Live life in colour, not redundency can unlock so many opportunities.

Life. Isn't it a curious thing? What makes one person happy will make someone else sad. When it was announced that the office I was working in was closing down and we were all being made redundant, I felt nothing. Those around me were distraught, their lives ended, they were in tears. I was confused. I felt neither joy nor despair, what was wrong with me...surely I should have felt something. Instead with a gallic shrug I continued with the day to day monotony of getting up, going to work, covering for those off sick, and then going home to a night of cooking, cleaning and watching dross on TV.

I was supposed to finish work in April 2015, so the first thing I did was book a holiday for myself for the beginning of May. I decided I would head to Prague, on my own, for a week. I thought it would be a good place to walk, drink tea and get my head together about my future. I had spent twenty years working in a job I had drifted into, I needed time out to decide what to do next, not blunder into the first job that came my way and return to that life of working drudgery. This trip would be my new beginning. Of course that wasn't to be, the closure of my office was not going well so I was asked to stay for several weeks longer to sort the mess out. It was a nice holiday though, and the thing that shocked me the most was that I had been abroad on my own for a week and I had enjoyed it! I'd even managed to fly on my own. I hate flying, it terrifies me, but I did it, without fuss or ceremony, I had just done it!

What else can I do that the last twenty years has stifled? 

12th June 2015, my last day at work. A blank canvas lay ahead of me. I told my partner I would take a couple of months off and then look for a new job. I still felt nothing, no emotional reaction to losing my job and I still had no idea what else to do; so I booked a trip to Barcelona with a friend.

I wanted to see Gaudi's architecture and that cathedral that still isn't finished, I thought I might as well see it now whilst I've nothing better to do. It was an amazing experience, and my friend bless her had found a proper tea shop for me. I went in and the first thing that hit me was how similar it was to the tea places in Prague I visit. I started chatting to the owner who said he had lived in Prague for a while. My friend left me for the afternoon to sit and discuss tea with him!

You really can do anything if your want it badly enough!

It was on my return that I decided the chances of me looking for a job in the next few months was slim. I was enjoying this new found freedom. I used to go to the cinema or the theatre with my "cinema buddy", but she was now travelling 5 hours a day to get to and from her new job, she didn't have time to accompany me to the theatre or the cinema anymore, so I would have to hold my head up and go it alone. I did, and I don't know why I had thought it would be so traumatic, it wasn't. It has led me to the best of both worlds. If there is something I want to see and no-one else is interested I can go and watch something on my own. I don't get to miss out on seeing exceptional plays and talented actors anymore; but if someone wants to come with me, that's even better! It's also nice from my friends point of view, they know I will go on my own, so they can be honest. If they want to come they say yes, if they don't they say no.

I promise I'll look for a job at the end of the summer!

I found my sewing machine. It hadn't been used in years, and I was always good at sewing. At university I used to make dresses for the end of term balls for me and my friends. I even made a few garments when I first started work, but somehow along the way I had stopped. I made five dresses, two tops and three skirts. I then found some blank masks I had bought in Venice several years ago that I "would get around to decorating." It was rather enjoyable doing these craft projects, and more importantly, having the time to do them.

Tom Burke, is he really a guru?

Actually I think it's Tom's fans that are my guru's. I've enjoyed watching Tom on screen for years, but that's never compelled me to pick up a book, or go to the theatre, so why the change? Well it's all down to a TV show called The Musketeers. Many people found Tom through this show, and so fan groups were formed on social media. (Speaking of which, that was also new to me. I accidentally fell into social media when I was considering buying a horse and needed to look for livery for it.) As I started dipping in and out of Twitter I found the Burketeers! I can't say that I contributed that much to conversations but I did pluck up the courage to see if I could join in with a meeting of North East England Burketeers. (I live in North Wales!) The answer was yes, and whilst part of me thought I was deranged going to meet people I had only spoken to on Twitter, I am so glad I did. I met some of the most warm, generous and inspiring ladies I have ever known. I'm going to blame them for the rest of my odd behaviour on my years sabbatical. Yes you read that two months off had suddenly changed to taking a year out, and no I wasn't telling anyone that was my new plan!

