Well, it has finally happened… The one measure I was dreading. Boris shut my gym down on Friday. Don’t get me wrong, I actually HATE the gym, but I do have a rather handsome personal trainer…
A year ago, I realised that gravity and age were taking a noticeable toll on my torso and so I decided to join a gym. I suddenly concluded that ‘fitness over 50’ was pretty important. I must point out that up until this point I had NEVER set foot in such an establishment. Merely the thought of going made me break out into a post-exercise style sweat.
I decided that the only way I was going to stick to regular attendance was to find a handsome, young, male trainer. I therefore diligently ‘researched’ every gym in the area. Whilst various sales staff were pointing out the jet powered hair dryers in the changing rooms and the coffee bars, I was scouring the workout classes for an attractive male instructor. I finally found one.
This is Hard Fitness
Sadly, this was in a gym called ‘Hard Fitness’, which is exactly that. This facility has no proper changing rooms, no fluffy towels, no Chardonnay and no pastel yoga mats. Instead it has a boxing ring, a comprehensive set of torture equipment and an army of unattractive male clientele in baggy shorts and grey socks, but it does have gorgeous, toned Dan.
Unfortunately, The Lovely Dan is bipolar. During my PT sessions he is brutal; he shouts at me; he scolds me for slacking and he reminds me that ‘I don’t pay him to be nice’. Then at the end he puts on a winning smile and says, ‘Nice one Jayne, see you on Friday!’
The only other plus point here is that there are no glamorous and toned ladies in Lycra to make me feel woefully inadequate in the abs department. I can turn up in some old leggings and come out looking like a sweaty unmade bed, without anyone batting an eyelid or commenting on the fact that I have mascara dripping down my face.
Dan is offering to do Skype session with me from today, but it really won’t be the same. I am thinking of cancelling my membership and eating my body weight in Galaxy bars for the foreseeable future.
You can always follow me on Instagram @hownottohaveamidlifecrisis
When I was travelling around Asia last year, I wrote my blog to amuse myself whilst living in some very remote locations. If people read it that was lovely, but that wasn’t my main motivation for writing. I am now writing my blog whilst living in a, soon to be, very remote location called ‘Home’ in a Surrey village. If people read it that is lovely, but that isn’t my main motivation for writing, my sanity is.
Only a few weeks ago I was merely aware of something called the Coronavirus which originated from bats sold in a market in a far-off city in China beginning with ‘W’. Now the ‘C’ Word is on my doorstep and I am frantically trying to keep it out. Do follow me over the next few weeks as I try to put a vaguely humorous and somewhat irreverent slant on life as we will soon know it. Hopefully you won’t have to read this for too long. If it does stretch into many months the content will be non-existent and any attempts at humour will have long gone.
I have everything I need; one toilet roll, a large bar of Galaxy, a coffee and a year’s supply of E-cigarettes. I’m ready….
Follow me on Instagram, if you can bear it @hownottohaveamidlifecrisis
So here I am sitting at my desk, and safely back Lingfield. It is so cold in this country! I have had to ramp the central heating up to 32 degrees, and even so, I have 3 jumpers and 2 pairs of socks on.
My adventure has come to an end, but it was so wonderful to be reunited with my temporarily orphaned kids and the hugely supportive Husband at Gatwick last night.
What a wonderful homecoming I had, complete with my perfect meal of lasagne and cheesecake. There have, however, been a few negative comments about my appearance. Apparently the wrist full of friendship bracelets, which I have collected along the way, and my long scruffy hair make me look like an ageing hippie.
The second ear piercing has also gone down badly, but I did point out that it could have been a lot worse. I could have had a turtle and a couple of dogs tattooed on my neck.
Life Lessons Learnt
I have learnt a lot about myself, and about the world, on my travels. I am way more self-sufficient than I ever thought, and I realise the importance of smiling. It is a universally understood expression, and people treat you so much better if you just smile.
I have also realised that, whilst I have visited numerous countries in the past, I have never really travelled. Staying in nice hotels and going on manicured, organised scenic excursions does not count. This gives you a sanitised version of reality.
In order to really see a country you have to live and work with the locals and get to know them, their culture and their history. If you adopt their customs and respect their values they will welcome you into their hearts and their homes.
