Goodbye Thailand

Saturday 20th. 11.30am

Thailand is so hard without my brother. Everyone is confused and nothing makes any sense at all. I’m sitting at the taxi place crying and crying. Fucking hell. Just feel so ignored and dismissed. Feel like a problem they are glad to get rid of. After all the love and welcoming and friendliness, this morning there was such confusion about the bags, the timings, the check out. It just seemed so unbelievably hard and like no-one wanted to solve it.

And now I’m sat at the taxi place and they tell me to wait and there’s an empty taxi and I would like to go and get my boat now please. And the sweat runs down my back in rivers like the tears on my face. 

Fucking rubbish.

And I lost my water! Fucking hell. My litre bottle for the journey, in all the confusion I put it down and now have none. And I’ve just cried half a litre out my face. 

Jesus woman. What is this. 

Here’s a funny thing, when I cry, my eyebrows hurt. Like a row of tingly little stinging pains spring up along my eyebrows as soon as I crease up in tears. What the fuck is that?

And my injuries now include bramble scratch (where I moved to the side of the jungle road to avoid a huge vehicle and got great bruising stabs to my leg), muscle ache in my arms from either swimming or gardening, and the stupidly avoidable life jacket rash, which is it’s own special kind of soreness until it meets with mosquito spray which is another new world of pain. 

And now there’s three taxis just sitting here. The drivers chat to each other. I’ve been sat here for 15 minutes. When does a fucking taxi go please? I think you have to have my brother’s energy to cope with Thailand. I don’t and I can’t right now. I would really like to get in one of these now please. 

17.04. Airport. 

Oh wow the exhausted headachy sadness of it all. I look at the immaculate beautiful people in the airport, the shiny clean floors and walls and perfect flowers and I sip my perfectly frothy oat milk cappuccino. I missed this. There really is a limit to the amount of barefoot jungle life I can cope with. The sand everywhere, the insects as big as your thumb in the bathroom, that smell of something dead in the jungle foliage, or the waft of sewage in the street or the smell of dogshit as you pass certain buildings. 

Perhaps I am too much of a snob to travel properly. There’s a charm and a simplicity and then yeah but why would you arrange for a river of waste water to run down the path to the hotel? 

So I feel at once comforted and alienated at the airport. Refreshing and also intimidating to see beautiful wealthy white people again. I’m aware I look scruffy, I’m sitting on the floor, having changed into my comfy jeans and trainers with Starbucks crumbs around me and a mix of suncream, sweat and failed makeup on my face. 

But something has changed in me. To feel so rejected by Thailand was really hard. It’s not that they were even rude, they just weren’t as in love with me as they are with my brother. Of course they’re not, I’m just another guest at the hotel. It’s just time to check out. Bye then. Such an irrational torrent of tears.

What is that about? About just being nothing. Meaning nothing. Being no-one. That’s what it is. No purpose, no projects, no significance. No love. And the stupid gardening project I did. They didn’t need that, I needed that. Of course they don’t care. No-one’s interested in my projects cos I’m just another white tourist on the island. Nothing special. No-one really. Which is fine, it’s exactly what I wanted, but wow it set off some unexpected surges of grief.

And such a strong sense of rejection just because they weren’t polite to me. Because they’re not Englishly overthetop with the smalltalk and polite gestures. Which I usually hate anyway.

Why does it matter so much? 

Don’t know but it has knocked me sideways. 

I will explore this further, need to check in now. 


‘Do you have a visa for Australia?’

‘What? I’m going to New Zealand.’

‘You will stop in Sydney so you need a visa.’ She’s looking serious, in her check in desk and uniform. 

‘But British citizen?’

‘You need a visa.’

Fuck me. 

I started googling it as she consulted with a colleague. I do indeed need a visa. She took my phone out of my hand and found the page for me. ‘You download and apply for visa now and come back.’ 


So I sat on the airport floor leaning against a self check in station, took another chill pill, and feeling sick with dread and shame, deleted all the videos of the fire show so I could download the Australian Embassy App and fill it in. I could just go home right now I thought. Just let me go home now. I want to go home. I could just fuck all this and buy a new flight and be in Heathrow in 12 hours. 

Have I ever been involved in domestic violence? No, but good question Australia. 

I paid my 20 dollars, clicked submit and stood up to queue before it had arrived. As I walked over to the desk I heard my phone buzz. There it was. I showed the lady. Great. Boarding pass issued. Done. 

And tears tears tears. Got through security, found a bar and now have a large white wine to cry with. 

