and emotional and enjoyed a long drive in the sunshine of Boxing Day. I still struggle with the shift from closeness and then the emptiness upon parting…even if I’m not so sure on what I want in the first place.

Settling back into work for the next few days the time had come to plan my upcoming days off. I would be heading down to Apiti on the Sunday so decided to book myself in for a treat 5 hour cave tour, with another company here in Waitomo. It is of course great to experience, compare, research, but mainly just for the love of adventure and to see some more beautiful places so nearby. The tour was a 7am start (ouch) and included an abseil to start the trip, something I haven’t done since I was 11 years old on a trip to an adventure park near Corfe Castle 🙂  followed by ‘tubing’ which is essentially floating through the cave tunnels in a big rubber ring. The group I was in were fit, young men, meaning that we were powering through the trip and gaining access to other areas due to our speed and ‘skill’. Tight squeezes in darkness and of course the glow-wormies were in abundance. Not so much of a diverse mixture as our cave but an enjoyable experience all the same. If I’m honest, somebody carrying me back up afterwards would’ve been nice rather than the impending final rock climb (I’ve never been good/happy with vertical climbing) it was safe to say my body was done.

15940490_10154469719949737_4247798651540657387_nI’d been following (that does sound pretty creepy doesn’t it) an interesting caving chap on Instagram as I realised after caving all around the world, posting incredible diary photographs along the way, Nick was now in the Waitomo area- I was very keen to meet. I obviously wanted to pick his brain about all of his incredible discoveries and adventures and plus it was a good excuse to get out and have a pint. Nick was sat looking pretty intriguing as he studied his notebook, scribbling down his finds of the day. As I approached, conversation came easy (of course we did talk about a cave or two) he’s an interesting and passionate character who I think will be a lot of fun to be around, we’ll meet up again and hopefully do some exploring together sometime. As perfect timing had it, my friend Luke who is now back in Southampton knew of a girl heading to New Zealand from our home town, called Lauren. Lauren and I exchanged messages on Facebook and the evening I was with Nick was when her Kiwi Experience coach was staying in Waitomo (good hey!) So she came over for a chat and drink, a lovely sociable bouncy character spending a year in New Zealand on a Working Visa, I’m sure we’ll meet up again for a yarn.

15965061_1214016078676654_8092223788433813616_nThe day had arrived and I took the long scenic drive down to Hendrik’s tavern with a good mixture of excitement and anxiety thrown in. It had been around 2 months since we last saw each other, and although in reasonable contact, things change and feelings can change, it’s just the way it goes. Trying to be realistic I kept this in the front of my mind and was happy to spend time with him regardless. Things were a little different in the sense I now know I am staying here for a time, so the road ahead is less uncertain in that sense. We have a great connection and are very aware of living our own lives and yet, when we come together, it’s magic. After a short meeting I headed down the road to start work on reinventing the Apiti Tavern road sign, complete with updated logo and directions. I should’ve relaxed the day before, I have felt very restless of late, haven’t been sleeping well and emotions have been up and down, trying to make sense of what I really do want and need, recent situations and people close to me have made me question this.

p1090743I returned back to the pub, calling it a day and looked forward to some quality time together. To my surprise I was cooked a beautiful seafood chowder and we saw the night in with red wine. This was the start of things to come, the following day we exchanged gifts and later on he had booked us into the local Makoura Lodge, in a beautiful secluded dip of land was our very own Riverside Cabin for the night. Complete with huge fire pit, BBQ and super comfortable lodging. I was overwhelmed at the thought and effort- it left me a bit speechless. It’s fantastically exciting to share hopes and ideas together I love hearing his enthusiasm for the pub and what he intends to do, it’s really quite great how well it’s going there for him, it’s lovely to hear someone talk about something they are passionate about. Oh, and he said he took time to listen to Dead Can Dance (that’s special).

