Category: Ramblings

The Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done PT1

This post is about a series of time between Summer 2017 and Now. This post is joyous, this post is about victories, failures and battles in the workshop and the desert. This post is about people coming together and making something amazing.

I spotted a post on Facebook last summer looking for teams of three people to build a mad-max style car and do battle in the desert. I applied immediately – then I messaged my boyfriend, Zako and asked him if he would be the second member of our three person team. He replied straight away with a yes. We now had to find a third member; that came in the shape of Tom, a friend Zako made during his time as a Petrochemical Engineer. Tom loves Mad Max, Tom hates leaving the house. He said yes.

We had a team of three! We now needed to pass the interviews. One phone interview each, one Skype interview with casting, one in-person interview at our workshop… this took place over a few weeks and each time we felt more and more excited about the prospect of £7,000 to build the adventure of a lifetime. At the start of September I got the call; “Check your bank, you’re in, go build a car.”

Joy, terror, anticipation, we made it. We made it into the 30 teams chosen from thousands of applicants. We made it. We didn’t know how hard this was going to be, but we didn’t care. Dad tutted and stayed out of the way unless we asked for help. He knew. He’d done TV before.

We immediately set about finding the car we needed – we settled on a Discovery 1 v8, manual. These are rare beasts, but we knew the engine had the power we needed, we were experienced with Land Rover and knew what to look for. On the other side of the country one popped up. Roller-painted in matt green with an army theme, we knew we had to act FAST or someone would buy it out from under us. We know now this car’s name was “Sarge” before we bought it.

One phone call, one 4-hour drive to Sussex later, the cash handed over… we drove the beast towards the Safety Prep centre (Bickers Action), also in Sussex. We didn’t even take the Discovery home first, we didn’t do a long test drive, just long enough to test that it drove. 15 miles away from Bickers Action it overheated. The thermostat was stuck open and the engine didn’t want to deal with the heat of the day.

Disaster. An angry phone call. Tom saved the day by calling his bank’s AA cover. The AA man was a total legend and towed us the 15 miles to Bickers Action. We left it there, key in the visor in their secure compound on a Sunday afternoon. Apprehensive about it’s return. We celebrated with a Wagamama’s on the way home.

Two weeks of planning, buying bits for the weapons and waiting later, the car returns triumphant on a trailer. Bickers had fitted all the safety equipment needed – a roll cage, a bucket seat, a fuel cell, a cut off switch, makrolon everywhere. There were problems with a few of these things, but we could work past them, fix them, improve them! The car refused to turn off on the cut off switch, our electrician Tim fixed it right away, rewiring every part of the car to take the strain of heat, battle and the weapons we were to wire into the system.

Battlecar on it’s return to the workshop

We had 7 weeks from now to make the car battle ready. We all worked 9-5 jobs. The car was stationed at a workshop near the Severn Bridge in Wales. Tom worked in Gloucester, I worked in Hereford, Zako worked at the workshop! For those 7 weeks we would finish work, get changed and get down to the workshop as soon as possible. Some nights Tom and I wouldn’t get there until 8pm. Some weeknights we stayed until 2am – there was trouble with every part of the build, things we could have done better, things we shouldn’t have done, things we should have done. Looking back now it was chaos!

Partway through the build we realised that all weapons would have to be operated by the driver, so we purchased an Automatic gearbox for the car. Tom and Zako swapped this over two evenings with a lot of swearing and grunting. It proved to be both a pain and a good idea out in Africa! More on that later.

Zako & Tom changing the Gearbox

We tested weapons, we triangulated steel, we gained first name status with the local steel supplier, the local hydraulics place (Turner Hydraulics) very generously supplied items at cost price, we went through welding wire, plasma cutter tips, welding gas like sweeties. We taught my step-brother Danny to cut and to weld, we taught Mimi to cut, Simon helped to weld things that needed to be strong (he’s a fast welder), Dad worked out the hydraulics and helped fit and weld the ‘mangler’ on the back, Danny used his furniture and industrial design skills to design the tusks. Tom spent hours cutting them out.

A planning sketch

We realised we needed to cool the engine. Since it overheated in Sussex all we’d done was sort the thermostat and service it. Here’s where I popped an email to Evans Coolant – immediately they were happy to supply enough coolant and prep fluid, so long as we gave them feedback on the performance. We made no other changes to the cooling system on the Rover V8. It was made for deserts. It had this in the bag.

Some of Mimi’s fantastic paintwork

8 weeks later – we overran due to a few delivery issues, this caused total panic at production and we narrowly made the port’s deadline for shipping – a recovery truck turns up at the workshop. Simon and I are still welding spikes on, its time for the beast to go. I manage to squeeze in a quick test drive up and down the lane, to see if it changes gear properly – we hadn’t even been able to test it! Together with Tim, Simon and I loaded it up and waved goodbye. I sent photos to Tom and Zako, I cried. It was gone. 

We didn’t see it again until February. I missed the mad evenings at the workshop, I missed the constant activity, but my body did not. I needed to rest, Zako and Tom needed to rest. We took time apart from Tom so we could all come back together as a team in February.

Zako didn’t have a passport – so over Christmas we applied and had one sorted for him, Tom reapplied for his, mine was fine surprisingly! The flights were booked and I could barely focus on work. Work as a business was changing hands, the previous owner had sold the dealership to a group and things were all a bit up in the air. I was stressed but I could feel the good vibes coming. The week of the flights to Africa rolls round, I leave my newly purchased car at the dealership (on my return I would have a company car and a new job) and go home to pack.