I spent Diwali with a taxi driver’s family in Goa, I had dinner with my tuk tuk driver’s family, and ate coconuts fresh from a tree in the garden of a local from the dog rescue centre, in Sri Lanka.
Sadly I was mistaken for a Russian on numerous occasions whilst away, due to my height and the blonde mop. I felt like replying ’Am I that fat? Are my boobs popping out of my bikini and are my eyebrows tattooed on?’ But I didn’t, I just smiled sweetly and said ‘No, British.’
And doesn’t Asia love a Brit? I had always thought that the laddish behaviour of Brits Abroad, coupled with the fact that we invaded and colonised so much of this continent in the past, would be a huge minus point, but actually everyone loves us! We are seen as very polite, respectful and cultured. Thank God no one has seen me arguing with a traffic warden…
I have met many lovely, lovely people on my travels, from all nationalities, and made some friends for life. If I take anything from this trip it is the fact that I must meet and get to know more people from other races and creeds. Even so, I am still not convinced about the Germans and the Chinese, but we all have our issues.
So now I have got to get back into the swing of my normal life. I just loved being a solo female traveller SO much. I just hope I don’t have a Midlife Crisis getting over my Midlife Crisis Trip. That could be a whole new blog. Who knows…
I am coming to the end of my epic 91 day Midlife Crisis trip, and this Sri Lankan blog post will be one of my last. What an adventure it has been. By pure chance every time I have moved on I have enjoyed my adventure more and more.
And, most importantly, my accommodation has got better and better. You may recall that in Nepal I had a cow shed with mattress and barely a bathroom, in Goa I had a bed with legs, and hot water, but no air conditioning, and in the Maldives I had air conditioning but no hot water. This was so cruel. Jumping into an ice cold shower after working in 33 degrees heat was hideous. Still, I did learn how to shampoo and condition my hair in 19.6 seconds.
Living In Luxury
So here I am in Sri Lanka, where I have my own apartment with hot water, air conditioning, a double bed and a garden. There is a God! I am so pleased that I ended up here, rather than started here, as it would have been so depressing if my living quarters had deteriorated every time I moved on.
My first impression of any new country is what I can see from the plane as it comes into land, and what I saw when landing in Sri Lanka was GREEN! The land is a lush, verdant mountainous jungle, with roads and towns carved into it, and a stunning coastline of endless beaches.
It is actually paradise, and definitely the most divine place I have ever visited. The scenery is enhanced by the beauty of the locals. They are such kind, helpful and respectful people, who are so proud of their country. This little island was ravaged by civil war for 26 years, and devastated by the 2004 tsunami, but it has such dignity.
I am friendly with a young guy, Banty, who was by his house on the beach when the first enormous tsunami wave came crashing in. He sensed something was very wrong, and ran to his uncle’s house, which was on a slight incline.
After this wave, the sea retreated so far that the distant coral reef was exposed, and turtles and fish were left stranded. Locals flocked onto the beach to plunder what they could, and then 20 minutes later the second massive wave hit and drowned 30,000 people.
Banty and his family just watched in horror as everything they owned, and many of their friends, were just washed away. It took 8 years before they could rebuild a new home and bar on the beach, but they now own the famous Dalawella Beach Dream Cabana with its famous swing. People flock to from all over the world for that Insta shot.
The tropical climate here is perfect for the country’s biggest export, Ceylon tea. Acres and acres of plantations are sliced into the hillsides and workers continuously pluck the green tips which end up in my mug in Lingfield, a few months later.
The Most Amazing Train Journey In The World
Last weekend I did ‘the most amazing train journey in the world’ from Kandy to Ella. This was utterly fascinating. Firstly the train was so antiquated and cramped. Despite barging on board, and knocking as many Germans flying as I possibly could, I still had to stand for the first two of the seven hour trip.
There is no train ride like it. We climbed through the tiered plantations, passed stunning water falls, dipped into the jungle and stopped at dozens of beautifully preserved little stations These were complete with flower beds and station masters in white uniforms and gloves.