It's all about charity!

I had done a quick sketch of Athos sitting on his horse when I was fed up in work and tweeted it. The reaction was surprisingly nice. Taken aback by this I dusted off an old art pad and did a couple of sketches of Tom Burke as Athos from The Musketeers. It was strange holding a pencil again, I had flunked A-Level art at school (a D grade) and had given up on drawing. The drawings were a bit raw, but you could tell who it was, so I donated the sketches to an online site that was raising funds for one of the charities that Tom was involved in. I then heard that another Burketeer was trying to start an online fan magazine. Well I had done journalism in a previous life so I thought I would see if I could still write. I wrote 5 articles and took part in one of the first interviews for the magazine! So thanks to Tom, I had started drawing and writing again, and a few more pictures were donated to the Burketeer shop.

I've got no-one to talk too...

I'm very good at talking! Now I was at home alone, I realised I didn't have anyone to share my nonsense with. I would write a blog!  I wrote my first post on 12th August 2015. It was very short, in fact it was hard to write anything in the first few posts. Who would read this rubbish? It's not like I had an audience to write for...or anything to write about! Or did I? I headed off to Pembrokeshire with a friend to seek out where Tom had filmed Third Star, so I shared my experiences online. I then headed back out for another solo trip to Prague, but this time I was going to record my adventures. I also decided that I was a rubbish Burketeer. All these years that I wouldn't go to the theatre on my own, or indeed travel anywhere on my own, had meant that I had missed out on all of the plays Tom had performed in.(I had actually been working in London during the time some of those plays were being performed, I could have gone if I'd had the inclination to go out instead of being too fearful of venturing out of my hotel room at night!) So I bought all of the play scripts, took them to Prague, read them, made notes and decided to publish my thoughts on each of the plays. How I kicked myself for not seeing them.

Start as you mean to go on!

I met Tom for the first time at London Comic Con in June 2015. My first encounter with him was having a professional photo taken with him. I was so excited I just threw myself at him. I then went to get his autograph, and whilst all around me were nervous at speaking to him...I wouldn't shut up. I don't think I let the poor man get a word in. I told him off for not having any photo's of his character Davy from Third Star and so I gave him a drawing I had done of Davy to sign. Actually, looking back I'm glad that I got my drawing signed, he put a sweet message on it, and my friend managed to record this event for me. It was such an amazing day, meeting lots of Burketeers for the first time, seeing some "old" Burketeer friends that I had met in Newcastle and of course meeting Tom.

A couple of months later, and another opportunity to meet Tom, this time in Newcastle. My friend told me to come up and stay with her and some other Burketeers. Well we had a great night, and even better was to come. Newcastle was a lot quieter than London Comic Con, which meant lots of talking time to Tom. This time I did let him speak. I'm glad, I got new tea shop recommendations for my next trip to Prague! I had found a copy of an old book called Tom Burke by Charles Lever. I couldn't leave that in a dusty old book shop, so I bought it and got him to sign it...the result? Something else to chat about, so I also got some book recommendations from him. A couple of dark books I had never heard of but which I immediately bought and read...well tried to.

My third encounter with Tom was at a charity carol concert in December. "Oi, I've a bone to pick with you!" Sadly for Tom it wasn't third time lucky, I had found something else to tell him off about. "That book you recommended, it necessitated the use of a dictionary and pencil." Imagine my surprise when he agreed and said he'd had the same problem...

Since these meetings I've been fortunate to talk to Tom on a number of occasions. He's such an interesting person to chat to. To think, during my working days, that my closest encounter of him was his picture on a mousemat, never did I think it would be possible to see him in real life, let alone be given the chance to chat to him!

Why don't you blog about the books you've read?