15 days holiday each were booked, and we were off. I guided the men-children through the train system, to the airport, through the airport and onto the plane. Relax. We met another team in the waiting area (we now know they were Team NFG; they approached us… “are you guys going camping?” “…uh yes, yes we are” “we are too… see you out there!” We knew it was code.). We started to recognise groups of three on the plane – petrol-head t-shirts, groups of three people heading to Cape Town looking a little lost. At Dubai we knew who to follow to the connecting flight based on who looked like they’d packed for the desert…

Part 1.

Dealing with change in life

Change is something I’ve struggled with a lot throughout life, but change is something that is constantly there. It causes me to have massive moodswings, to need much, much more ‘me’ time and it will often take me a while internally to sort myself out. Outwardly I seem to be handling it all alright.

Change is natural and needed. A stag sheds his antlers every year and grows new ones. Flowers bloom and fall back for winter, trees change colour and drop their leaves, baby boar lose their humbug stripes and become big hairy creatures. Through these things, they move forward.

Over the many massive changes I’ve had to work though I’ve developed a few coping mechanisms, a lot of which revolve around something called ‘mindfulness’.

Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.

Basically – its forcing yourself to stop worrying about then and start focusing on the now. What can be done right now to change the situation? What can YOU do immediately? Nothing? Then stop worrying.

Its OK to worry for a little bit, but try putting a time limit on it, try saying ‘right, OK, I’m going to allow myself to feel weird for an hour, then I’m going to force myself to focus on something else.’ This helps me a lot – as does reading books, ‘aimlessly’ scrolling twitter, gaming and cooking. Giving myself something else to do when I’m fretting about something I have no control over really helps.

This too shall pass.

Focusing on knowing that no matter what, the sun will come up tomorrow, and the sun will go down tomorrow helps. Think of unchangeable situations like the rain, and all you need to do is put up an umbrella. That umbrella may be some you-time, a visit to the doctor, some medication, a weekend away. The rain will stop – and if the rain isn’t stopping then there’s something influencing that that a visit to the doctor or an offload onto a great friend can help you find and change.

I’m also a strong advocate of ‘no zero days’. If you’ve got out of bed, you’ve accomplished something. Here’s a link to the original post: LINK – but below are the 4 ‘rules’.

1. No More Zero Days

  • Promise yourself that you will do one thing every day that takes you one step closer to your goal(s)

2. Be Grateful To The Three “You”s

  • Past Self: Thank your past self for the favours they did for you
  • Present Self: Do your future self a favour – they deserve it!
  • Future Self: Your absolute best friend, and a great person.

3. Forgive Yourself

  • It’s okay to fuck up. Forgive your past self, and be a better friend for your future self.

4. Exercise and Books

  • Get your heart rate up and try to read when you can. Also the easiest way to avoid a Zero Day!

In a nutshell: keep on keeping on, and nothing… nothing is worth giving up on yourself.

It’s a bit deviantArt, isnt it?

Burnout is a real thing. Burnout can cause you to do a complete 180 on your passions and what child-you thought was your life and career path. I was 18, I knew I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. I drew animals over and over again, fantastical creations. I roleplayed online with my online friends, I created stories for all these characters. I applied to University and received an unconditional place on a degree course – General Illustration (BA Hons inc HND). I did not take a foundation course.

I was one of the youngest in my classes, and thus had a hard time connecting with others around me, they’d all been to foundation courses for a year, learned their style and where they were going and had much clearer ideas. They also lived in halls for a majority. I missed out on halls and lived in a rented room the other side of town.

I floundered around – I remember one particularly harsh review half way through my final project where my tutor said ‘Its a bit DeviantArt, isn’t it?‘ That review led me to do these images in this blog post.

Born from frustration, they were scribbled at 3am in a tiny moleskine notebook at my student house’s kitchen table, surrounded by washing up, countless empty mugs of tea and done only with a Japanese brush pen.

Cwn Annwn, the illustration above, was chosen to be displayed at New Designers’ exhibition in London that spring. It sold on the first day of the exhibition as a framed 1/2 print to a lady who loved it for her kitchen. She paid £200 as that was what I needed to fix my iPhone I had dropped the previous day. The other print (2/2) hangs in my mother’s kitchen.

And that’s it. That’s where my enjoyment stopped. I sold that piece, finished the Final Exhibition in uni, graduated and that summer I used my creative skills, laptop and graphics tablet to carve out a small living alongside working Children’s Parties and supporting my completely useless partner of the time. My art went back to ‘Its a bit DeviantArt, isn’t it?’ because that was what sold quickly. I lost my individual creative spirit.

The pain of having to draw whatever people threw at you -because you needed to live- completely killed my drive to work as an artist. I wanted to create my own visions, not those of others.

Only now, this week – 3-4 years later I am creating on my own terms again. I’m sewing, I’m scribbling and I’m enjoying what I’m doing. If I end up earning a living from it again I will gladly welcome it, but only if it comes through doing my own thing and enjoying it once again.

So I leave this blog post with a scribble I did the other evening, sat with my dog on my sofa in my home.

 

A New Year, a New Blog

There’s gotta be thousands of blogs starting up this time of year, so I feel a little awash in a sea of things. Either way, welcome to my blog – here I’ll be running through my adventures and hopefully some people will find them interesting. Maybe I’ll eventually settle into a theme, but for now I’m going to see what sticks (and more importantly, see if I can stick at it.)