All the while a steady stream of locals passed through the carriages selling hot food such as samosas, chilli nuts, and flatbreads accompanied by flasks of hot sweet chai tea. It beat a miserable Southern Rail sandwich any day. And the cost of my 7 hour train ride? £1.50.
As you have probably gathered, I am a little in love with this place, and on top of that, my work here at the dog rescue centre has been so rewarding. Happy and heart breaking, in equal measure.
Yesterday a dog came in which had been bitten by a python, he survived, but the one who was hit by a train, didn’t. It is easy to get desensitised to all of the daily amputations and mutilations caused by road accidents and cruelty, but I actually think you have to, in order to keep going.
I did have 4 lovely doggies on my list to adopt and bring home. Husband will be pleased to hear that when I got a freight quote of £7000 each, even extravagant menopausal Jayne drew a line.
So it is with very mixed feelings that I will say my doggie goodbyes tomorrow and head back to my life in Lingers. At least packing won’t be as stressful as on the way out. I have jettisoned all the Glamorous Granny kit, it is all way too big for me.
In fact I have lost so much weight, I could come home as hand luggage. Can someone find me a steak the size of a small cow for Sunday please? I have one hell of a lot of meat eating to catch up on as well as the almond croissants…
There are 40,000,000 (yes million) street dogs in Sri Lanka. When I decided to volunteer at a rescue centre here, I envisaged an underfunded complex, full of tatty cages and ramshackle buildings. How wrong I was. Dog-Care Clinic RV resembles a 5* luxury resort. There are lily ponds, streams, ornamental bridges, and a doggie swimming pool, on a site which sprawls over 25,000 square metres. This volunteering in Sri Lanka is very different.
I was totally stunned when I arrived, and actually considered moving in myself, as the accommodation here is better than anything I have enjoyed on my trip. In 2007, an inspirational German lady, Marina Möbius, came to Sri Lanka on holiday, and saw the plight of the street dogs.
She started by caring for a few herself, and then funded a small clinic which has grown into the state of the art centre it is today, with a staff of 45. Marina still runs a highly successful recruitment agency in Germany, and funds most of the €500,000 per year running costs here herself. She is an amazing human being.
My role here is not terribly arduous. I have to cuddle and brush dogs all day and help with feeding time and administering medication. There are 300 canine residents, so that means a lot of cuddling!
It also means that I smell like a dog by 9am every morning. By the time I leave, I have usually had a Flip Flop, T shirt sleeve or hair band chewed or devoured completely. The four legged residents spend their days snoozing in exquisitely designed pagodas and gazebos, under a canopy of coconut palms, until all hell breaks loose.
Each morning, the local monkeys get bored of eating bananas, and at 11am they decide to have some fun. So the mickey-taking Macaques swing from the tall palm trees above, whilst sticking 2 fingers up at the canine community below. This leads to utter chaos, as every dog on the site joins in with a deafening cacophony of barking. This only subsides when the monkeys realise they also need earplugs, and retreat gleefully, leaving the hounds to drift back to sleep.
A Golden Ticket
That said, I have never seen dogs so well cared for. If a Sri Lankan street dog gets to this place they have certainly won a golden ticket. With two home cooked meals a day, served in landscaped gardens, I would also settle for that.
I would certainly settle for their food. Breakfast and dinner are bowls of freshly cooked minced beef, with shredded fresh chicken, and a sauce of chicken stock. My meat consumption has been so restricted on my travels, that I have been sorely tempted to eat the odd bowl when no one is looking… Beats vegetable bloody curry any day, or should I say every day?
Although the setting here is surreal, the reality of Man’s inhumanity to animals is ever present. A steady stream of injured, starved, gassed, burnt and tortured dogs and puppies arrive every day. I have seen hounds whose feet have been cut off by their owners and others who have been set alight as part of the local gang culture.
Those that are beyond help lie at peace to the side of the operating theatre, to make way for the ones with a chance. I witness amputations regularly, as basking dogs are run over by car and tuk tuk drivers who do not give this a second thought. A dog’s life has no value to most people here. Some of my group were actually in a tuk tuk the other day when it ran over and killed a dog, and the driver just continued on.