p1090737To be with someone whose eyes light up when yours do, whose heart races when your blood also pounds, who is enticed and inspired by the same forces that drive you forward, is a gift many of us never truly get to experience. Because we settle. We settle for the person we love over the person who could push us- to be bigger, stronger, greater versions of ourselves. We tell ourselves that love is enough. That it conquers everything. But we forget that love shouldn’t be the thing that conquers our lives – we should be. And we should do it deliberately, triumphantly, by the side of somebody who shares all our joys and successes. So how do we meet such a person? That’s simple – we do more of what we love. We give ourselves up to uncertainty, to searching, to pursuing what we want out of life without the certainty of having somebody beside us while we do it. We throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the things that we love and we consequently attract people who love what we love. Who value what we prioritize. Who appreciate all that we are. We throw ourselves into the heart of possibility instead of staying comfortably settled inside of certainty. Because we owe it to ourselves to do so. We owe it to ourselves to live the greatest life we are capable of living, even if that means that we have to be alone for a very long time. At the end of the day, love is wonderful but it isn’t enough to make up for an entire lifetime of compromising your core values. You don’t want to spend forever gazing into somebody’s eyes expecting to find all of the answers you need inside of them. Wait for the person who is gazing outward in the same direction as you are. It’s going to make all of the difference in the world.’

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Soundtrack: The Orb – COW (full album), Clannad – The Hunter, Throwing Muses – Teller

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Home again, home again, jiggity-jig

dsc_1300A visit home was to be a mixed bag of emotions, with a great deal of fun thrown in for good measure. The anticipation was more excitement than I had felt in a long time or, perhaps ever. Seeing dad at the airport was an amazing feeling and we felt that curious, strange feeling you do when you are not used to each other’s company, grinning from ear to ear. It felt really important to be able to touch base with family again. The drive home from London on the gloomy cold November afternoon consisted of us filling each other in on events that had gone on in a kind of compact version. Arriving home at last, Mum came to the door with a big smile on her face, we hugged and it was nice to settle back into a cosy environment after so much travelling. We were all on a high and decided to enjoy a curry that evening, something I’d craved for a long15181198_10154330569854737_526687079253764982_n while. I had been sure to plan out my days as best I could given the short amount of time I’d be spending back home. This would predominantly consist of family meals, drinks with friends, walking adventures, more drinks, gigs, too many drinks, the only concern being I’d return to the cave and need to roll myself down with all the excess calorie intake. The first weekend of being home coincided with my Grandma’s 91st birthday celebration, a traditional tea at posh Chilworth Manor was planned. It was great to see Grandma again, I’ve always looked up to her and despite her age she is still so sharp, loving and selfless, a real inspiration. My brother Chris, his wife Vicky and their beautiful son Luca arrived and it was so good to see them again- I felt a little saddened that Luca didn’t seem to recognise my face, but then he’s always pretty distracted with fun stuff (with wheels usually).15267791_1627271403965489_305201252931850742_n Poppy’s Christening was next, sweetheart daughter of my cousin Joanne. It was a full on sociable day, with a great deal of hugging and catching up! The next few days I spent with my parents and it wasn’t long before I was meeting up with Luke that I’d met whilst in New Zealand- he’d only been home a day or two longer than I had and was suffering a little with jetlag- it was time to do my usual nagging him to go on an adventure. This time to Cheddar Caves, probably the most well-known caves in the UK, it seemed the perfect idea to visit, and thankfully despite the time of year they were still open to the public (not that anyone else was there!) It was a frosty day and I was enjoying the thought of driving my dad’s VW T4, which was practically a replica of my last van which I had sold for my plane ticket to New Zealand. p1090426We bumbled along in the big Mellow Yellow van towards Cheddar, our accent’s getting more and more Somerset the further west we travelled –we were always very good at amusing ourselves. As we approached the gorge the atmosphere drew gloomy, we purchased our cave tickets and had the whole place to ourselves. There were many stunning formations in the Cheddar caves, particularly the many mirror pools, although touristic, being alone in the cave with Luke we could appreciate all of the chambers at our own pace. Cox’s Cave further along the gorge had recently been kitted out with a light show, projecting the story of man on the cave walls. A much smaller cave, I was worried about the mention of LEDS and visuals, which always seem to just look so naff. We both left pleasantly surprised- the visuals were 3D, perfectly complimentary to the surroundings and really quite intriguing actually- good work Cheddar.dsc_0016-1 I was so happy to have quality time with mum again, we baked cakes, including our Christmas show stopper with lights no less 😉 I love the way her eyes light up when we get stuck into something really creative together, as she always inspired me to create from an early age, it’s now a bit of a role-reversal. I was totally spoiled with gifts and thoughtful gestures the moment I arrived home, and we put our energy into bringing Christmas early to the Mann household. We headed off and bought a tree (turns out it was the biggest tree ever) and had a mock Christmas with my brother, his family and my Grandma, perfect. The whole day with Luca was great and I felt us bonding again, he’s such a fun little chap I love being around him. I had a lovely walk around Hamble with mum (sadly dad was working) and a ‘jolly good jaunt’ in the nearby forest with Luke, being treated to lunch was nice end to the day.

