A Gap Year (and a bit): In Review

Happy new year! Well, almost. Technically I should have written this in September, but it never really felt like my gap year was over. There seemed to be adventures around every corner and new things to be learned – things that typically make the world feel gap year-y. But now, with 2018 just hours away, it’s maybe time to accept that the gap year has been, done, and been made the most of.

I suppose my gap year began in the June of 2016 as I left school. Exams were finished so straight away I disappeared to Lake Como in Italy with four good friends for ten days. While there, we explored the villages, took boat rides, ate a lot of pizza, and spent days in Milan and Rome. It was great, even worth the ten days without Wifi! I have two full length posts about our time in Italy too. Part one can be found here, and part two here.

Upon arrival back in the homeland, my family and I had to take the unfortunate journey to England for a funeral. As sad as it was, we made the most of it and took a trip to Warwick castle and met up with the rest of the family.

After arriving home again, I uploaded my first post here on Little Mishaps. Huzzah! And gradually things have grown to here…

In August of 2016, I went with everyone from work to Edinburgh to attend the Circus Works festival. We spent a week living and camping in a field, taking part in circus and theatre workshops, putting on shows, playing football on stilts, throwing people in the air, building campfires, and meeting the most incredible and creative people. The festival was brilliant and something I wish I could do every year. For more about this weird world of circus I often find myself in, I have a post here!

The next month involved one of the most important trips I’ve ever taken. I flew to Grenoble, France – my first time travelling alone – to take part in the grape harvest. All started well; I eventually found where I was supposed to be going and got to meet up with some friends I hadn’t seen in years. I was practicing my French and exploring the city. A few days later I arrived in Légny, marvelled at the old farmhouse building where I’d be staying, and started to meet my fellow harvesters. Then the real work began. I had no idea that picking grapes would be so gruelling. It didn’t help that I wasn’t used to being in such heat, but eight hours a day, scrounging around on your knees in the mud. Who knew?! Even so, I’m glad I did it. Even just to prove to myself that I could. Read a full post about it here.

Back in Scotland, I then went up in the world from volunteer to employee at work. It was great. I was being paid to do something I love which was mainly juggling and making short films. The next few months were spent there so little travelling was done. I did however have a friend from France come to stay for a week in February of 2017 which was good fun. March saw sadly another funeral but on the bright side, another opportunity to catch up with the fam. A while later a few friends and I went on a small adventure to the beach, which I wrote about here.

In June, I was back off to Italy, this time with work for the very first JéMBE festival in Monte Compatri, just outside of Rome. There we ran and took part in circus and theatre workshops with the local young people, culminating in a huge outdoor show that span almost the length of the village from the town square right to the top of the hill. We also put on a fire show, and a short comedy circus show about pirates called The Blootoon Picaroons. We made great friends with the people we met and became closer as a group – partly as a result of ten of us practically sleeping on top of each other in a teeny two bedroom flat. But it was all good fun. Eventually we had to head home, but spent the next few weeks missing the sun, the people, the workshops, and even in a way the hills we had to climb every day to get anywhere. I have a full post about the JéMBE festival here.

Just two weeks later, I was back on a plane. This time I was headed eight hours west to New Jersey, America. After sending literally hundreds of emails to organisations around the world, I had finally found a month-long internship with Trenton Circus Squad. The first two weeks was spent helping set up a pilot social circus programme in Camden and living with five of the loveliest girls I’ve ever met. They took me in and taught me the ways of Frootloops and 7-Elevens as if I’d lived there my whole life. The fourth of July was spent in Washington DC and we took trips to lakes and mountains and diners. Oh, and I survived a poisonous spider bite. Woo!

The next two weeks was spent working with the company in Trenton, putting on lots of shows, teaching in workshops, and over heating in the 40 degree air. I lived with two wonderful families, both of which have come to feel like my other family at the opposite side of the world. By the end of July we were trying to think of ways I could ‘accidentally’ miss my flight. I did not want to go home. And it was lovely knowing they didn’t want me to go either. I’ve written more about my month in America here.

Back in Scotland, I almost had time to unpack, wash my clothes, and have a new friend from Monte Compatri come to stay before I jetted off to Croatia with my travel buddy, Becca. Over the next two weeks we visited Zadar, Nin, Zagreb, Plitvice national park, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Lake Bled, Postojna Caves, and Venice in Italy. The trip was exhausting but we explored and saw so much, and certainly ticked off some destinations from the bucket list. I have full posts on Zadar here, Zagreb here, Ljubljana here, and Venice here.