Just so fucking lonely, that’s what this is. So alone in the complex journey. I usually love a journey on my own but I’m so fucking unhappy. 


On the plane. Thank you for a window seat, God above I’m grateful. And no-one next to me thank you Jesus. 

Thank you for the water refill station at gate D4 so I can counteract the alcohol I just downed in one. 

I should be celebrating the awesome near miss just then of getting a visa in 20 minutes, but I have no-one to celebrate with, talk to about it. God I’m so lonely. Didn’t realise I could be so unhappy after just three days without a friend, partner or sibling. I was looking at all the white people at the airport with a ridiculous longing – will you be my friend? 

No, just tears coursing down my face all over Sivaranupum airport. 

Thank you white wine and pink pills. Feeling OK now. Looking forward to sleeping this whole way. Bangkok – Singapore – Sydney – Queenstown. The cheap traveller’s multistop hand-luggage-only budget adventure. 

I actually clung on to my little travel sheep Jeff earlier, on the boat as we left Samet, like he was my friend. What the fuck is that about? And now on this flight I’m so bored of trying to document my travels, as if anyone cares, I have left Jeff up in the overhead lockers in my bag, and instead of the busy paraphernalia of all my tasks and toys for this flight, I just have water, my phone and my stupid fucking thoughts. 


*Even if you’re just transiting in Sydney you need a visa, you unbelievably unorganised woman. 

*Scoot airlines serves no food! Even on a 7 hour flight you need to order your sustenance from the 12-dollars-a-cake menu on board. 

*They do a bag security check right before the boarding gate so they will empty your water bottle, but don’t worry there’s a refill tap in the corner once you’re through. 

*When your sense of value and identity has been crafted artificially by the many projects and services you provide to a whole town full of people, it will be quite a jarring and unsettling experience to realise that without them, or any substitute, you will suddenly feel like you have no reason to exist. However, an experience of perceived ‘rejection’ is incredibly helpful as it can serve as a useful reminder that it is really time to cultivate that inner sense of self and strength that you asked for, and to stop needing other people to make you feel worthy of love.

Solo Thai times

Friday 19th, 10.30am

I dried my stupid face and walked through the nighttime Ko Samet. Very soon there was Bananabar, where I sought out the same old lady who had laughed lovingly like a grandma at my brother two days ago. She looked at me confused until she remembered. 

She said, ‘He gone?’

‘Yeah he’s gone now.’

‘And you alone?’


‘Good. Now you free!’ She laughed. 

‘I am. And I’m hungry,’ I smiled. 

I sat at a little corner next to a pond full of huge koi, at which point my love messaged me from my allotment in Melksham. He had gone to water the pots for me and sent me a photo of my pond. 

Oh my love, I cried some more, and video called him so we could share ponds. It was lovely. 

After a very generous dinner there, I thought I’d open up my universe to whoever Thailand wanted me to meet but I didn’t have the energy or love for small talk with strangers, so as soon as I saw one, I got a bumpy jeep taxi back. I sat on my own at my familiar bar where there’s no foreigners except me, they were all on the main beach laughing and dancing. I said goodnight to the musicians and the bar staff and they did the lovely two hands bow and said goodnight, and as I walked up the path to my little hut I cried again. Something to do with the love, the leaving, the impending loneliness. 

At my door, the cat Latte sprang in to my room. Yes cat, you can stay. Now my brother’s gone he wants to hang out with me.

It was only 11.30, my earliest night. I was ready to lie awake for hours or wake up several times but suddenly it was 6am. 

Oh no, the dragon! I’d set my alarm for 5.30 to try to spot the massive lizard but today, maybe because it’s Friday, the place was already buzzing with gentle human activity. Sweeping porches, prepping breakfast, swimming in the sunrise. 

As it was the coolest part of the day – about 28 degrees – I got straight onto the gardening project I have volunteered for. They moved the iconic massive heart of straw from the stage to a blank bit of ground next to the welcome path. So I have offered to pretty the area up and have been moving heavy dusty pots of jungle plants to arrange around the heart. Lovely. 

This morning though, I had not yet applied the mosquito spray and oh my god they ate me alive. I moved five pots, sweated five litres and fed five hundred little insects with my blood. Now, having absolutely earned it, I am showered, sprayed to fuck, and enjoying a coffee in the dappled shade of the breakfast bar. 

There’s a fun game to play here, called Guess The Pain. Is it sunburn, mosquito bites, random bruises or surprise acne? Who knows?! Who cares. I’m going snorkeling today so might add any kind of sea related stings to that list. 


