My D of E Experience

A couple of days after Prince Philip died, I received an email from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award asking me to contribute any memories I had of completing the award to an online forum.

Thinking back, the expeditions immediately stood out to me as the most memorable part of my D of E experience.

For those who don’t know, the D of E is an award created by Prince Philip and is designed to help young people develop skills that will benefit them in their adult life.

As part of completing each level of the award (Bronze, Silver and Gold), participants are required to go on an expedition.

This expedition takes the form of a multi-day hike and is designed to help participants develop resilience and self-reliance by taking them out of their comfort zone.

During the day, you walk through the countryside in a group of 4-6 people, carrying your cooking and sleeping equipment with you, and, at night, you set up your tents and camp.

Now, this may sound like quite a fun experience; an opportunity to make new friends and immerse yourself in nature. And it could well be if it weren’t for the fact that the majority of D of E expeditions are conducted in some of the wettest, most windswept locations in the UK, such as the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands.

Camping in the Lake District is less about roasting marshmallows under the stars and more about trying desperately to get your tiny stove to light under a massive pissing rain cloud.

As a result of the weather, you tend to spend the majority of your time on a D of E expedition in a state of perpetual dampness.

It is virtually impossible to keep all your stuff dry.

Even if you don’t have the misfortune of full-on falling into a river, the rain find will most likely find a way of seeping into your backpack, even if you’ve triple lined it with bin bags.  

Setting up a tent in the rain without getting the inner lining wet is also extremely tricky.

If it happens to be windy as well, the canvas will flap about all over the place, sometimes attempting to fly away from you, sometimes blowing directly into you and smothering you whilst you walk around like some soggy tent zombie trying to free yourself.

Of course, trying to build a tent in freezing cold sideways rain is far from ideal. However, pointing this out to your expedition supervisor is basically an exercise in futility.

If you do happen to complain about the situation to a teacher, they will most likely look down at you from the warmth of their heated minibus and say something along the lines of:

After this, they will probably leave you to your own devices, saying that they’re going to get an ‘early night’ which, for those uninitiated with the D of E, is teacher code for ‘going down the pub’.

Because of the high levels of rain, the ground that you walk on during a D of E expedition tends to be quite soggy and uneven.

Occasionally, you get the luxury of walking along a well-defined path but more often you end up having to navigate open fields, rocky hillsides and full-on bogs.

In addition, to this you are also carrying a heavy backpack with all your stuff in which really messes with your centre of gravity.

I discovered this on my very first Bronze practice expedition when my group were walking across a boggy field.

Around a quarter of the way across the field, I put my foot down, assuming that the ground below it was solid, only to feel my leg suddenly sink into a concealed pool of muddy water.

I pitched forward and landed face first in the bog.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been able to get back up again quite easily.

However, because I had all my belongings for the weekend strapped to my back, I found myself pinned down with my cheek pressed into the bog, unable to move.

In a dubious display of D of E team-working spirit, the rest of my group laughed hysterically at me for at least a minute before helping me up.

The fact that the majority of D of E expeditions are based in the British countryside also means that participants tend to come face to face with some of the UK’s most dangerous animals, including sheep, horses, midges and, the most fearsome of all, cows.  

Before starting my D of E, I was not particularly afraid of cows. However, before starting our Bronze expedition, we were all given a lecture on the dangers of cows by a gruff CCF man who was supervising our trip.

At this point, some of the boys burst into laughter. Meanwhile, I was sat a few metres away, imagining a cow moving in for the kill whilst the Jaws music played ominously in the background.

Two days later, I encountered some cows in the flesh. They were standing in a field that my group needed to walk across to stay on route. We decided to walk around the edge of the field in order to keep distance between us and the cows.

Initially, this tactic worked quite well. The cows barely noticed our presence until one of the straps on my backpack became snagged on a tree branch.

I reached around and tugged at the strap in order to release it. When it came loose, the tree branch snapped backwards loudly, drawing the attention of the cow closest to me in my direction.

I turned around the cow’s gaze met mine.

I’m not sure if my life flashed before my eyes but, if it did, I was too scared to notice.

