A few days ago I wrote a post about places and people and what they mean to us and how they have an influence over their lives. In this post I have chosen 6 places and the people in those places that have had a big influence over my life and the reasons why they have had a big influence.
The first place is where I grew up. A place in North West London called Kilburn not too far from the centre of the city. Of all the places I go to and all the places I have been the one I always think back to Kilburn. I haven’t lived there for about 12 years but I still miss it. When Irish people started to come over to the U.K to look for work in the 50s and 60s many of them ended up in Kilburn and this has a massive influence on the lives of people that have lived there. You’re culturally brought up as Irish even though you’re living in a different country.
My fondest memories of Kilburn are probably Saturday mornings when I used to go and play football with my father in a park nearby to where we lived. On Saturday or Sunday evenings we would also go to the pub, mum, dad and me. I used to love the walks in the summer time up through the back streets of Kilburn towards St John’s Wood and Abbey Road (the place where the famous Beatles zebra crossing photo was taken). I was still very young at that point and it was the only time I remember us being together as a family.
There are a lot of people that I knew when I lived there that are no longer in my life. When I have been back there I wonder what has happened to them. There are also friends to have been lost due to addiction.
My memories of Kilburn are mostly from when I was very young. As I get older and fell into a life of addiction my memories are more of walking down the high road looking for places to buy alcohol early in the morning. The people I grew up with and experiences I had in my life at an early age are all linked to here. Not all of them are good, however I always look back on the place I grew up with nostalgia.
Of anywhere that I’ve been or lived in my life this place had the biggest influence in changing the direction of my life and also setting me on the road to being the person I am today. In 2007 I entered treatment for addiction and it was in this big house in the middle of the Hampshire countryside that I lived for 11 months. Completely cut off from the rest of the world, only occasionally going out.
No matter how many times I am asked I can’t accurately describe what it is like to live in residential treatment, especially one that was as structured as this place was. It was one of the hardest things I have done in my life, yet there was a togetherness and a warmth about it that almost made you not want to leave. I think there was always a danger you could become too comfortable there without actually challenging yourself and trying to move on with your life.
It was chaotic at times, a few times I wanted to leave. The only thing that stopped me was walking 14 miles to the nearest train station. I had to challenge my way of thinking, challenge my own misconceptions about myself and most importantly I had to be honest about my own faults. Without the help and guidance I had here I don’t know where I would be today, very likely I wouldn’t still be alive.
All the people that I met in there had an influence on me. As it was so often said while there, you see things in other people that you don’t want to recognise in yourself. It was only by admitting these things to myself that I was able to move on. I also met people that will always have a place in my heart and will never forget the influence they have had in what my life is today.
In 2009 I went to India to take part in a program teaching children English in the Himalayan mountains. I look back now and think of the massive risk it was that I took. I had not been out of treatment for more than a year, I had no real direction in what I wanted to do. It was this trip however that gave me direction and started off my love for travel. I remember as a child at school they used to have a jigsaw puzzle of a map of the world and I would spend hours trying to finish it. I would dream about all these places on the map but never thought I would ever end up going to them.
It’s cliched but I was pinching myself when I actually arrived in India. The different air, the noise, all the people. I got a buzz out of it that I’d never had before in my life. It certainly inspired to keep travelling. Living in the Himalayan mountains, seeing a way of life that was so fundamentally different to anything I had ever known made me far more aware. The realisation of how big a place the world actually is once you step out of your own safety bubble.
The kids that we taught up in the mountains didn’t have much yet they didn’t seem affected by it. They were happy with what they had. They also made the most of what they had. Going to India wasn’t some kind of spiritual experience, I didn’t ‘find myself’, I didn’t feel the need to ‘renounce all material goods, man’. It just opened my eyes. Being so far away from home showed me how well I could cope outside of my comfort zone.
One of the children also taught me the importance of aiming for things that aren’t so obviously achievable. He was only eight years old yet he had managed to teach himself to speak excellent English, he also had the dream of being a pilot. Given the remoteness of the village and the lack of resources at his school it seemed like an impossible dream yet he was adamant that he would achieve it.
While in India I also taught myself Hindi, manage to learn to read and write and have a basic conversation. This was the start of my love of learning languages and everywhere I go now I try to learn as much as I possibly can, even if it’s just a few words. It was a big turn around for me as I absolutely hated learning French at school!
A story I wrote based on what one of the children that I taught.
I went to China in 2010 only intending to stay for six months and ended up staying for nearly six years. It was the place where I really found direction in life and also found out so much about what I was able to achieve. As someone who had identified as someone who had been in treatment for addiction China was the place where I threw all that off and was able to realise that there was so much more to myself than simple definitions.
It wasn’t always an easy place to live and at various times I almost left. At one point I was offered five different jobs and every single one of them fell through for no obvious reason. I had barely any money and was living on a bowl of friend rice a day and a packet of cigarettes. At the time I was also studying Chinese at the local university and this kept me going. It showed me the strength you can have as long as you persevere and eventually things fell into place.
Being thousands of miles away from home and being too proud to ask my mother for money, it was a really hard time. However I look back at it now as one that taught me the most about myself and what I am capable of achieving when I am determined to do something. I now speak, read and write fluent Chinese, something I never ever dreamed I would be able to do back when I was doing my jigsaw puzzle as a kid!
As well as the difficult times there were great times in China too. The people I have met there will be friends for the rest of my life and the city I lived in, Chengdu, will always be a place that I’ll return to when I can.
Vietnam has always been one of those mystical places for me. I love history, especially modern history and having watched films about the war in Vietnam I really wanted to see it for myself. I went for a two week holiday but ended up staying and eventually backpacking for 3 months around South East Asia.
When I went to Vietnam it was the first time that I went off travelling completely on my own. I had absolutely no plan and just wandered from place to place, enjoying it. It was a freedom that I had never experienced before. After this trip I decided that a life of travelling was what I wanted.
There isn’t much more that I can say about the influence that it had on me other than showing me I had the confidence to go off on my own and enjoy the freedom that I had and still have to this day. Without taking this trip I think I may have become too comfortable in China and never aspired to leave.
As a writer all these places have a big influence on what I write about. My own experiences and those of others. By writing it I hope to give an insight into why I write about what I do and how they relate to my life. Where are the places that have had a big influence on your own lives?