I’m doing it. 

Sitting here trying to socialise. But everyone is tired and on their phones and so I am too. They probabaly don’t want me here but I don’t care. I don’t want to be on my own right now. So I’ll sit here and type away. 

And drink my gin. And ride the awkward. 

How long is it appropriate to stay here in the dark empty bar while two guys at on their phones to girlfriends…. 

I like that there is very little time for ‘appropriate’. There is just what is authentic. 

And I’d rather sit here now. 

But that last gin has made me sleepy.

Or getting up at six, doing heavy gardening and then three hours on a snorkeling boat trip has made me sleepy. 

It was lovely, but actually quite lonely. Me on my own with a boat load of Thai or Japanese couples, they all went bobbing around together and I floated off on my own to look at the fish.

my brother had helped me book my snorkel tour the day before. The tour starts at 2pm so wait on the beach at 1.30 and they’ll pick you up here at Sangthien on the way to the main beach. Wonderful. So I was ready, swimsuit and shorts, towel in the bag, sitting on the beach. Waiting. Of course they’ll be a bit late. By 2pm I thought I’d got the wrong date maybe, I started to fall asleep on the beach. Suddenly an urgent man was peering at me with the receptionist tapping my arm to wake me up. ‘You go with him!’

Of course. 

And suddenly I was on the back of his motorbike, speeding thought the island to the main beach. When there’s only one person at Sangthien they don’t bother bringing the boat round and they send a man on a bike instead, he explained, as we flew through the jungle and hit all the speedbumps hard. On the beach right by Audibar a boat full of annoyed looking people in life vests watched silently as I hopped off the bike, ripped off my shoes and ran through the water to climb on the back of the boat.

I wanted to explain that no-one told me I was at the wrong place, they should have picked me up earlier, sorry for the delay, are we all excited for the fish?

But without a shred of Thai I had no chance.

It was lovely, even though I felt like such an outsider, but I was so proud of myself that I did it. On my own. On my period as well. 


*When going on a snorkelling trip in Ko Samet, don’t bother trying to keep your shoes dry. Everything in the boat will get wet. 

*Wear sleeves or you’ll get a surprisingly painful life vest rash under your arms

*There is a toilet stop on the second island half way through so don’t panic

*Find someone on the boat with a bit of English cos the tour guide likely has zero 

*If there is a guy with an underwater camera, hang around with him cos he knows where the good fish will be. He will also take 609 photos of everyone on the tour and if you’re not nearby there’ll only be two of you 

*Wear some sort of a bracelet or identifying feature so you don’t have to sift through 609 photos on their facebook page wondering which snorkel obscured face is yours. 

*Once you stop trying to control the buoyancy of the life vest, and get over your own Darth Vader breath, it’s really blissful to just completely relax and float face down for ages in the warm tropical water. 

Yes Woman, Yes Cry

May 16. 7pm

After another day of doing very little, my brother and I shared fruit smoothies at a nearby resort and returned to Sangthien just after 4. I had plans to meditate, read, write or plan ny life in the hour before sunset. 

But I lay down for a minute and disappeared into a world of tangly dreams and woke up at 6.30. Quickly washing the sunscreen and sweat off my face, I headed to the bar where my brother was just setting up on stage. Good morning, he grinned. And I found a table and ordered my gin. 

And now I sit here, beautiful Thai music filling the evening air, an additional electric fan providing breezes at this part of the bar, waves lapping in the darkness just over there, and I find I’m crying. What’s that about? 

Disappointed in myself for sleeping so much, for not getting done the few things I had to do today. 

But also an inexplicable and surprising sense of homesickness. At which point a familiar guitar chord starts up and my brother’s voice fills the bar with ‘I remember, when we used to sit, in the government yard in Trenchtown…’

And the tears stream down my face as he sings No Woman No Cry. 

A song that I have cried over many times since I fist heard it at 15 years old, in my religious times, my student times, my married times, my difficult recent times. With always a different person, a different sadness, a different purpose. 

And as I sat here with warm Thai breeze blowing through my hair, pink and turquoise lights illuminating the trees overhead, my little brother making music over there, I got a sense of the distance I have come to get here, the many sadnesses and fears that I used to feel, that have all gone, and that everything I think is important now will also be gone. The relief and grief to let each thing, each person, each worry and fear gently drop away, to stand bereft and empty with none of the safety of familiar pain, of work, of people or all the things that I have surrounded myself with to avoid the empty simple existence of me. 