There I was, participating in an award that was supposed to help me develop skills that would set me up for the rest of my life and now it seemed the rest of my life was going to be non-existent because I was going to get sat on by a cow.

The last thing I was going to see before I died was a cow’s arse.

Needless to say, I panicked. I tried to throw myself over the stone wall that lined the field but the weight of the bag on my back meant that I did not get as much height as I had originally intended.

As a result, I ended up doing some weird chest bump with the wall before falling backwards onto my backpack. After spending a few moments waving my limbs about like some sort of upended tortoise, I managed to roll over and get back on my feet.  

The cow watched all of this nonchalantly and then, obviously deciding that I was too much of an idiot to be a threat, it went back to chewing grass whilst I hurried to catch up with the rest of the group.

That night I lay wide-eyed in my tent, hyper-alert to every noise that sounded outside the tent, convinced Cowzilla was out on the prowl.

Contrary to expectations, coming face to face with a cow was not the scariest experience I endured on my D of E award.

Instead, this award goes to an incident involving a bit of dodgy map reading and an encounter with Mountain Rescue. But that’s a story for another time… (and by ‘another time’, I mean whenever I get round to writing a post about it).

I’m not sure exactly what I was supposed to take away from my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. I think Prince Philip intended for young people to develop as people by taking part in them and, if developing a lifelong phobia of cows counts as character growth, I guess it’s mission accomplished.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to check out some of my other posts. For more blog posts and drawings, you can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook .

10 Mythical Creatures Attending a Zoom Meeting.

Zoom meetings, both personal and professional, have become a prominent part of most people’s lives over the last year.

One of my favourite zoom meetings is a weekly writing group that I attend with some of my improv friends in Liverpool.

Improvisers are great people to write with as they are amazing at taking a base idea and expanding it into a myriad of different possibilities. This creative ‘hive mind’ is one of the things I love the most about improv as it tends to result in the creation of characters and scenarios that I never would have conceived of on my own.

A great example of this happened a couple of weeks ago when I came to the meeting with an idea for a cartoon that I wanted to run past the group. I wanted to take the character of Medusa out of ancient mythology and into modern day lockdown life by having her turn to stone after checking out her own face on zoom.

My friends assured me that the joke worked and we then went on to have a full on idea splurge about how various monsters and mythological would conduct themselves on zoom. 

I’ve included some of the results from this session below. Turns out humans aren’t the only ones struggling with communicating through online video conferencing software…

Unlike Medusa, Dracula is completely unable to check out his own face.

“Alexa, who is the fairest of them all?”

Troll doing what he does best.

Werewolf hasn’t shaved in months.

Frankenstein’s monster just wants people to hear him out.

Hades’ dog is causing mayhem in the background.

Dead man zooming.

Signal starts getting a bit dodgy once you’re past the upper atmosphere.

Mermaids have finally been accepted as part of our world.

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My Lockdown Diary Entries

I started writing a diary in March 2020.

I was struggling with my mental health at the time and thought that writing down my thoughts would help me gain some perspective on how I was feeling.  

The escalation of the coronavirus situation also made me feel like I was living through history and I quite liked the idea of documenting life in the pandemic like some sort modern day Samuel Pepys. I imagined people in the year 2500 discovering my diary and lording it as a priceless historical artifact, offering profound insights into life at a time of international crisis – a relic of a bygone time.

I recently read back through the my diary entries from the last year. This somewhat derailed my ambitions of becoming an iconic 21st Century diarist.

Firstly, the entries are generally too short and sporadically written to provide a cohesive account of what happened over the course of the pandemic. Secondly, some of them are so melodramatically emotional and swear word ridden that they make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

As a result, I decided to put together a compilation of a few of the more legible, lighthearted entries on here in an attempt to make some sense of my lockdown experience:

19th March 2020

Things have gone completely mad. Everybody is freaking out and panic buying supplies. People are raiding the aisles like they’re on some sort of dystopian version of Supermarket Sweep.

Saw a video on Instagram of two women fighting over a packet of toilet rolls as if their lives depended on it. It was a bit like The Hunger Games but in Asda.

23rd March 2020

So Boris has put us in quarantine. Feels like we’re all straying into unknown territory. Bear Grylls will probably be in talks with the BBC about producing a show on how to survive.