Three weeks later, my gap year was technically over. But the next adventure feels too big to not include. I started at Glasgow university studying film, theatre, and French. The next few months involved making friends, going to the theatre, doing juggling shows, visiting Loch Lomond, and even going to a party or two. University has been quite the learning curve, especially considering the extent of my cooking was toast before starting in September. But I’m gradually getting there…

I’ve learned a lot over my gap year and a half. Mainly that Frootloops taste really bad. But also, that while travelling, new people, and new things might be terrifying at first, I never want to go home by the time it comes around. So, take on those opportunities, even if they don’t make sense at first. And jump in at the deep end (even though you know you can’t exactly swim). Because it will all work itself out eventually.

Total gap year miles travelled: 21,555.1

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A Small Adventure

The other week, a few friends and I went camping for a night at the beach. Over the two days we were there, I realised that as exciting as the thought of jetting around the world is, no matter how far away from home you are or how long you’re away for, even the smallest of trips can become an adventure.

That weekend we built a campfire, barbecued sausages, climbed the hills, and explored the caves. As daunting as the thought of camping can be, I was surprised at how much I missed the feeling; the smoky smell of burnt wood from the campfire on your clothes, the sound of the waves rolling along the rocks, the warmth of climbing into a sleeping bag at night and being cosy despite the hard ground, constantly having grubby hands and not minding one bit. There’s a carefree air to camping that almost nothing else in the world can provide.

Once I had remembered I’d got my camera with me, I got some footage of what we got up to. I then tried to see how little is actually needed to create a ‘travel video’… (turns out, a mere 5 clips!)

As much as I love exploring and travelling, I also really value having time to recharge. For a while now I’ve been without that wanderlust feeling after my last trip into the big wide world turned out to be a little more taxing than I expected.

But something seemed to click that weekend, and now I’m once again longing for that familiar warm European breeze, and the wonder of being able to have breakfast in Scotland, lunch in the Netherlands, and dinner in France.

Luckily, I’m off to Italy in a couple of weeks! Luckily, because, I think I’m ready for another adventure…

365 Seconds – A Second a Day for a Year | 2016

A year and three months later, this post is finally here! Yay!

It would have been up at the beginning of 2017 but my video software broke in the Christmas holidays just as soon as I’d psyched myself up for the big edit. But now it’s done, uploaded, and waiting for views.

On the first of January 2016, after seeing a similar idea on Facebook, I decided to film one second of video footage every single day for a whole year. So I did. And boy was it harder than I thought it would be. Only filming a second worth of footage sounds like a relatively easy task, and it was. What was difficult was actually remembering to do it and finding something vaguely interesting to film. There were a few times when I would get to the end of the day, about to go to bed, and I suddenly remembered I had completely failed to film anything at all, let along anything interesting (as you will be able to see).

The other thing that was quite tricky was trying not to film things twice. I tried to make sure every shot was unique, but by the time November came around, I had mostly forgotten what I’d filmed in March, a whole 2.102e+7 seconds ago…

One of the things I enjoyed most about making this video was reviewing everything that had happened in 2016 when going through the footage. For many people, 2016 was the year of catastrophes. Meow. But going back through it, it was funny seeing all the great new things that did happen last year…

  • It snowed!
  • I went to Glasgow to see my very good friendly friend
  • I attended the British Juggling Convention
  • I finished school
  • I ate cake
  • I started learning to drive
  • I read a lot of books
  • I went to Italy!
  • I caught up with the family in England
  • I tried sushi
  • I started two new jobs
  • I attended a premiere of a film I worked on in a proper cinema
  • And I got to work with professional filmmakers
  • I went to the Circus Works festival in Edinburgh and met some awesome people
  • One of my best friends started university
  • I was involved with another massive Halloween spectacular
  • I won a bowling game
  • I travelled abroad alone for the first time
  • And I went grape picking in France and got to see some old friends
  • I swung a lot of fire about
  • I had a great Christmas with the family!

And yes, 2016 had its moments: we said goodbye to our dog and Grandad, Trump was elected, and Britain voted to leave the EU. But hey, we live and learn and ultimately came out the other side having been able to eat a lot more comfort cake than we would have done had these things not happened.