Just me. No purpose, no deadlines, no stress. And without all that I am such a small weak little thing. A childlike soul standing alone and unsupported in a warm Thai breeze. It is both beautiful and scary. And invites more bloody tears. While Thai families eat their shellfish salads and a group of guys laugh and the nimble waiters deliver trays of drinks, I sit on my table on my own, full of gratitude and sadness, that I get a glimpse of letting go. It takes time, which I have given myself. This is only my second full day here, it makes sense that after the blissful touristy excitement of yesterday, that once I was on my own long enough there would be sadness. 

May 17th. 8.30am

And so I drank. We biked to ‘town’ – the couple of streets crammed with shops, street vendors, restaurants and bars under multicoloured lights and flags. The lady at Bananabar scolded my brother for something, laughed at him for something else, then brought us delicious vegan spring rolls and coconut curry and rice. Just magnificent food. And gin. 

On the way back, warm night air swishing through our hair as the motorbike cruised gently through the dark jungle road, every now and then the sound of dance club beats can be heard and then the twirling lights and illuminated stars/hearts/jellyfish come into view to present a beach bar full of lights, music and people as one of the little oases of late night humanity in the dark insectful jungle. Gecko bar, Starlight bar, Naga bar… 

We stopped at Audibar to say hi to the owner Audi, a small topless tattooed man who greeted us with warm sweaty hugs and another gin, which was somehow luminous blue, and had to be downed in one as my brother was late for his 10.30 recording appointment with Magan. 

At Sangthien, without my brother, I joined the staff in the empty bar who were eating their staff meals and drinking rum. They continued their leisurely Thai conversations, and I smiled politely and sipped my rum as they laughed at each other’s jokes. The head waiter’s girlfriend was especially keen to keep topping up my glass, and we had a laugh about how Mao I was. ‘Just a little Mao,’ I protested, ‘Just Tipsy!’. ‘No, you Mao Maaaaak!’ they laughed.

And so the next two hours were spent with a handful of the Santhien family, one bottle of rum and one of brandy, and a lot of Google translate. They spent a while trying to explain what the noises in the night were. Frogs, grasshoppers and a very loud Ka Ka Ka Ka kaaaaaap right in the window above my bed at 4am, which we finally deduced was a Toucan. The lead singer talked about my brother’s tattoo – the Thai words for ‘Live in the Moment’ – and they shared some honest and awestruck opinions about how much they love him. That was nice.

And the drinking and laughing took away my sadness and I gratefully fell asleep just after 2am. 

So now, having woken up in time for the breakfast buffet, I sip my black coffee and eat my toast and vegan spread and watch the sadness return. I accept this is part of the letting go and I am grateful for the time to allow it.

Lessons for today:

*Bike helmets don’t even exist on the island, just roll with it. 

*Buy more mosquito spray. Seriously. 

*When getting on the back of a motorbike, lift your foot VERY high to swing it over, or you’ll whack your ankle on the sticky out metal bit at the back and cause a world of indescribable pain (that your brother finds hilarious). 

*I am not a size medium when buying shorts in Thailand. Everyone here is tiny, I’m clearly a large. 

*Fundeee means goodnight and will be greeted with delightful smiles. FANdee means good girlfriend and will be met with confusion. 

*Relax into the speedbumps and go with the flow. This is a good lesson for life and one I am reminded of many times a day. 

*Our brains are wired for safety, not happiness, so when you feel like going back into familiar safe patterns, know that they are there to protect you from the new thing which might be scary, even if it is the thing that will make you happy.

Grateful for:


My brother’s effortless motorbike riding

The endless supply of cool drinking water behind the bar to refill bottles

The little lizards that glide around on the walls outside my cabin

The fridge full of vegan snacks my brother brought over from Bangkok

The excellent wifi here

The people in Melksham who lovingly tell me to stop watching Council meetings and to enjoy my tropical adventure here

Taking a while to let go

May 15. 8.32pm

As it got dark, my brother arranged a short motorbike ride (him barefoot, me holding on and laughing at the lack of a shred of protective gear) to the west side of the island so we could watch the pink sun set fire to the clouds over the sea, before returning to the Sangthien stage for his evening set. The lovely Thai waiters settled me at a table under a palm tree in view of the stage and the sea, with an apple mojito full of rapidly melting ice, as my brother joined the owner on stage with his guitar. 

