What a year 2020 has been. And not only for the pandemic-related reasons which I’m sure everyone is sick of reading about. But for me personally, 2020 has been a year full to bursting. With joy and wonder, and challenge and grief, loneliness and determination. It has been a year of growth. Of learning to be kind to myself. Of faking it till I make it. Despite it all, it is up there with the best of years. So if you want something positive from 2020, you’re in the right place. And this isn’t meant to downplay the absolute shit-show that was 2020, nor any of the suffering and grief and loss that the year has brought many people in many different ways. And I won’t sugarcoat this and say it’s been easy, because it hasn’t always. But I vowed to myself a few years ago to chase my happiness. So, here we go.
I brought in 2020 in Germany, where I thought I would also see the year out but it wasn’t to be. My head was buzzing and full of information after a photography workshop with Haron Haghuis a week or two earlier. We ran agility that night. It would be one of the last times I ran agility with Loki for the year. I travelled down to Bavaria for another competition where I had a few photo shoots amongst the winter grey-brown trees, excited and eager to hone my skills and explore these new techniques.
And on the way back toward the UK, walking through the woods near Pforzheim I debated pedigree names for a puppy who would be joining us in February, needing to feature the letter N in some way. It hit me like a bolt of lightning on that walk, unrelated to any suggestions followers had put through, and it stuck, more perfect than I could have imagined. Flyland N’joy the Journey. I still didn’t know which puppy would be mine, but I knew which one I wanted, even if it was only based off photos and I just liked his uneven stripe and freckly nose. As it was, it turned out he was meant to be mine all along
I returned to the uk for hardly any time at all, before darting back across the channel and making for Poland where a friend was travelling from Estonia, with my precious bundle of brown puppy aboard. It was love at first sight. I had been so worried how I would make space for a puppy in my heart that loved Loki so fiercely after our adventure together. But Journey made it easy. He makes everything easy. Immediately he was sweet and friendly, brave without being bold, playful without being manic, smart and silly and so cute I could melt. He respected Loki and Loki tolerated him and from the second night he slept curled under the blankets against my chest, warm and soft and sweet.
We traveled down into Croatia so I would be able to spend enough time in Europe without overstaying my visa. We had to wait for Journey’s rabies vaccination before we could return to the UK. You can see a lot of our adventures on Journey’s birthday video.
There, i rented a little airbnb house in the hills, which felt like paradise in the last whispers of winter. The boys got to know one another, and I began to raise Journey with all the normal puppy things – socialisation outings to towns and shops and Zagreb and the mall, training and walking and playing. After a while we set off, intending to make it to Dubrovnik but stopping halfway, for the third year in a row.
And the memories of that trip are so perfect. Before corona was more than a worried murmur coming out of China. Before restrictions and masks and distance. We played at the edge of lakes stained orange by a sun setting over the sea, ran and took photos with a backdrop of pink snow-capped mountains. We wandered by the sea and through gorges, sat by busy roads and had entire valleys all to ourselves.
Returns & Lockdowns
And when our time was done, and we were all by now watching the news and hearing about border closures and checking graphs and charts and numbers… we hurried north, considering staying in Slovenia but too worried about overstaying the visa if we were trapped. Hurrying north to Germany where we considered staying again, but instead hopped on an overnight ferry from Holland, my sweet puppy in the van without a toilet break for 11 hours.. and then we were back in the uk, where lockdowns hadn’t begun but toilet paper had sold out and people were queuing outside the supermarket at 8am and I wondered what kind of place I had returned to.
And then lockdown began.
But here, in my little house surrounded by fields and farms and a few places to walk, we made the most of it. We spent warm spring days outside with the guitar, forgiving myself for not being more productive or starting something or doing something. I joined a dozen online classes in any case, and at some point received so many requests for tutorials or online classes of my own, and saw so many photos of friends dogs on Facebook taken with less than ideal lighting or perspective or composition that I decided I would create something, after all.
So between the sun and the slow wandering walks to the river to teach Journey to swim, I began to build a course. Between hours spent on the couch, shut down and exhausted and eating, I planned, and recorded, and created. And the course turned into four courses and the four courses turned into a learning community and suddenly I found myself neck deep in a project and lockdown ending and more plans to chase my dreams…
So I did.
I made a decision to move to Slovenia and set about the process and paid the money and signed the forms, packed the van, locked the house, and drove us all down there ready to make it happen.
We spent two months there. A glorious summer of warm days and exploring. Meeting up with friends and their dogs, finally doing some agility, taking photos and constantly, constantly refining my craft. But then bureaucracy reared its ugly head and international tax treaties threatened to be a problem and it suddenly all seemed too much, what with being on a three month visa and only a few weeks to go… so we left again.
We took our time on the way home, trailing through Austria and Germany. Meeting more friends along the way, and those days too, seem glorious. More little treasures for my trove. Souvenirs – the french word for memories. Which seems appropriate, I think.
And suddenly we were back, with winter closing in and lockdowns looming again and an entire website to build and release amongst this crippling fear that I’d gone and done it again. I’d been impulsive with Slovenia and hadn’t looked into the tax thing earlier. That I’d started this huge website project as a way to avoid doing my taxes and now I had to finish it. That i rarely finished things well enough. That if I released my website and my courses, people would judge it, or they wouldn’t enjoy it, and that would be a reflection on me.
Endings, forgiveness, creation
It was then that I booked in with a psychiatrist and got diagnosed with adhd – a suspicion I’d had for most of the year, but in order to access some business coaching, I needed something official.
So I got it. And I began to forgive myself. For mistakes. For not checking international tax laws (who does that anyway, really?). For my fear that this business wouldn’t succeed. And I decided to prove my fear wrong (because there’s nothing which can motivate quite like spite. Even if that spite is against myself). I put myself out there, advertising online private lessons. I threw myself into web design and branding and colours and suddenly I got students! And the teacher in me, who had delighted in the art of teaching and guiding and in experiencing the joy of learning, stretched and woke and remembered how it felt to teach.
And here we are. Stepping boldly into 2021. With plans to release all this hard work to the world, to see if I can make something of these hours and hours spent typing and filming, editing and recording. To make it valuable and educational and inspirational all at once.
With plans to move to Germany because I cannot get comfortable here, or it will be too easy to overlook unhappiness and to stay. Even without lockdowns, I am incredibly isolated here. Despite living a relatively solitary life in general, much of my travelling is often to meet friends or connections along the way. I have one friend nearby at the moment and the grey, treeless hills here do not feel like home.
With plans to train Journey until he’s ready to compete, and to condition Loki until he’s fit again and then we’ll see.
With plans to book more photo shoots and organise workshops and lessons in person and look for open doors and unexpected opportunities.
With plans (as much as this can be planned) to continue to chase my joy, to challenge myself, to learn and grow, and to be kind to myself and those whose paths cross mine.
Thank you for being here. I hope you, too, can go boldly into 2021, and will continue to be a part of our Journey in this new year.