In 2002, at the tender age of eighteen, I found myself with a gap year before I went off to study photography at college. A gap year is a year out of education, a time traditionally for young people to discover the world and maybe learn something about themselves in the process.
I decided to gain some independence by working in Disneyland Paris. My first job was as a horse manure sweeper. Sort of. I was a Disney Village cleaner, going around, generally tidying up the streets of Disneyland. But for about 5 to 10 minutes a day, I did have to follow about 10 horses and scoop up their horse poo. Apparently the horses get nervous in parades, with many people watching from close nearby and cameras flashing and clicking.
After approximately 5/6 weeks in Disney, I politely asked if it were possible to change jobs. All of my colleagues had said that it wouldn’t be possible to change so soon after arriving. But I thought, if I don’t try I’ll never know, so I asked. Result? A far, far better job working in housekeeping in the big pink four star Disneyland Paris Hotel, right at the front of the park.
I spent a happy year in the Parisian magic kingdom, learning the basics of the hospitality trade and making friends.
After that, I studied Photography in Reading College for two years, leaving with a National Diploma in Photography & Media Studies. In the summer holidays after college, I went to a summer camp in Connecticut, working as a camp counsellor with kids from the American inner cities.
I was able to save around £250, which I spent on a 21 day overlanding expedition with Trek America on their Tierra Del Sol package trip. In truth, I didn’t have sufficient spending money. I think I may have passed out from mozzie bites in a tropical rainforest in Mexico, as I didn’t buy a mosquito net. 12 others in the group did, I was the one who did not.
By now, the travel bug (maybe a Mexican mosquito) had well and truly bitten. I went to Zagreb in Croatia (I hadn’t even heard of the place before this) and had two interviews for a photographer position on board cruise ships with Image Photo Services (a photographic cruise concession). There were around 50 people at the hire session, all from Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and one or two from Norway.
Some unfortunate chap raised his hand to ask if he could sleep in guest cabins if he got the job. Not surprisingly, he was sent home immediately. I was offered a job and started work as a cruise ship photographer in late 2005. My two years at Reading College had officially paid off. But I wasn’t going to get rich on the payday.
My first pay slip at sea was an envelope with only 21 US dollars in it. 150 dollars had been taken from my salary as the deposit for the uniform.
I resigned from the cruise ship after completing my second contract. I’d seen a few people get stuck on the ships, as the cruise ship lifestyle is very unique and sometimes can feel like a long holiday, depending on your job role and the team.
Shortly after coming home to England, I was persuaded by a nice gentleman from Acacia Africa (a travel group) to do the Ultimate African Adventure of 56 days overlanding (going from A to B to C to D to E by truck). Each week was a different country, a different culture, a different experience. While in Africa, staring out of the truck window I decided to get qualified to teach English as a second language.
So that’s what I did, gaining a CELTA certification from a reputable school in London.
In 2008, I flew to Hong Kong, and hopped on a bus to Huizhou city to work as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) English teacher. I did a bit of travelling, went to a load of KTVs (Chinese karaoke bars) and had a chance to teach in a Chinese kindergarten, which was more like babysitting. In one of my first classes of nine children – all between 2-5 years old – eight of them cried when they were asked to sit down in front of me. I probably wanted to cry myself but fortunately I managed to hold it together.
A week later, the Chinese boss asked me to shave my beard as I was told this might be scaring the young kids. I did learn to say “Bu yao ku” (don’t cry in Mandarin). A year and 3 months later, I returned home to an England smack in the middle of a huge recession.
After a couple more stints as a counsellor at kids camps in America, I got a job with Club Med in the French Alps. There I worked as un Animateur (a children’s play leader). This was a cool experience, mainly because they paid for my transport and the accommodation and food seemed free, although obviously it would have been accounted for in the (modest) level of my salary. An interesting experience and I’m glad I did it, but after a few months there, I’d had enough.
After spending a little time back home, I headed out once more for a Jordan and Egypt Explorer overland trip with the Oasis Travel Group. A fascinating journey and a part of the world full of magic and history.
A year later, I did a Kathmandu (Nepal) to Delhi (India) overlanding trip with Dragoman. In the last few days of this trip, I got food poisoning again, so that was my last overlanding trip. Although I’d still recommend overlanding – it’s an inexpensive way to see different cultures and experience them close-up and personal. Of the ones I haven’t yet tried, I’ve heard Intrepid are a very good overlanding company.