1st April

Grandad rang today and said that he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. He told us that it had been much harder for his parents in the war. I told him that just because something is more bad than another thing doesn’t stop the thing itself from being bad. He told me that I was being ridiculous and that I’d understand someday. I wanted to see things from his perspective so I visualised myself as an old lady telling my grandkids how hard lockdown was.

I guess it is a little less impressive than surviving two wars…

10th May 2020

Boris just made a lockdown exit speech where he effectively told people to go out to work but also stay at home which is, quite frankly, a paradox. Honestly, watching his speech was like watching two separate versions of Boris from different parallel universes being merged into one and talking over each other. But maybe that’s going a bit too Rick and Morty on the whole thing.

15th May 2020

Spent all day in a minion onesie. I feel like I would have judged myself for that in the past. I mean is a minion onesie even an acceptable thing for a 26 year old to own? You know what? Fuck it. Society’s closed. If I want to wear a minion onesie then I bloody well will.

Some day in May (I’d lost all concept of time at this point)

Had a breakdown today which was weird because I’ve been feeling pretty emotionally numb all week. It’s a bit like all my feelings have been put in lockdown and every now and then my brain decides to relax the restrictions and I ended up crying hysterically into a packet of Doritos.

5th June 2020

Played sims today. Moved my family to the beach and they had a welcome BBQ with all the neighbours. For some reason,  I suddenly started feeling really really jealous of them getting to socialise so I put them in the pool and removed the ladder. Afterwards I sat down and analysed my feelings and realised that my actions were unnecessarily harsh and impulsive. Felt bad about the whole thing in hindsight but I’d already pressed save so there’s no going back.

21st April

Did pilates today to try and be more aware of myself in my body. Don’t think the awareness I achieved was the type of awareness I was originally going for.

17th July 2020

Listened to another one of Boris’ addressing the nation speeches – poor guy had no idea what was coming when he took the PM position on. I reckon the smuggest people in Britain right now are the introverts and Teresa May. Probably triumphantly running through a field of wheat as we speak.

12th September 2020

Saw a middle aged man dressed in a full superman costume riding a Segway down the prom whilst blasting the Superman theme out of a speaker. Probably would have judged him in the before times. Now it’s like, you know what mate, it’s a tough time and if that’s your coping mechanism, go for it. You do you.

29th October 2020

Mum told me that she was standing in a queue today and the man behind her wasn’t wearing a mask.  She asked him to wear one and he told her that he was a human person and if he decided not to wear a mask than that was his prerogative. Wonder if when he said human person, he actually meant total dickhead?

10th November 2020

Trump was trumped by Biden. What a relief, almost makes up for how awful that Trump pun was.   

19th December 2020

Government just announced that London is going into a Tier 4 lockdown two days before Christmas. I feel bad for Londoners but even worse for the kids of the future sitting history exams on the Government’s response to COVID-19 and having to memorise like a billion different things.

24th December 2020

Mum came into my room today whilst I was getting in touch with my inner zen (meditating) and asked me to contribute to the housework. I told her that unfortunately contributing housework would be destructive to my relationship with my inner zen. She told me that my lack of cooperation was disruptive to her inner zen and also the Feng Shui of the house. I told her she could always ask Santa for some Feng Shui if she liked it that much. I am a terrible daughter.

30th December 2020

Played Catan today with my brothers. Got into a massive fight with Robert about ore supplies after I built a settlement on an ore hexagon that he had wanted to build on. He said that I had completely screwed him over with my ‘total dickhead’ of a move to which I replied that he could always trade with me if he wanted to increase his ore supplies. He said I could take my ore supplies and stick them up my arse. Nothing like a nice family board game to lighten the mood.

4th January 2021

We’re in lockdown again. Sigh. Feeling much calmer this time round. Resigned to my fate.

6th January 2021

A load of Trump supporters marched straight into the capitol today. I guess some small deluded part of me though that we would leave the shitshow behind in 2020 but it seems the series of unfortunate events is continuing into 2021. Feel like I’m living in a Lemony Snicket novel.