Framed by a huge ornamental heart made of straw, the stage is draped with fairy lights against a backdrop of the evening sea. Gentle waves wash over the beach as they sing chilled tunes including ‘Feeling Good’ and ‘Everything’s Going to be Alright.’ My brother improvises a song about last night’s storm which kept Magan, the owner, awake checking on the electricity all night. ‘Magan is my man, my man’. After a few more relaxing tunes, I notice a group of young men gathering at one end of the restaurant. A recording of a deep voice (my brother’s with special effects) announces that it is time to turn off the lights for the start of the Fire Show. The leisurely lounge music gives way to a fiery display in which a crew of glorious grinning topless young Cambodians twirl fire around their beautiful bodies to a banging Prodigy-based soundtrack for which my brother provides the energetic drums. The acrobatic young men fling fireballs into the darkness, twirl flaming hoops around themselves, and spin musical rings of light around the restaurant.

They are fucking amazing. I’m torn between trying to capture it on video and experiencing the utter beauty and energy that is so mesmerising and intoxicating that I’m crying with sheer love and joy for it as the pounding bass and drumbeat pulse through my whole being.

The expert waiters dodge the flames as they deliver cocktails and Kai curries to the many guests; a woman with a baby walks through the display nonchalantly.

My brother on the drums shouts to me – ‘They will take a photo of you!’


‘With the fire, they’ll come to you!’

And sure enough, one glorious fire boy is suddenly spinning a ring of fire right around my face and someone is taking photos up close. 

Zero risk assessments, I absolutely love it. The finale is a series of immense Catherine wheel effects of spinning sprays of sparks that fill the beach below the bar. The energy and beauty is intoxicating and I am brim full of love and gratitude as I settle back at my table with another mojito for the rest of the night. 

In a few hours in Melksham they will choose their new mayor. I wish for this much bliss and love and peace to be in the room when they vote, but I realise I am lucky enough to have bought my ticket out of it, and find all the love of a gorgeous sunny Thai beach resort, a few thousand miles away from the people I care about in Melksham. I know the stress and fear and confusion of it all and I love how far away I am, but sad for those who I love that are still troubled by it. 

I wish I could give everyone a week on this beach, with this deliriously healing and beautiful warm breeze. It is like anger and fear can’t even exist here, the purpose of the whole island is pure bliss. Everyone here is either choosing peace or providing peace. The purpose and values of everyone here is beauty, love, peace and leisure. 

Leisure. Recreation. Re-creation. It takes a few days to undo the heavy complex tangly web of duties, jobs and fears that you might arrive with, but the complete gorgeousness of the place gently teases all that out of you until you are clean and peaceful and your biggest priority is to sit with your feet in the clear lapping water until the sun sinks low enough that it’s time to move on to the next peaceful beautiful place. 

We had our family zoom last night, our weekly intercontinental gathering which this time included the hilarious moment in which Thailand brother, in his separate little zoom box on the screen as always, suddenly knocked on my door and popped into my zoom screen. Oh how we laughed. And then someone noticed my haircut and I said, ‘I know, I’ve got rid of that long boring frumpy look!’ London brother apologised for always calling me frumpy. I said, ‘Well I was, I chose frumpy and boring and safe and good. That was my story.’

‘Yeah you need to work out your new story now.’

‘Maybe it’s scary because your story is actually something absolutely amazing.’

‘You know sometimes we hide our lights because we think it will upset someone.’

‘Oh yeah, you know that quote – our greatest fear is not that we’re rubbish, is that we’re absolutely amazing or something.’


New York brother said, ‘I like to think that I should live each day like I time travelled back in time to change something for the better. You don’t know what it is, but you know you have to do something to make the future better.’

‘Ooh nice.’

Right now I can’t imagine doing anything important, I’m just loving sitting still for a while.

My Thailand brother outlined how he came up with his priorities. For 30 days he meditated for an hour and then wrote down fifteen dreams. Crazy, brave, beautiful uninhibited dreams. Which included things like ‘Own a lion’ or ‘Speak 100 languages.’ At the end of the month, he looked at every day’s list, and although it kept changing, there were some constant themes. And from that he found his five pillars – Music, Love, Friends, Travel and Languages. And then it became clear. If any activity, person, conversation or task isn’t in service of one of these, then it is not a good use of his time. And he won’t do it.

I like that. To be so clear what is important to you that you can easily say no to what is not.

May 16. 7.39am

Thank you for my speech to text facility so I can write while walking along the main road that runs all the way along the skinny island of Ko Samet. In an attempt to get my body onto Thailand time I said goodnight to my brother at midnight and settled down to sleep. I thought that if I happened to be awake at 1am I might tune into the Town Council meeting just to see who was going to be mayor this year. I’m sure it wasn’t a good idea to dip back into my old job and I did feel a ridiculous surge of fear as the opening public session involved the usual criticism – some of it directed to the tasks that were dropped when I left. But I will take this as a benchmark of improvement that I quickly got over it and saw the value in the feedback being articulately but angrily levelled at the council.

