In darkest Gloucestershire

Hello everyone! We have now been back from our adventures for over a month. It has gone beyond that immediate ‘it seems so long ago already!’ feeling that hits you when you get off the plane in your home country – my memories of Japan now have a dreamy, unreal quality, like I doubt it even happened. I still miss it though; not always, just in sudden pangs when I wasn’t really thinking about it at all. Of all the countries I have to go and fall in love with, it has to be one all the way across the world.

Plenty to be getting on with back here anyway. About two weeks ago we moved into a lovely little cottage in a Gloucestershire village called Frampton on Severn, which is like the platonic ideal of what a village should be. It has beaming vicars on bicycles (well, just the one vicar actually), a fish and chip van that visits every week (it parks up next to a field full of cows, so on our first night when Tom and I got our inaugural takeaway, he got the food while I chatted to the animals), a thriving local community with things like conker championships and scarecrow competitions and a billion different clubs (including the WI), and, apparently, the longest village green in England. Oh, and it also boasts a pub called the Three Horseshoes which sells a ‘three shu pie’ consisting of cauliflower cheese, mash, and a filling of your choice all together under a pastry crust.

Our cottage has a working fireplace and wood-beamed ceilings and a lovely garden complete with greenhouse (!), and possibly the nicest landlord ever. He and his family left us flowers and a bottle of Prosecco on moving day, and have been the height of helpfulness and proactiveness in these first few weeks of discovery (a broken socket here, a leaky faucet there).

No problem with the pets, either, so this time around we don’t have to pretend we don’t have any – this includes our future dog, which was included on the tenancy agreement despite not existing yet. Well, we’ll be getting a rescue, so it probably does exist… it just doesn’t know it’s going to be ours.

Tom’s got an easy commute into Bristol in our new car – all the trappings of grown up life, we have them – leaving me to get volunteering at Slimbridge again/start an allotment (handily accessed from a gate in our garden)/ingratiate myself into village life. Or, less wholesomely, buy a PS4 and never leave the house again. Or all of the above.

So, now that we’re settling into routines and stability for the first time in about five years, I hope I can return to blogging with a vengeance. My camera is currently acting up, so current events will be thin on the ground until I can get it fixed, but I have got about ten years of trips to write about. Watch this space.

Japanese boy

… and girl.

To mark the end of Tom’s PhD, and our forthcoming big move back to Bristol where Tom will be starting his first post-doc in October and I will be returning to Slimbridge, we are going on a GRAND ADVENTURE.

We are packing up the flat, putting our things into storage, sending the cats to Tom’s family, and going to Japan! For two and a half months!!

We are going to be WWOOFing – don’t laugh – it stands for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and is basically a network of farms and other smallholdings (guesthouses, potters and artists, lumber yards, all sorts) where you volunteer in return for food and board. It promises to be a cheap and interesting way to travel – we are hoping to see a different side of Japan, learn more of the language, and experience a different way of life. I am determined to find a place where I can learn to milk cows.

We fly out in less than two weeks, so the flat is currently a whirlwind of moving-house packing-for-storage packing-for-Japan transplanting-our-garden frantically-finishing-thesis seeing-everyone-before-we-go activities. Oh, as well as making-sure-we-actually-have-a-place-to-go-in-Japan; right now we have our flights there and back, and they are literally the only things we know for sure.

But what is an adventure without a little slapdash organisation and risk of disastrous failure, eh?

Catnip in the garden

I was outside enjoying the sunshine yesterday, when Mouse came jogging over proudly carrying something in his mouth. It looked like a dog toy, so I thought he must have got it from the park that backs onto our garden.

He seemed to be enjoying himself a great deal though. Perhaps too much.

Mouse with the catnip toy

Mouse with the catnip toy

I prised it off him for a moment and found it was actually a catnip toy! Which explained his goggle eyes, air of druggy insanity, and also Murphy’s interest.

Mouse and Murphy with the catnip toy

No idea where he got it from. A cat somewhere is missing its favourite rainbow toy.

Mouse and Murphy with the catnip toy

Mouse and Murphy with the catnip toy

Murphy tried asking to borrow it for a little while, but Mouse could not be detached from it.

Mouse and Murphy with the catnip toy

Mouse with the catnip toy

Mouse with the catnip toy

Mouse with the catnip toy

After plenty of rolling around on the ground biting and kicking, he graduated to flicking it up into the air and making jump-catches.

Mouse with the catnip toy

Tom and Mouse with the catnip toy

When his interest waned, he decided to roll around with Murphy instead.

Mouse and Murphy wrestling

And when he got bored of that too, he went inside, leaving Murphy to enjoy the spoils.

Murphy with the catnip toy

Stolen catnip is twice as sweet.

Anatomy of a yawn

Murphy yawning

Spent a little while today lying on the ground with my camera, watching rapt as Murphy favoured me with a series of yawns.

Murphy's tongue mid-yawn
The pinkest tongue.

Hang on you guys. He’s gearing up for a big one…

Murphy yawning

Murphy yawning

Murphy yawning

Murphy yawning

Look at those teeth! They’re the stuff of mice nightmares.

Speaking of which…

Mouse

Sometimes I can’t believe what a handsome young man Mouse is growing into.

Mouse

But then I look at him from a different angle and realise he is still a clown.

Murphy requesting some privacy
“Please go away now.”