After the carol service I was talking to someone about the books Tom had told me to read. She said I got through a lot of books, so why didn't I put something on my blog about the books I'd read? I thought about this, and she was right. I had read English Literature at university, but this was something else I had sidelined during the working years. I still read the odd book, but not on the scale I used to. I had heard early in the year that Tom was filming War and Peace. I thought I had better read it before I watched it, and I thought it would take me forever to read. Despite it being a busy period in work, I started and finished the book in February 2015. I had even written notes and looked up historical points. I had really thrown myself into the book and loved it. This started me off reading again with a great passion, and so the more I thought about my friends suggestion, the more I thought perhaps I should. I then heard about the 2016 Reading Challenge. Read a book a month and blog about it. I could do that for one of Tom's charities, Box Clever Theatre Company, literature and theatre, a great marriage! And so the challenge began. It is different reading a book for pleasure, and reading a book that you know you have to write about! The challenge is actually harder than I thought but very enjoyable!!!

6 months in...only 6 to go.

The time was flying by. I had drawn for the Burketeer shop, why not start selling stuff for myself? So I opened up a Redbubble shop of my own. That has been running for a while now, but not everyone wants pictures on a t-shirt or a phone cover, so if someone just wants a print of the portraits I have drawn, they can now buy them direct from my Etsy site. I was contacted about doing a special drawing for Howard Charles (Porthos) who had been involved in an accident. I ended up making a get well soon card from his Musketeer fans. It was very special to be asked, and his thank you video message just stunned me!

Recently I remembered that when I was at work my former boss told me I should write a blog about my allotment. I used to laugh at her. I can't write a would read it. I now realise that isn't really the point. Whether people read this or not, writing is a cathartic experience. Even if only one person reads this and feels better about themselves, then that is a job well done. So I now have an allotment blog.  During my year of escapades I let the allotment do it's own thing. I was too busy travelling and having fun to go and weed it. That meant that for the last few weeks I have had to put aside all of my reading, writing and drawing to get on top of things. The result is that I now have an allotment to be proud of, and something new to write about! And that's something else I have realised. My partner wanted the allotment, but he got bored of it after a few years. He didn't go down to it, so I couldn't be bothered to go down either. I think I felt resentful. Why should I do it? It felt like a chore rather than a pleasure. I have to do all the household chores, I'm not doing the allotment too. It was the wrong attitude. I have really enjoyed the last few weeks digging, clearing and making the site my own again. I'm not going to lie, it has been hard work, there have been times I thought I couldn't do it, but I cast those doubts aside and it has been done and it's another achievement to be proud of.

And so the year finally ends...

I got a phone call from a company asking if I would consider working for them full time. It would be doing what I had done before.

I really did not want to go back to my old life, but my visits to watch Tom had cost a fortune, and he had announced he was going to be in another play... I had enjoyed all of the lunacy that the last year had afforded me and there was a fear that if I went back to an office environment it would all be taken away from me. But that could only happen if I let it. I had chosen to stop living the black and white life I had previously lived for one full of colour and adventure!

I therefore agreed to only work a four day week. I need my Friday's to travel and to keep on top of my drawing and writing. I need an early start and finish time so that I don't waste precious hours sitting in traffic crawling home. I agreed to a six-month contract on that basis. If I can keep all of this up, I can continue with the job. If I can't, well there will need to be a discussion. I need money to keep a roof over my head and to do the things I enjoy...but I also need the time to do them!

So this year has not been wasted...I have learnt some very valuable lessons during the last 12 months.
You can do anything if you put your mind to it. Ignore all the naysayers around you. Just remember, they are either too scared or too lazy to try to turn their lives around. Don't let them drag you down to their level. Ignore them. Feel the fear and do what you want to do anyway.

I have read books I would never consider, I have been to different genres of plays and films. I have met my idol (several times now, he's even pulled up a chair and sat down opposite me for a chat after performing on stage) I have met fantastic people who are energetic forward looking people (one has even taught me the virtue of Skype!)  I have traveled on my own and with friends and had countless fun adventures. I now have three blogs and two online shops. I have written for a fanzine. I have sewn an entire new wardrobe. I have created many interesting pieces of artwork. I could go on, but now I'm heading off to make a cup of tea and start packing for the weekend. Where am I going? Oh just to London to see a guy called Tom in a play called The Deep Blue Sea!!!