I’m glad I was there for the next bit in which the mayor gave a lovely speech about his first year in office and all the brilliant colleagues who had made it good. Because I was on my own with it all I sent a few messages to people in Melksham who might be watching the meeting too, and immediately felt ridiculous to need to reach out from thousands of miles away just to remind people I still care and hope that they still care about me. So I accept that the whole letting go of Melksham project of this adventure is a gentle gradual untangling.

The thing that is ironic about this trip to Thailand is that it is directly because of my recent challenges in Melksham that I am here. My current wander on this road through the magic morning jungle is in response to and rejection of my previous job in Melksham. (Let’s not forget it is also paid for by my savings that I earned from that job). It is because of that place of confusion, stress and obligation that I found the strength to depart to this place of tranquillity, emptiness and peace. 

So I am grateful for the unhappiness and inauthenticity which provided enough contrast to push me to seek the happiness and truth that lands me in a tropical piece of paradise the other side of the world.

Lessons for today:

*Bring Mosquito spray for goodness sake woman. 

*When you pop on to the beach to film the fire show from a clever sideways angle, you need to stand WAY back because those sparks go about 30 metres along the beach. 

*Veggie pad Thai has eggs in it so you will displease the vegan gods with that order. 

*But chicken coconut soup is completely vegan if you ask for it without the chicken (mai kai) 

*If you are in a cabin with huge windows overlooking the main path, remember to close the curtains before taking a shower. Or you will emerge all refreshed and grinning, and suddenly be aware of your unrequested exposure, and have to hurriedly pull the curtains closed. 

*If you hurriedly pull the curtains closed in a Sangthian Resort cabin with too much force, they will fall apart and you will be left with a crumpled pile of curtain and rail that, while hilarious, offers little privacy from the aforementioned  immense windows. 

* That quote I was trying to remember is from Marianne Williamson:

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

What I think you think I am

7.42 UK time (22.43 Abu Dhabi) 

I have been exploring the options on my inflight screen and discovered that next to the map icon you also have the ‘Mecca Pointer’ which shows you the direction and distance to the Holy Land, and when your next prayer time is. There is also a tab for the ‘Full recitation of all the verses of the Holy Quran,’ which is indeed a delicious sounding recitation in Arabic. It’s several hours long though so for my cultural enlightenment I choose from the music range, a friendly looking man with a headdress and a sitar called Abadi Aljohar. Lovely voice, lots of jingly bells and sitar strumming, like the soundtrack for the bit of an action film where they land in Egypt.

Or the soundtrack for my flight in which I absorb the wisdom of Jay Shetty. He smiles at me with excellent teeth and green eyes from the cover of the book and tells me that he will explain how I can, one: Let go, two: Grow and three: give. 

It is quickly apparent that he is exactly the travel companion I need on this exploration as he starts off by quoting Charles Horton Cooley’s synopsis of the problem of identity: ‘I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.’ 

Well no wonder it’s so hard. 

I have avoided the sentence because it’s so cliche, but I really am on a quest to find myself. I need to find out who I am when I’m not encased in the patterns of destructive behaviour that have turned me into a person I don’t think is actually me, and who has become exhausted, depleted and disillusioned with herself. The whole church doctrine of ‘live for the sake of others’ is one I didn’t let go of, to an unhealthy extent that manifests as self destructive workaholism. How much of it is me being a kind and caring person and how much is it a desperate need to be approved of as the good girl? Some untangling to do. And maybe some people to disappoint. 

‘It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’ s life with perfection’. Bhagvad gita. Nice. P3.

After an introduction on the importance of knowing what your values are, Mr Shetty says something that I think is the motto for my adventure: ‘When we tune out the opinions, expectations and obligations of the world around us, we begin to hear ourselves.’

21.14. Descending into Abu Dhabi. They play us adverts for how great the city is. A child nearby screams in the pain were all feeling as our ears suffer the altitude change. Ow. Jesus ow.

May 13. 10am. Abu Dhabi airport is a shiny buzzing place. Very international, very 24 /7. At 3am it was quiet – ladies polishing shelves with spot-lit handbags, Costa workers slouching on their phones, bins being emptied – but still fully open. The departure boards showed flights right through the night. In among all the western commercial glitz, there are the many prayer rooms, the red crescent charity collection box, and the robes. Elegant men with neatly trimmed beards, in flowing down to the ground white robes, with perfectly swished headscarves held in place with a black band. Beautiful. And the stunning women, gliding elegantly through the duty free, full body black robes flowing silently, head dress nearly framing perfectly made up faces. 