As well as the rescue centre, the organisation runs a daily feeding programme for the local dogs. Today I went out with the driver in our sign-written tuk tuk, and in the space of 6 hours we fed 650 street dogs. I had to fill food bowl after bowl with lightening speed as we stopped at each location.
The hounds actually recognised the vehicle and ran towards it. They knew it was dinner time! The driver, staggeringly, knew every animal and how many would be waiting at each spot. He also removed ticks as we went round and administered tablets, for various conditions, to specific dogs, which were concealed inside fresh sausages. This was so impressive.
Interestingly the centre has another virtually identical tuk tuk which it uses to collect animals for its mass sterilisation programme. So far it has neutered 60,000 dogs, in an attempt to reduce the amount of unwanted puppies in the area. The driver told me that when the ‘neutering tuk tuk’ drives round, the dogs actually run away from it. They know it is there to ‘spoil their fun.’ I knew these creatures were clever, but number plate recognition? That’s cool.
Yesterday I bumped into the legendary Marina, who was attempting to hurl Christmas baubles at a tropical tree, to create a Christmas display. I told her that I was an interior designer and could help if needed. She immediately plonked the boxes of decorations at my feet and said, in a very Germanic fashion, ‘You do the tree.’
Minutes later I was up a ladder trying to attach tinsel and red balls to foliage that belonged in a jungle, rather than a Nordic pine forest, whilst not feeling at all Christmassy in the searing heat. Despite this I gave it my best shot. Definitely my most tasteless Christmas tree job ever, but one I won’t forget…
It was with a very heavy heart that I left the crazy concrete island of Naifaru last week. This curious little atoll had welcomed me warmly and made me feel a part of island life for 3 weeks.
The diverse team team at Atoll Marine Centre became my best mates, and it was a good job we did gel, as there was absolutely nothing to do there, apart from swimming and sunset watching.
On our weekly days off we were taken by speedboat to nearby uninhabited islands which were really Paradise. We ate coconuts, sunbathed and swam, then lit fires at sunset and toasted marshmallows and bananas. These were the only days that us girls could actually wear a bikini rather than a burkini so these times were special. We left making fires and cracking coconuts to the boys, who pretended to be Bear Grylls and Robinson Crusoe combined. We concentrated on tanning!
My island home was full of random shops which sold a variety of miscellaneous goods. You might find the coffee amongst the flip flops, or soap and Mars Bars side by side. I got friendly with one shop keeper who could get anything from the capital, Male.
One day I ordered hairspray, and marshmallows and alcohol-free beer for our camp fire, and they all turned up. Sadly I could not get any hair styling products, so I had to resort to using coconut oil. I soon got used to smelling like a Bounty Bar, and it was actually quite nice, although I found that I permanently craved chocolate.
On my last evening I returned to my room to find a massive hornet-like superbug zooming around. I hurriedly shut the door and waited half an hour. When I returned the beast was still in residence, so I went out again and waited and waited. No joy, the bug-ger had move in, complete with luggage, so I watched bravely until he landed on my headboard, where I attacked him with a towel and the air conditioning remote control.
It took 5 minutes of towel wacking before he finally expired. The next morning I proudly recounted my tale to Team Vegan who were horrified that I had killed the critter, and made me feel like drowning myself in my crap coffee. Sod the Plant Eaters! There was no way I was sleeping in the corridor and giving my bedroom up for an insect!
I actually wept when I got on the boat to leave Naifaru. I had forged such special friendships and, of course, I had to leave my beloved turtle, Noel, behind. Soon my tears of sorrow changed to another kind…
The high speed boat ride was very choppy, and sadly I looked down to see that a sea of vomit was washing over my feet from the occupant of the seat in front. Thank God for Flip Flops. I have worn them daily for so many months now, that I doubt I could get a pair of boots on my newly splayed trotters.
Two hours later we arrived in the polluted, noisy and sky-scrapered capital which felt a million miles away from my local island. Here it soon became clear that being a white woman with a blonde mop was not going to go in my favour. There were salacious undertones to the looks I received and the place had a very sinister tenor. Men on motorbikes slowed down and jeered, and lorries full of workers gawped, as I made my way to my hotel.