Finally, thanking you muchly to all those who appear in the video. Oscars all round. However, if anyone objects to being on screen for a second, do feel free to contact me at: littlemishaps@if-I-remove-you-it-will-spoil-it.com No cake for you…

Anyway, I’m already three months late, and all this waffling isn’t getting anyone to the video any quicker. So here we go. A year of my life in six and a half minutes. I’m not saying it’s going to be interesting, but there’s the occasional giggle worthy clip…

Hoping you enjoyed, dear chums. À bientôt!

Les Vendanges…

On the 18th of September 2016 I set off for France to try my hand at grape picking, with absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for – and boy, do I wish I’d done my research!

Leaving home for two weeks already seemed like a bit of a challenge – not having my own bed, there potentially being no wifi – the usual things us folk who like being comfy worry about. But this was also the first time I would travel by myself. I was launching back into the abyss, but this time, alone.

I was nervous, but I don’t think I realised just how nervous until a few days later. I had somehow managed to cover up the internal ‘aaaaaaaah!’ with ‘ooh, there will be croissants!’ I couldn’t turn around and wave to my mum when she dropped me off at the airport for fear of realising I really was by myself.

So, through the airport with my trusty rucksack and new sleeping bag, (setting off any security alarm you could set off) and onto the plane. Done. Arrive in Birmingham. Done. Stay the night at Grandma’s. Done. Could I just stop here? No? Oh fine then…

So day 2, and onto another plane. This time I landed in Lyon, France. I’ve been here before, but back then I wandered through the airport with reckless abandon, knowing I was being looked out for, and mostly knowing that whoever I was with knew what they were doing. This time I had to find the right bus to Grenoble and inevitably got lost almost straight away.

However, 18euros, a sandwich, and about an hour’s ride later, I arrived in Grenoble – ready to get lost again. And that’s exactly what I did!

Luckily I was rescued and the next day, I ventured out to explore the city. This was my third time in Grenoble and it was still as mesmerising as I remember it to be. The mountains tower over the city on all sides, keeping watch as people go about their daily lives – which seemed to mainly involve drinking coffee and looking cool. I saw the theatre that we have visited each time we’ve been to Grenoble, and wandered all the way up a long road to Fontaine, a sort of small town on the edge of the city. I bought post cards and watched, strangely, fully grown adults commute to work on push scooters.

Later that day I caused confusion at the post office (mainly by standing in the line to open an account instead of the line to buy stamps), jumped on a tram, and went across the city to see an old friend.

The great thing was that there wasn’t much of a language barrier between me and the people I met. We always seemed to find a way to communicate what we were trying to say. For example, ‘fries’ became ‘long potatoes’. And my French gradually improved over the time I was there. There was always a way to explain something with what we knew. This was not only incredibly useful and quite a relief, but I thought also sort of amazing. Two languages, two rather different worlds, but the ability to come together as one with nothing in the way. Pretty neat, eh?

Before leaving to go to the harvest, I got the chance to visit a food market. Full of fresh fruit, veg, bread, and cheese; it wasn’t a typical sight to see in Scotland. Here, some kids think that carrots come from super markets and have no idea that they’re actually grown in the ground first. Well I say take ‘em to a French market. I’ve never seen so much food fresh out a field in one place before.

We drove to Légny through a landscape that was so typically French farm, I wondered if I was on a film set. Fields full of grape vines, houses with terracotta tiles, rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Finally, we arrived. I got out the car and stood in a courtyard, surrounded by old farm buildings, again with the typical red roofs and yellow brickwork. Lizards scurried along the wall and the fellow grape pickers all sat outside on a bench, chatting and smoking. That night I saw a spider the size of an orange, made friends with a huge dog, and went to bed early for an even earlier start…

Up the next day at 6.30am. At breakfast everyone drank their coffee out of a bowl. You know you hear those things about the culture of some places, and you don’t really believe it because it’s so different to home – well guess what, they’re mostly true! And it’s quite odd finding out. After breakfast we all climbed into the back of a van and sat on the floor in the dark. This is when I started to realise it wasn’t all going to be fun and games. We were driven to a field where we jumped out and everything was explained – in French, and I hadn’t got a clue. The next four hours was spent crawling up the field going snippety snip, and putting bunches of grapes into a bucket.