In between different positions in the hospitality sector and regular trips abroad, I’ve had a variety of other jobs. I’ve worked in a top spa, aiding a gardener. As a checkout operator for B&Q. A sales assistant for House of Fraser. I’ve worked as a Royal Mail sorter, and more recently for the Cliveden National Trust as a Catering Assistant. I did a brief work experience in the Ritz Hotel London and worked with the Concierge of the MacDonald Windsor Hotel. I spent a couple of years working as a Teaching Assistant, sometimes voluntary, in primary schools.
Just a few notes about working at various kids’ camps. I worked for two months and a training week in and received 631 US dollars for two months work with Camp America, who did pay for and arrange my flights. I got the job pretty much on the spot at a jobs fair in London.
I have also worked with Village Camps in Yorkshire, England as a CELTA Teacher and I did a summer job working for Camp Beaumont on the Isle of Wight, the camp scenically located just a short walk from the beach.
Please don’t think because I’ve travelled a lot I must be rich or be from an affluent background. I’m just good at saving and everywhere I have travelled I have worked or knowingly saved to travel. I guess it’s like most things – if you have a passion for something (in my case travel and culture) you’ll find a way and the resources to make it happen.
I met a guy on my trip in Kathmandu who was only 31 years old and told me he had just left a job with Carphone Warehouse paying £60,000 a year. I assumed he had great qualifications, he had said he didn’t. He had just stayed with the same job for 11 years and worked his way up to being a senior position. To do that you must work hard, be enthusiastic and very willing to improve and help others improve.
Whether it’s vacations, work or hobbies, what you put into something will determine how much you get out of it.
In 2015, I was working in a hotel in Windsor. One evening, I saw a sign on the lunchroom wall announcing that all staff were welcome to run the Windsor Half Marathon for free. Liking a challenge and a spot of exercise, I took up their offer. I trained enthusiastically but one week before the Half Marathon, I got a horrible cold and didn’t run.
Naturally I was disappointed but had now developed a passion for running and so joined Burnham Joggers, a local running club.
In March 2016, I woke up one morning to find I had fallen out of bed with no memory of it happening. For me at 32, this was a very strange thing to happen. A few days later, I woke up with agonising pain behind my right knee joint. For the next three days I found it safer and easier to bottom-shuffle down the stairs. Undignified but effective.
The following four months I found myself continuously limping due to, I assumed, my bed fall. The limp turned into a wobble and I began to like my unique walk. Finally, a visit to a medical specialist explained the reason for the wobble – spinocerebellar ataxia, a condition affecting my balance and speech.
As I came to terms with the diagnosis, I was determined to take control of it rather than it take control of me.
As the year progressed, various people told me about a charity called Sportsable. Sportsable brings disabled and able-bodied people together to enjoy sports and socialise. At the start of 2017, I decided to join them.
Over the next few months, I realised I had once volunteered for this very charity when I was 18 years old. Then it was known as WAMDSAD (Windsor Ascot Maidenhead District Sports Association for the Disabled). Initially I chose to do swimming and table tennis and as summer arrived, I developed an interest in kayaking.
Despite my sporting endeavours, I was getting noticeably worse, which confused me. Perhaps I had mistakenly thought the charity’s activities worked magic. Join and you will be healed. But it doesn’t work quite like that. You make the effort, motivate yourself. Sportsable gives you support, facilities and the friendship to be your best.
Many members find Sportsable a great place to socialize and make like-minded friends. It’s a place to share experiences and stories, to try out different activities. As they say, ‘practice makes perfect’ and at Sportsable you have the opportunities to practise and grow. If you live in or near to Maidenhead, why not join and make a difference to yourself and others around you.
One lovely lady I met at Sportsable has been patiently helping me to improve my table tennis skills. She told me that about six years ago doctors had informed her she’d soon be spending the rest of her days in a wheelchair. Six years later, she’s still walking, exercising and making a difference. Her belief is that much is in your mind. If you adamantly don’t want to be reliant on a wheelchair, you’ll continue to stay on your feet.
Today my ability to walk and speak, still need improvement and I’m working on it. But I can still take an impressive photograph. Right now I only photograph friends and family or those that help me. But photography is my passion and I would happily photograph anyone who gets in touch.
m: 07708 778127