This was my penultimate diary entry. Now, you would assume that the final entry would have a thoughtful concluding comment, some sort of witticism to up the whole coronavirus experience in a profound way.

Instead, when I turned the page, I found something that looked a lot like this:

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2020: A Review

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that 2020 has been the weirdest, craziest, scariest, most existentially-challenging, emotionally-draining year of my life.

A lot of bad things have happened and, at times, whilst caught in a Matrix-style existential mindset, I’ve become convinced that I’ve probably been living in an unpublished Lemony Snicket novel without being aware of it.

I mean, at least the Baudelaire kids were allowed to move between households…

The whole year has felt like an extension of that strange period between Christmas and New Year when you lose all track of time and end up eating an excessive amount of chocolate whilst engaging in a nostalgic Julie Andrews movie marathon because you’ve forgotten your purpose in life, there’s nothing else to do and at least Julie seems happy about things.

It takes one crazy year to mess with both the foundations of society and the concept time itself and it’s a bit weird to think that it’s coming to an end, almost like stepping out of some surreal alternate reality.

Months, weeks and days have melded into one another and become one long unstructured mass of time and, looking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve achieved anything or done anything significant.

As a result, I thought it would be useful to write a post to remind myself that I have done some things this year, aside from of sitting on a sofa in my oldest tattiest hoody, staring into the existential abyss whilst stoically making my way through a family size bag of Doritos.

LIST OF 2020 ACHIEVEMENTS SOME THINGS I’VE DONE

  1. Survived 365 surreal, weird, stressful 2020 days.

2. Watched several of Boris Johnson’s ‘addressing the nation’ speeches and only considered punching the TV once or twice (exhibiting considerable emotional control).

3. Recovered from a spiraling Amazon addiction after realising that buying loads of things to help with stress (candles, incense sticks, meditation journals etc.) was only making me more stressed about the state of the high street and also the state of my bank account.

4. Managed to keep in touch with most of my friends, despite being confronted with my own face on Zoom more than I would have liked.

5. Didn’t shave my legs for the entirety of Lockdown 1.0.

6. Didn’t wear a bra for the entirety of Lockdown 1.0.

7. Briefly considered wearing a bra when going to the supermarket…

8. … and then didn’t (I’m sure that’s feminism or something… and by ‘something’ I mean extreme laziness).

9. Became closer to nature by taking lots of relaxing walks in the park.

10. Became closer to my dogs by taking several distinctly less relaxing walks in the park.

Swan was angered when Jessie made a unconsidered attempt chase it in what was potentially the most terrifying moment of my life to date.

11. Ran out of perfume and avoided buying more from Amazon by discovering a cheaper alternative.

12. Learnt to juggle (3 balls, not general life responsibilities)

13. Shaved my brother’s head and briefly considered becoming a barber. #RethinkReskillReboot

14. Resisted a sudden impulsive urge to shave my own head whilst bored and looking for something to do.

15. Briefly tried to eat more healthily to counter an increased amount of sedentary sofa time but then decided that it was a difficult time and I deserved to treat myself.

16. Did yoga like 10 times and only broke one item of furniture in the process.

17. Discovered a brand new way of burning calories.

18. Discovered a new comeback that has proved useful for whenever I get yelled at by groups of youths in the street.

19. Got bored and built a really tall tower out of used toilet rolls.

I mean, it looked a little bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa before it fell on top of me so it was basically like being on holiday.

20. Took up mindfulness and meditation and stuck with it even though my body seemed intent on conspiring against me.

21. Survived several mental breakdowns.

23. Had more time to write and draw (it may have been an awful year but at least I’ve got a few decent cartoons out of it!)

All in all, I may have entered 2020 with a fresh rush of energy and a resolve to strive to become the best version of myself that I possibly could be. And I may now be ending it by dragging a significantly less impressive version of myself towards the finish line.

But, all things considered, I reckon that is the biggest achievement I could have hoped for.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to check out some of my other posts. For more blog posts and drawings, you can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook .

My Journey To Find My Inner Self Didn’t Turn Out As I Was Expecting…

In 2016, I spent six months working on an outdoor education camp in Canada.

