I’ve been pondering for months about how to wrap-up this incredible chapter of our personal story. Although it started off as a simple memoir of our travels across Europe in a motorhome named ‘Colin’, it became so much more than a simple travel blog. We laid our hearts bare and shared more with you than ever anticipated.
From the calamitous trials and tribulations of living in a confined van, realising that we did not like each other very much, to the dark secret that held so much power over us, to the difficult days in Nicaragua, the loss of loved ones and the desolation of our return to the UK.
We had no idea when we started this blog that it would be read over 60,000 times by people all over the globe. It may not be a large number by travel blog standards but it’s a remarkable achievement for a small anonymous family from a small village in Cornwall who never set out to gain followers.
As most of you know, our travel journey was kickstarted by an unfortunate event back in 2015, which we have worked very hard to put behind us. Instead, we like to think back on that time and credit one of our nation’s most incredible inventors as the inspiration behind our epic decision to sell-up and fulfil a lifelong dream.
For those who have followed our blog from the start, you may remember our chance meeting with the Supervet, Noel Fitzpatrick, at his practice in Surrey in April 2015. He invited our daughter Lola to meet with him after she had sent him a picture and letter. During our visit, Noel shared his story of school, his experience of bullying and his fears that he was never good enough. He looked into Lola’s eyes and spoke directly to her soul. It was a touching and intimate moment. When Noel talked about his passion for animals and his vision for the future, it was abundantly clear that he knew his purpose in life. It was the moment when I realised, I wanted more from my own life. Not in a materialistic way, but in a magic feeling of fulfilment and purpose kind of way.
On our return from Surrey, I turned to my husband in the car and said, ‘I want to feel like the Supervet feels’. His energy was so compelling that it propelled me to question my own purpose and existence. Although I was undertaking meaningful work at the time, I knew it was not my life’s purpose. Therefore, the feeling that comes with that kind of knowing was absent.
Before we really had a chance to contemplate further, a catastrophic incident threw a grenade into our life, once again, and we made a split decision to flee. We could not face losing everything once more, and I could not watch my husband fall apart. It was the greatest decision we ever made.
What followed was two years of pure awesomeness. We look back now and can hardly believe we downsized to four suitcases and travelled in a tiny van for 12 months before packing us all off to Nicaragua – a country we could not even pronounce correctly before touching down on its national runway.
I’m not sure where we found the courage, or whether it was courage at all. Part of us acknowledges that if we had more time to think about it, we would probably have over-analysed it and talked ourselves out of it. Suffice to say, it was a crazy, uninhibited, wildly beautiful and thrilling two-years.
Twenty-four months that changed our lives forever. Not one of us returned the same. Most notably, our values and outlook on life changed immeasurably. We returned with fresh eyes, new minds and matured hearts.
If travel gifts you anything, it is the awakening of your senses and the ability to see the landscape of life in amazing technicolour. We see the beauty in simplicity. We no longer take anything at face value. We question everything and rebuff any notion of living our lives according to the expectations of others. Subsequently, we can conclude, without doubt, that we are different people in all aspects of our being and character. For the better, we hope. A conventional family of four left Plymouth Docks in 2015 and four original free-thinking individuals returned in 2017.
Since then, we have sat quietly on the fringes of society, observing, adjusting and trying to find a new way of fitting in, without ever compromising who we are again. We have led a sedentary life, with little contact with anyone. Our tiny rural village in the middle of nowhere has cushioned us from the mania of everyday life. Together, as a family, we have taken our time to figure it out. To decide who we are, what kind of people we want to be and the kind of lives we want to live. We have rebuffed the pressures of external influences and the weight of societal expectations. In living frugally and without luxuries we have avoided the pull and attraction of quick and easy fixes.
At times it has been difficult. We neither fitted in or opted out. To a critical eye, it may have looked like we just drifted, but in fact, we dropped a solid anchor, embedded in the roots of our dreams. Unwilling to compromise. Certain of our navigation. We trusted in the process. Waited patiently for clarity. Took strength from tiny confirmations that assured us we were heading in the right direction.
We made big decisions – about education, work and relationships. We placed greater emphasis and importance on health, happiness and well-being. We stopped looking externally for contentment.
Our newfound outlook and patience almost certainly helped our daughter, Lola, to blossom the most. Watching her laughing freely and singing openly is the only validation we need to know we made the right decision to remove her from mainstream education. Despite our own trepidations and fears, we stood resolutely as a family and invested our energy, collectively, into helping her grow, in confidence and ability. Her happiness has rewarded us tenfold and she is now well on her way to fulfilling her own aspirations.
What Lola’s journey taught us, was that it is okay to walk in a different direction to the masses. There is always another way. Even when you are pushing against the flow of the tide, it is important to be authentic and trust in your ability. Lola never flourished in mainstream education because her talents and quiet attributes were unmeasurable by traditional methods. By removing the chains of expectation, we simply empowered her to be herself. Unapologetically herself. We communicated our values in our actions and sent a clear message; that her happiness matters above all else, and we believe in her.