1128. I love watching the terrain below. You get a real sense of the immensity of the world. There are rugged grey and brown mountains, with wildly meandering rivers outlining the contours, and then nestled in safe little alcoves, near the rivers, are clusters of tiny little white buildings. Humans have explored and settled wherever they can, like insects building their colonies. 

As we took off, the impressive geometric rows of Abu Dhabi – with shiny great buildings along ruler straight roads and perfectly arced crescents – spread out to the edge of the city, and then there was just vast dusty desert. Humans have built a stunning congregation of wealth and opulence in the middle of this sparse and sun-bleached terrain, which would have started as a simple settlement millenia ago, when some wandering tribe decided it was a good spot to pitch their tents. The essay on the problem of overpopulation is for another time, but for now the perspective up here, of seeing how the story of humanity and our need for survival and connection is helpful in reminding me of my place in it all. If I had been born here I would have different values, priorities, and fears. And my unique set of personality bits and bobs arrived because of who I was surrounded by, the church doctrine I was infused with, as well as the geography of the Wiltshire countryside and how our settlements grew up around those rivers and hills just like the middle eastern children growing up in those white buildings 40,000 feet below me.  Here I am, the result of civilisations growing and reproducing and popping out another human who is wired for connection and driven by the fear of loosing it. My whole identity is based around an urgent need to keep connected, that I only deserve if I please everyone around me, even the ones I don’t like. Because the fear of disconnection is irrationally terrifying for a very powerful part of my brain. 

Is this the bit where I start to talk about where it all went wrong in Melksham? Perhaps that story isn’t ready to be told yet.

7.15pm. Half an hour till Bangkok. If you don’t arrange your own sleep on a plane, sleep will grab you suddenly and will really hurt your neck in the process. With not even a jumper to support my head, I’ve slept a head bobbing hour or two full of confusing dreams. Snippets of colleagues, countries and quests. And in my last few minutes I grab a bit of Jay Shetty. He’s very keen to get me to understand my values, and suggests that every time I’ve done something I regret, it’s because it wasn’t aligned with my values. I haven’t fully pinpointed what they are now but I can begin to work out what they’re not, by what I regret. And I regret the things that I did because someone else wanted me to and my need to please them was greater than my own sense of self and value. He says in order to find out what they are, look at what you admire in others. This is great homework as I have just written out a stash of thank you cards outlining the qualities of the people I admire. 

Strength, integrity, stability, compassion, care, wisdom, authenticity. 

I didn’t realise as I was scribbling out lovely words that these are the values of the people I choose to spend time with, and the qualities I wish I had more of. The qualities that hopefully this trip will help to identify and strengthen.

Which is a good thought to hold onto as we start the descent into Bangkok.

21 days away

May 12, 5.20pm UK time.

I’m somewhere over some snowy mountains between London and Abu Dhabi. My hangover headache is still lingering and the buzzy happiness of getting my plane has worn off now into just tiredness, but even though I have three seats to myself on this half empty Etihad flight, the sleep doesn’t arrive.

As I wandered through the departure lounge my London brother called for a goodbye chat and asked, ‘What are your goals for this trip?’

‘Good question,’ I said. ‘It’s pretty much to get strong and clear in my head, to recover I guess, and come back brave enough to make some clean decisions about what next.’

‘Good.’ he said. ‘I think you need to stop doing what everyone else wants.’

‘Yeah I know. That’s like, my whole problem.’

‘People who keep trying to keep everyone happy end up as….’ 

‘Victims,’ I said. ‘I know. I need a spine really.’

So maybe this is my quest to grow a new spine. I don’t even know what that will look like. All my strength has been directed towards what everyone else wants and I dont know what it feels like to stand in the integrity and strength of my own spine. The strongest thing I have done was said no to my job. Because it was all wrong for me. Still doesn’t mean I know what is right though.

Mum phoned as well, with some chat about times and stopovers and how lovely it will be to see my Thailand brother and my New Zealand brother. When she said goodbye she said, ‘Well I’ll be thinking of you. I won’t pray for you, but I’ll think of you.’ 

‘Oh you can pray for me mum, I’m happy to have your prayers, just, not those weird church people.’ 

‘OK love.’ 