In the Spring season, the site was often rented out by various groups of people who wanted to use the camp’s natural beauty as the backdrop for their events.

As a result, in May, I found myself working on a weekend Yoga Retreat full of people who had found their chackras and could bend their bodies into a variety of complex positions.

At one point, I remember talking to a man who informed me that setting time aside time to connect with his inner self had enabled him to gain control of his mind and banish negativity from his life – or, as he put it, to ‘tell all that sadness and self-doubt crap to piss off’.

The man in question had dreadlocks and was wearing a ‘Live, Breath, Yoga’ singlet so I decided that he was probably a reliable source of wisdom.

I’ve never really been the kind of person who particularly likes spending time with myself but, like most people, I’ve had significantly more free time in 2020 and I thought that it might be useful to spend some of that time attempting to improve my connection with my inner spiritual world.

So I started meditating in April, full-on expecting to have some sort of transcendent experience where I would suddenly feel at one with myself and the universe.

However, my first few meditation sessions were quite underwhelming – as far as I was aware, nothing happened.

I felt slightly disheartened – I had actively attempted to get in touch with my inner self and it seemed I had been put on hold.

This feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that the meditation music I was listening to sounded a lot like the sort of music that often plays when you’re put on hold in what I can only imagine is a vain attempt to make you less likely to get stressed and swear down the phone.

Despite this, I decided to push onwards with meditation, reasoning to myself that nothing worthwhile is ever easy and that the transcendent joy of being at one with my inner self would be worth it in the end.

I guess I assumed that my inner self would be this wise oracle who, once found, would help me transcend above the concerns and stresses of everyday life into a state of zen-like peace.

A few weeks into lockdown, I started to become aware of a part of myself that I hadn’t noticed before.

I was initially excited and intrigued, thinking that I had finally got in contact with my inner self.

However, if I had, she was in no way the peaceful oracle-like being I was expecting her to be.

In fact, if anything my inner self more closely resembled a moody teenager who wholeheartedly resented living under my roof and, needless to say, wasn’t as sold on the concept of working towards meditative enlightenment as I was.

Although my spiritual awakening wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped, I kept trying to get in touch with my inner self, thinking that eventually she would open up to me.

However, the more I tried to connect with her, the more I irritated she became.

I had dragged her out of my subconscious against her will and she was NOT happy with it.

As lockdown dragged on and I spent more and more time with my inner self, our relationship started to feel quite tense and I noticed that I was reacting to setbacks in an emotionally dramatic way.

Anything, from receiving a job rejection to dropping a piece of toast butter side down, would make me irrationally upset.

I felt like I starting to lose control over my inner self.

It is strange and unsettling to feel like you are being bossed around by a grumpy teenage version of yourself but I tried my best to be mindful about the whole situation.

I decided that I would sit quietly with my inner self and try and have a calm, logical conversation about how she was feeling.

It soon became apparent that maintaining any form of calm logical dialogue with my inner self was going to be a near impossibility.

Instead, I thought that I would try strengthening my connection with her by engaging in a variety of relaxing hobbies.

Unfortunately, she didn’t seem as committed to the activities as I was.

Dragging my inner self through a series of mindfulness activities made me feel inauthentic and, as a result, my ability to reach a state of meditative calmness was compromised.

Eventually, I decided to leave my inner self to her own devices and instead tried to focus on everyday practicalities.

I thought that if I tried to get on with my life in the way that I had before, she would eventually calm down and my mental state would return to normal

However, as soon as I tried to concentrate on anything, she seemed to experience an inexplicable urge to hang out with me, distracting me from whatever I was doing with a seemingly endless stream of irrelevant and anxiety provoking information.

All things considered, spending more time with my inner self this year hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world.

Just as spend you can only spend so much time in another person’s company before you start to get on each others nerves, spending too much time with yourself can cause things to become a bit tense.

Being a human is complex, confusing and not always comfortable, especially this year and, for me, things became a bit easier when I stopped trying so hard to force my inner self to behave and communicate with me in the zen-like way I expected her to.

Maybe being in touch with your inner self isn’t about achieving a state of eternal chackric calm; maybe it is more about accepting your inner self exactly as they turn up, no matter how annoying they may be.

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