p1090606hhI touched base with good friend Ian who I had met a few years previously during jury service, we shared a mutual love of good music and have had our fair share of fun adventures in the past few years. We took a refreshingly bitter walk and caught up on lost time. He’s a cool dude. Hannah, one of the few friends I am still in touch with from school, was expecting her second baby and it was a perfect excuse to meet up, after around 2 years. It’s like the good old days each time we meet, despite the years going by still manage to maintain a great friendship.

It had become a bit of a tradition that myself and Dan would go on a ‘date night’ together whenever we had a free evening. One of my best mates and all round beautiful person, we always have a fun time together. We’d make a point of visiting pubs and restaurants we hadn’t been before around Southampton to sample some new sights and have a good catch-up session. I had a gig I was attending the day of the meetup so we decided to push it earlier and start at 2pm. Wandering through the Christmas market, complete with live music with a dodgy backing track disguising all of the dude’s actual talent. dsc_1220 We drank copious beer, cocktails (well they were 2-4-1) Dirty Vimtos in the Firehouse (truth juice) and yeah, a lot. I managed to break all of the drinking rules by mixing it as much as I possibly could, drinking at the same speed with a friend that can drink far more than me, daytime drinking, no water inbetween etc (you can see where this is heading) after a fantastic few hours together I headed on to the gig, to which my mum, dad and uncle were attending, because they are far to hip and cool for their age. It was The Orb, ambient dance DJ’s playing a blinder and filling us with laughs all evening due to their uncanny likeness to my dad and uncle Mark (they had many comments from the audience) ha. Two warm beers later after a day of drinking and I was very much worse for wear. The following evening Dan had booked the group of friends into our favourite cocktail bar, where you provide the spirit and they whip up beautiful cocktails for you, needless to say I was a little less enthusiastic after the bender the day before, but the amazing company from cousin Hayley, Mike, Daniel , Kayley and Dave- looking gawjus as ever, it was a most excellent evening together.  

dsc_1308I am at that age of babies and settling down, so our friend group is a little fragmented in that sense! Good friends Vikki and Dane were busy looking after their bub but we still managed to fit in some quality time together thankfully and I got to meet their new bundle of fun, James.15253410_10154356928159737_3045313667110826989_n

I also had time to drop by my old art studios at The Sorting Office and was buzzing to see how thriving the space is. New artists have taken up residency and it was particularly great to catchup with Helen, Eve and Claire who were all in their spaces creating. A group of 20 or so artists past and present met together for a Christmas meal, I was overwhelmed with the love from such a brilliant bunch of talented artists – it felt so good to be around creatively wild sorts again 😉

15540849_10154390837684737_4606115816828484208_oI had introduced Luke to my friends as promised at The Hobbit pub in Southampton, on no better occasion than to see Dan play in his band Subdued. As they share similar interests and seemed to get on so instantly I hope they can continue their new friendship! I was glad to have a motivating catch-up with Imre (all round arty, Lego enthusiast, Hungarian fruit loop) as we discussed our life goals. Sophie also popped by and we had a good ol’ laugh and hug ahhh, so many people to miss!

dsc_1314The final night arrived and it was going to be a great party to end on. Dan’s band Subdued were supporting the mighty Reef again, this time at Portsmouth Pyramids Centre, big-time ‘proud friend’ moment. They rocked of course, and a great group of friends and family members filled the audience and made for a special evening to end the trip on, a reminder of all the beautiful people I have in my life.

15400927_10154915264856189_3201775710387374583_nTime to head back, I am reminded of what I am leaving behind. As the third week comes to an end I become more and more comfortable, despite the stressful traffic (!) and pace of it all. I began to feel the sadness of having to say goodbye again. Picking up on vibes from my family, I felt a sense of guilt, but was looking forward to coming back and knew deep down I was making the right decision.

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Soundtrack: The Orb – Pomme Fritz (Mean N’ Veg), Reef – Good Feeling