Cats at play

Mouse playing with a stick

Mouse playing with a stick

Mouse playing with a stick

Mouse playing with a stick

Mouse playing with a stick

Mouse playing with a stick

Mouse playing with a stick

This cat has some incredible crazy faces, for real. Never have I met an animal with such capacity for wild eyes.

Murphy

Murphy just watches and sighs.

Mouse staring

Whereas Mouse is all like, OMG WHAT IS THAT IN THE SKY.

Mouse in a tree

OMG WHAT IS THAT OVER THERE.

Mouse climbing the tree

OMG I AM GOING TO CLIMB DOWN THIS TREE.

Constructing this post was difficult because I thought, hmm, I should really blog again! What’s a nice easy topic to get me back into regular posting? Cat pictures! I’ll just take a look at what pet things I’ve posted recently… Oh, Hobbes. Oh, Sweep. Oh, Zapp. Oh, Archie. 2013 was a pretty awesome year in many ways, but it was also the year of Pet Death Armageddon, and I am not even close to being over it all. Tom and I were reminiscing about Hobbes, and he said, “You know it won’t be our last loss, not by a long shot. Is it really all worth it?”

Mouse

Of course it is.

Mid-twenties

Last weekend I got my second tattoo.

Not all those who wander are lost

The quote is from Lord of the Rings, and has always been one of my favourites. For me it means that although I travel and seem to lead a slightly unconventional life, I am never really lost – I know myself, who I am and what I want, and that grounds me.

Now I just need to look at my foot to remind myself of that!

I got my upper ear pierced, too, a couple weeks ago. Jokes were made about a ‘mid-twenties crisis’. Tom and I were talking about this the other day, and he pointed out that actually it’s not a silly idea at all.

As people poised on the edge of 26, tipping over the barrier that separates “almost 20″ from “almost 30″, this is a confusing and (it seems to us at the minute) important time. Your teenage years and early twenties can follow one of a couple of fairly standard paths. You go to sixth form and university, or you choose not to go to sixth form and/or university and get a job instead, or you take a year or two ‘out’ to travel or work and then go to university. Literally everyone I know in my age group did one of these three things. So far, so standard.

So now we’re in our early twenties. Some of us are finishing degrees, others working their way up in their job. Some of us choose to study further, but most of us find work of some kind or another. Maybe it’s our dream career, maybe not. We’re living with a partner or with friends (almost all of us having escaped the confines of home). Our lives are still broadly parallel; at the very least, we understand what the others’ lives must be like. Even if it’s not the path we took, we can imagine ourselves having ended up in that situation or those circumstances.

But then your mid-twenties hit and suddenly it feels like there is no certainty anymore. One thing is for sure – we are all imagining that by 30, at 30, things will have ‘settled down’. By 30, we will know what we want to spend our lives doing. By 30, we will have found the person we want to have children with; or, by 30, we will know that we do not want children at all. By 30, we will own our own house, or be well on the way to it. By 30, we will have a good idea of ourselves and our plans.

But time is running out. We only have five years left. If we have any doubts about the path we have followed until now, or the person we have become, now is our last chance to change. Now is our last chance to try something new or unexpected, our last chance to rebel, our last chance to be young and reckless. Because once you hit 30, you can’t do that kind of shit.

Whatever you chose to do with the end of your school years fed nicely, neatly, into your early twenties. But your early twenties don’t necessarily feed into anything. They spit you out in your mid-twenties, and you have what feels like a free choice. But it’s only a small window, and you have to decide quick if you want to take it.

I think this is why I look round at my friends and I see relationships we all thought would last forever breaking down, see people in apparently good and satisfying jobs suddenly unhappy with what they’re doing but not knowing what else to choose, see people suddenly acting ‘weird’ or making apparently crazy choices.

Basically, your mid-twenties are a bitch.

[I'll get back to you in my mid-thirties and let you know if I feel the same way then, too, but with all the grown-up stuff pushed back to 40. It seems pretty likely.]

Memories of Kyoto

Framed boar print

Tom and I just got this print framed. We bought it in Japan, at a tiny shrine in Kyoto – the name of which we never found out.

We were in the Gion district, known for its geishas, and in fact later that afternoon I had an appointment booked to dress up as a geisha, complete with the theatrical makeup and beautiful kimono. We had about half an hour to spare, and had read in the guidebook of a lovely shrine nearby that sounded worth a visit. Although I try not to make it a priority, I can’t help but enjoy the feeling of ‘ticking off’ the best-known or most-recommended sights. So we set out, maps and books in hand.

Shrine entrance

We came to this gate, and thought we had found it.

Boar shrine

We quickly realised it could not possibly be the right shrine. It was far too small, and had none of the features we’d been told to look out for. But it was raining, and we didn’t feel like continuing our search.

Prayer boards

Besides, this shrine had a quiet beauty of its own, hemmed in on all sides by city blocks.

Boar statues

It was full of boars.

Shrine in the rain

We took shelter, and watched some people lighting incense and making their prayers. We spent a little while admiring the beauty around us, relaxing into it.

Lanterns

Boar statues

Camellias

Thinking back to it now, I wonder if there was some sort of spell on the place. I can transport myself back there so vividly; the sound of soft rain, the scent of blooming camellias and burning incense, the gentle light of early evening. I feel like the quiet and the peace of it seeped into my bones. It felt ancient and timeless, a tiny nook of tranquillity in a busy world.

Camellias

We spent only minutes there, but I know that feeling, awakened every time I look at our lovely print, will be with me forever. That is something to treasure.