So with my mum’s prayers – and an Islamic journey prayer that Etihad Airways offered us all just before the safety video – plus a phone full of messages of love and support and godspeed, I embark on this little adventure. 

I’m aware that having the space, money, time and brothers to enable such a trip is a complete luxury, but here goes the start of my savings for a house. I’ll have no mortgage for a long time, and no kids at any time, so I get to adventure away my savings in exchange for my mental wellbeing.

Heathrow Terminal 4 has about nine WHSmiths in it, and realising that – on a journey where I will spend a combined 53 hours in airports or planes – I haven’t brought a book, I wondered if one would jump off the shelf at me. Books on leadership, management, clever business, smart thinking…. no not this time. It’s not time to try to fix broken systems anymore. A bright orange ‘the art of not giving a fuck’ looked like it was going to be caught. Yes I like the idea, but it feels like the title is doing all the heavy lifting. Instead, in my search for peace and balance, I have found ‘Think Like a Monk’ by Jay Shetty, which contains the promise that it will ‘shift your focus from self image to self esteem’ which feels like what I need right now. So much of my life is built around what everyone needs me to be, and I have to let go of that and work out who I am without all the people pleasing pointlessness. I learned early on as a child in the Church that my safety and value was derived by how much I kept everyone else happy, so I can see where the pattern comes from and why it’s so deeply entangled in my brain.

Talking to Teresa the other day, I said, ‘You know, I am clearly not a fan of Rev Moon, but he’s the reason I exist, and all my siblings, and right now the fact that I can go to Thailand and new Zealand, I mean, that’s cos I have brothers there because my mum had loads of kids cos Rev Moon said to. So, like, thanks.’ 

The not great and the wonderful can be all a bit entwined. 

Lessons for today:

* The new Elizabeth line will take you free from the Heathrow Central bus station to terminal 4, but there’s a half hour wait that needs to be factored in.

* Do have a piss up with people you love in Melksham but maybe not the night before you have to get yourself to Heathrow at 7am.

* Do bring a water bottle. Even though you can’t bring a full bottle through security, you can drink it and then fill it right back up on the other side you silly woman.

*Do bring a few Berocca tablets. 

*There is a postbox in the departure lounge but you need to know the address you’re posting to. 

*Stop picking up your phone during the flight to check for messages. There are none. 

Grateful for:

Sue and Colin at the bus stop this morning, baffling the sleepy travellers with a flamboyant display of flag waving and frivolity that my partner had to join in with – before his coffee. 

The hug from my love like he didn’t want to let me go this morning. 

The lovely people who gathered in the pub across the night, and the card that everyone signed for me, and the 2000 Thai bobbin notes in the envelope. Wow. Thank you. 

Gloria for being an absolute angel of beauty and love, buying so many rounds and sharing plates and vegan snacks.

The many messages and texts today to make sure I’d got the bus and wishing me well

My love for letting me borrow his fluffy black hoodie as we were leaving the house and I realised I’d probably need it for the plane. I really do and it’s so snuggly. 

Leanne at Glow hairdressers for my surprisingly excellent new haircut. As she chopped off great handfuls two days ago, I grinned and said I haven’t had it this short since I was a teenager. 

When I was 17 I went to America to save the world. All my passion, energy and bravery was totally exploited by the Moonies, but I had it. It was real. It was me. I need to find that same strength and use it for what I want now instead.

The New Year starts on the 10th doesn’t it?

I’ve long ago stopped pretending that I could make any new changes to my life on January 1st. Even in a Lockdown, new years day happens in a strange time of disorientation, alcohol and chocolate.

Then the first Monday could count as a new start but the first week back at work is a bit messy and muddled and you’re still putting away Christmas.

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Meeting anxiety

10am. So that huge project I was working on last week is on the agenda for tonight’s meeting.

I woke up with the usual Monday meeting knot in my stomach. This is a different type of fear. Although maybe its all related. This one is the familiar meeting anxiety which, before I try to push away with work and distractions, I will dissect to see what it’s actually made of. There is the general social anxiety of a meeting full of people, but tangled up in it is the following:

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Day Nine: Exercise

Oh my God I should have started with this one. It’s so flipping essential. I know this, why have I let it slip?

About twenty years ago I was in such a religious bubble that I didn’t know how to speak to real people and was painfully shy in all secular social settings. I happened to go for a run with a non-church friend one day, and I found that afterwards, I could chat and laugh with my friend with zero inhibitions. I decided running would be my way to overcome social uncertainty, and tried to fit in a run before any stressful social event.

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