We stopped at 9am for a 5 minute break and the first bottle of wine was opened. Wine at 9am! That was also around the time that it started to get incredibly hot. Back in Scotland, we were just moving into the beginning of a very chilly autumn, and the south east of France was storing up all the heat we were losing in one place. That one place seemed to be whatever field we were in. It was like an oven! To make it worse, it was not a good idea to wear shorts out on the fields. Most of the ground was hard dry mud, and without long thick trousers, knees would quickly become, well, not knees. So there I was; 30 degrees in long trousers, a t shirt, a sun hat, and another layer underneath so the brambly branches didn’t scratch my bum.

Not only did it get very hot very quickly, but you got very sore very quickly. The constant crawling would make your knees black and blue and the joints ache like nothing else with all the standing up and going back down. To fix that, you could pick the grapes stood up but bent over to the floor. This was temporary pain relief because after about 10 minutes of that, you would quickly return to being on your knees but now your back was also on fire. Finally, there was the secateurs we were using. I didn’t think they were that sharp to begin with, but they certainly made quick easy work of cutting through my thumb.

One of the most ‘fun’ parts of the grape picking was the bugs. Apparently the spiders are great pesticides and stop the need for chemicals. I guess I must be a bit of a pest too then, because the spiders were very good at keeping me away! I gradually came to realise the fact that if there was a spider in my bucket, it was because I had put it there when I dropped the grapes in. That made me shiver, even in the heat…

Spiders weren’t the only things living in the vines. I also saw dragon flies, stick insects, crickets and grasshoppers, and these funny shiny beetle things.

On the Sunday, we got a day off and a few of us went to Lac des Sapins – which translates to the lake of fir trees. It was a cool place, one of those that has ‘something for everyone’ whether it was swimming or archery or paintball or if you just wanted a walk around the forest path. I did the latter mainly because it was still too cold to swim despite the air feeling like a million degrees.

“This is like Scotland! Brrr,” I said, dipping my toes into the water.

“Are you going in?” said my new French friend.

“No!”

“But you said it was like Scotland..?”

“Yeah, and we don’t do it there either!”

We got back to the house that afternoon just in time for a thunder storm to hit. There’s something quite spectacular about thunderstorms in the rest of Europe. The thunder is twice as loud and the lightening twice as big and a hundred times more colourful. The entire sky changes and you can feel it in the air.

We then spent the next four days finishing off the fields. Time passes very strangely out there. It doesn’t seem to move for hours and hours and then suddenly a huge chunk of it will disappear when you’re least expecting it. Being finished was the best feeling. Knowing I didn’t have to get up at 6.30am the next day, and no longer having to fill up on pain killers just to make it to lunchtime. The next day I wandered off to the nearest town and took plenty of photos. I tried taking a photo of a little street, but when I looked through the camera on my phone, there was a man walking towards me. I apologised and he replied with “Je ne pas un Pokémon!” That still makes me laugh. The town was a little bigger but still so very French. I bought one of the best pain au chocolats I’ve ever had which helped in making it feel all worthwhile.

The next day I was back off to Grenoble and the day after that, back off to Lyon, then Birmingham, then Scotland. To tell the truth, I almost didn’t make it to Lyon. Have you ever tried navigating your way through a surprise street market that has just popped up on the street to the bus station that you really need to be at, with a huge bag on your back, and already being really late? Well I have!

But I made it, and even got back home. The feeling when I stepped off the plane into the freezing Scottish night air wasn’t one I thought I would welcome so gladly. Yes, it was an incredibly tough two weeks, physically and mentally. Am I still glad I did it? Absolutely. I’ve now been away from home by myself, I can say I’ve been grape picking in the south of France, and it’s made me so much more confident in so many ways. Would I do it again? Not right now, but maybe one day. For now, I’m enjoying having my feet firmly on the soggy Scottish soil, and really enjoying a new job. Yay!

Just to finish, I compiled some geeky little lists…

What I learned:

  • Picking grapes is so much harder than it sounds
  • People are often friendlier than you might think
  • France has some BIG spiders
  • And it’s roasting hot, even at the end of September
  • If there’s a spider in your bucket, you put it there
  • My French is better than I thought
  • How to grow potatoes on Mars (I was reading The Martian, review is on its way!)
  • I can do it!

Totals:

  • Total days spent away: 14
  • Total flights taken: 4
  • Total hours spent in fields: 45
  • Total scary bugs seen: A billion and a half
  • Total new foods tried: 29!
  • Total miles travelled: 2678.6

Finally, thank you to all the folk that I met and stayed with. You’re all such wonderful, kind people and the experience wouldn’t have been even nearly as amazing without you!

A bientôt!