We negotiated Lola’s educational journey naturally, with love and understanding as our guide. Her courage and transformation reached deep into our hearts, and we emotionally connected to her potential. It was a great period of learning for us as parents, and we realised, very quickly, that her perceived flaws were not flaws or frailties at all. They were strengths. Unique, beautiful strengths that were simply incompatible with our modern education system – and their measure of success. Once we transferred the perceived flaws back to their rightful owners, we were free to build upon her natural strengths, skills, values and passions. Our only wish was that we could do the same to help other young people we know, who feel similarly overlooked, to achieve the same hope for a positive and secure future.
Then, unexpectedly, an incredible thing happened. Noel Fitzpatrick, the Supervet, reappeared in our lives. He visited our county as part of his UK tour in October 2018, and we purchased tickets to see him. Once again, Noel shared his personal journey from a young farmer’s boy in Ireland to the world renowned ‘Bionic Vet’ – including all his fears and failures along the way.
As we watched and listened in awe, that familiar feeling washed over me once again. I wanted to feel as he does – I wanted his same sense of purpose. His energy reverberated around the auditorium and we all knew that we were in the presence of a man who was going to achieve something sensational in our lifetime. He will undoubtedly leave this world a better place because he is doing exactly what he was born to do. He is operating at the top of his game. Reaching peak performance in every he does – because he is doing what he loves.
But success was not handed to Noel on a plate. During the evening, he described a time in his life when he reached a crossroads. His new ways of thinking and his innovative ideas were being continuously blocked, despite his creditability and evidence of success. Academics told him ‘The world is not ready for you yet, Noel’.
Faced with such opposition, Noel could have stopped. He could have let his critics win. His confidence and ideas could easily have shrunk alongside his ambitions. But instead, Noel Fitzpatrick simply said, ‘Everything is impossible until it happens’. And those words spoke to me as if I was the only person in the room.
For I know that feeling intimately. I know that pitying smile of platitude – the one that says, ‘that’s a nice idea, but perhaps we should focus on what is achievable’. When you have a mind that always searches for the unconventional route or a twist on traditional thinking, you become accustomed to the phrase ‘not right now’. Most of my adult working life, I have pushed through cynicism to prove that something can be achieved. In fact, my motto is; ‘Tell me I can’t, and I’ll show you I can’.
So, when Noel recounted those words, ‘the world is not ready for you yet’ my mind scanned back to all the times we were told ‘there is nothing you can do to change the situation’, ‘our hands are tied’, ‘that’s never going to happen’ – and I felt a surge of energy so overpowering I could focus on nothing else. I wasn’t prepared to settle for mediocre any more. After all, the standards you walk by are the standards you accept. I decided right there and then in seat 42b, that I had to do more.
I realised that Lola is not the only young person who has been cast aside by our education system. She is one of thousands being written off – so I can either accept it or try to change it. The challenge might seem enormous, but it is not insurmountable. Everything starts with one step, one decision, one word or one day. Social progress stands on the shoulders of people like Noel, who won’t give up at the first swipe of a dismissive hand.
I didn’t expect to leave a Noel Fitzpatrick’s show with a new sense of purpose, but it was the best money I have ever spent. Once I decided I was going to rock up and make the world a better place, I only had to decide how.
That’s when the universe conspired to help me. It sent me Ali, my old school pal and formidable life coach. Somehow, she was arriving at a similar destination at exactly the same time. Looking for her own legacy. Her own purpose. There is no coincidence that we were drawn together. It was meant to be. With the amazing support of our loving husbands, we have been working behind the scenes for months to create a plan that will make a difference. Proving that the impossible is possible.
We started the New Year of 2019 knowing why we are here and what we want to do. The feeling is indescribable. Each day is a new opportunity to make progress. There are no lulls in energy. There are no doubts. There are no clouded thoughts. Just clarity. Focus. Determination and self-belief.
I think I finally know how Noel feels.
I have my purpose.
It’s taken a little over two years to arrive at today’s destination. It feels like it has been a steady journey. We have taken our time and enjoyed the scenery along the way. Similarly, I wonder if my whole life has been leading to this point as everything has come together to capitalise on the lessons I have learnt along the way. Either way, it feels right. I’m in my zone.
In preparation of our new chapter, we have made a few decisions – cleared the path and made space for change. I am in the process of selling Mohobo to a fabulous new friend and fellow wanderlust. I know she will take it to the great heights it deserves. Whilst it never sparked a love affair for me, I know she has the magic sparkle and creativity it needs to thrive.
We have also decided to lay our roots in Cornwall for the foreseeable future – the desire to escape has passed. Contentment, in the end, came from within.
We have repaired some relationships and let others go.
Our little family is in a really good place. We are all happy and hopeful.
We have a great many people in our lives to thank for that, because every interaction, no matter how great or small, how positive or negative, led us to be more, learn more and give more.
There is a wonderful synergy to how this chapter of our lives started and ended. The Supervet played his part without ever knowing it. And like him, we hope we will also leave this world a better place.
We will not be posting on this blog anymore, but we would love for you to be amongst the first to see our next family endeavour. It is with immense pride, that I can stand beside my most treasured husband and one of my dearest friends, and present The Porcupine Collective (www.porcupinecollective.com) – our effort to make things better for our next generation.
The world may not be ready for us yet, but we are coming anyway!
Thank you once again for taking the time to read our story, comment and provide support, during some of the most challenging months of our lives. We took strength from every comment and ‘like’.
Wishing you all an incredible 2019 with all the joy and happiness you deserve,
The Cotter Family x