No Star Male Hotel
There is one thing I have learnt as a White Female Solo Traveller, and that is, always walk fast and with purpose, and never look at Google Maps on the street. Lost implies vulnerable. I was pleased, momentarily, to arrive at my Male hotel, called the Park House, for my overnight stay. That was until I realised it must have just been awarded ‘Worst Hotel in the World’ by TripAdvisor, and they had forgotten to put up the plaque.
Four months ago I would have thrown a fit in reception and hailed a taxi to The Ritz, but my datum has somewhat changed. If it has hot water, air con and a bed with legs, I am cool these days.
Even so, after a night in the mosquito-ridden, smoke-flavoured dump of a place I was pleased to jump on a plane to Sri Lanka the next morning, and to the final destination of my Midlife Crisis Tour. And what a wonderful finale it is…
As part of the application process for every volunteering project I chose, I had to write a short piece on why I should be considered for that project. Why a Surrey interior designer could add value to a turtle conservation project was a tough one to answer. So I hurriedly flicked through some David Attenborough documentaries on YouTube before replying. I also had to state that I was a competent swimmer (which I am) and a competent snorkeler (which I am not). Truth is, I had never actually been snorkelling until I arrived here.
When I was staying in the luxury resort a few weeks ago, I hung around the watersports centre until a very attractive and tanned Australian instructor walked in. ‘Yippee’ I thought, and immediately signed up for a one hour private lesson.
I have to say that when Mr Fit glided into the water and start swishing around, I mastered de-fogging my mask and breathing through a snorkel very quickly. And Wow! As soon as I put my head down I could have been on the set of ‘Finding Nemo.’ Clownfish joked around, iridescent Parrotfish flickered past and Angelfish hovered.
The instructor was amazing. He kept diving and picking up creatures from the coral reef, including sea cucumbers and giant sea slugs, for me to inspect and touch. At one point he picked up a Puffer Fish. I had it in the back of my head that this was exceptionally poisonous, but I stroked its rubber hedgehog-like spines anyway.
I then saw a spectacular multicoloured fish with a large black dorsal fin. I pointed at it, excitedly, and started swimming towards it, and was yanked to the surface most unceremoniously by Aussie Flippers. ‘Sorry,’ he said ‘but that’s a triggerfish, one of the few aggressive species around here, and it could take a big chunk out of your leg if it wanted to.’ Trust me…
When I came to work at the Atoll Marine Centre the team went for a snorkel after my first shift. ‘Done much snorkelling in the Maldives before then Jayne?’ I was asked. To which I replied ‘Well, I have done a bit.’ I didn’t elucidate that it was a microscopic bit…
Everyone nimbly skipped over the slimy boulders on the jetty and slipped into the water. Meanwhile I was still trying to clamber over the rocks on my hands and knees, and keep my flip flops on, at the same time. Sean, the lovely Australian marine biologist, politely waited for me and kindly said ‘that was a very graceful entry’ as I belly-flopped into the harbour.
I negotiated snorkel and mask and was doing some pretty speedy breast stroke to catch up with the group when someone shouted ‘SHARK!’ My first reaction, which I don’t think was an unnatural one, was to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. I was aghast when all the others started swimming towards it. I decided to pretend to swim, whilst treading water, with the theme tune from ‘Jaws’ resonating in my head.
Fortunately the shark scooted off pretty quickly, and we all had limbs intact as we headed back to shore. The gang sprung out of the water and onto the rocks with such ease, whilst I kept losing my footing and sliding around like a beached whale.
Then came the words I did not want to hear ‘Jayne, it might help if you took your flippers OFF before you try and get out…’ At that point I considered drowning myself to avoid any further embarrassment. Instead I de-flippered and a kind young man hauled me out.
This unfortunate episode has not been mentioned again, as the group are such polite and tactful individuals. If my kids had seen this, I would have been reminded of it constantly for the next 25 years.
As they say, practice makes perfect… I can now put my mask and fins (correct term for flippers) on, and join in the group ‘snorkelling trips in the Maldives,’ without looking like a complete amateur. Whilst the others are mesmerized by the underwater beauty of the Indian Ocean I am looking out for triggerfish, sharks, lionfish, sting rays and anything else that could kill me. If I manage to avoid all of these, then it has been a good trip.