Living the Arctic Life! Cross Country Skiing, Dog Sledding and Learning About The Sami

So after I arrived into Abisko and I met up with my friend we decided to go for a walk and check out the scenery. It is incredible in Abisko. The trees look like icicles covered in thin sheets of shiny ice on the tiny branches. Everything is white as far as the eye can see. There is on dip in the mountains where you can barely see the sun as it struggles to make its way to just above the horizon for the smallest amount of time again before it disappears and darkness sets in.

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The extent of sunrise….

By the time night fell I was starting to get super excited about the one thing I had been chasing across Canada for years that had up until that point evaded me. The northern lights! So we wandered down to the frozen over lake, stood at the edge of the ice and waited. Before not too long this faint green haze wandered over the hills in front of us and it was one of the most beautiful and surreal things I had ever seen. At that point I was happy. But I had no idea about what a full on aurora could be like. I was going to learn in coming days.

My second day in Abisko was spent learning to cross country ski during the daylight hours. It took me about half an hour to actually figure out how to clip the skis on before I went attempted running in them along the ice and fell so hard on my butt that the resulting bruise was both excruciating and impressive.

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First time Cross Country Skiing… prior to the bruise 🙂

Annette and I went flying along the course with Tim trailing along behind us taking photos and documenting the ridiculousness. Annette having skied quite a bit before kept falling over in the tracks as she was trying to go down the hill because she was trying to control the movement. Me on the other hand, flying down the hill at stupid speeds relying solely on good balance to keep me upright as I do not know how to ski (it is on the bucket list) and haven’t been since that one time when I was eleven. At one point they dared me to go down the massive hill…. and while I contemplated it, I decided that if I broke myself I wouldn’t be able to go dog sledding so I put the hill on the back burner for a later date. The daylight hours were waning and as such there wasn’t much left for daylight hours activities. It was time to return to the hostel and consume my standard Norwegian meal of crispbread and brown cheese – all I ate for about three days…

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Smashing the odd hill….

For that night I booked a photography tour to go and take pictures of the northern lights. They picked me up on the motorized toboggan and I sat on my reindeer pelt as we drove along in the snow up the hill to a place that was flat, dark and quiet. We stood about in the snow and set up our cameras to take pictures of the stars and waited for the northern lights to come. And they never came. It got so cold at one point that our guide took us into the traditional teepee set up with the fire in the middle and we sat around drinking hot chocolates and listening to stories of how the natives of this land, the Sami, existed, used the land and the reindeer to survive in the harsh winters of the north. As we were about to pack up and give up for the evening, we poked our head outside of the tent and low and behold, there it was. The familiar green haze from the night before painting the sky with its stunning beauty.

At this particular point in time the camera I was using decided it didn’t want to work very well. I couldn’t get it to take any pictures. I was fortunate enough that the guide put my memory card into her personal camera and took some photos on that. My favourite photos from this is a still picture of me standing under the northern lights. One of the most amazing pictures I will ever have in my life.

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Under the Northern Lights

I went back to the hostel on a high. I was super elated, excited and ready to get some serious shut eye for dog sledding in the morning… right after I consumes some Bailey’s at the kitchen table with the rest of the crew.

The following morning was best described as like Christmas day for big people. The whole lot of us going dog sledding lined up in the kitchen in our suits raring to go. We walked up the hill to the cages where the dogs were kept and they could feel the excitement in the air. They just wanted to run. So we got them out of the cages and one by one we had to walk the dogs over to the sleds they were working on and hook them up to it. Then we got allocated our sleds, and we were ready to go!

Dashing through the snow… just like Santa, but my dogs are way cooler 😛

For two hours we sped through the snow fields with the dogs leading the charge. There were many things about dog sledding however that I did not realize. Firstly. They just poo everywhere. Sometimes they poo while they are still running. Sometimes the others behind them stop to eat the poo. Some of them make quite a hurrah about the whole situation. It is quite disgusting. Another thing I did not realize is what happens with cornering. Literally where you get thrown from the side of the sled and roll around into the trees as the dogs just go off at their own pace dragging the sled behind them and trying to overtake any other sledder in front of them. It was so funny. I didn’t do too badly with regards to falling off, but some members of our group were hilarious and literally couldn’t stay on their sleds.

Before we knew it, we were back, putting the dogs back into the cages and patting them to say goodbye. It was so much fun and it set the tone for the high for the rest of the day.

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Me and my team. Love these pups!

Hungry we went out for buffet lunch at the pub before we settled back in for a rest. The evening was bound to be a huge on as it was also the last. Little did I know it was also going to be the best…….

For the last installment of my adventures in the Arctic, stay tuned…

On The Wagon and I’m Hitchin’ A Ride… Across The Arctic!

To go or not to go, that is the question……

I am sitting in Canada talking to my friend, Tim, in England on Facebook and he is trying to convince me to come to Europe. So I said to him, “There are things I haven’t done here yet that I need to do before I go. I want to see the Northern Lights and I want to go dog sledding.” Well he told me he would deal with this and I should just book my flight. So I did.

Enter this amazing trip to Abisko National Park in Northern Sweden. My friend planned and organized all of the finer details because he is a planner and I am very much not a planner. All I had to do was book my flight from Oslo to Narvik, get on the train at Narvik that goes to Kiruna, get off at Abisko. Easy enough. Or so we think……..

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Views over the fjordlands of Norway from the plane

As Murphy Law would have it, again, (I swear Murphy and I are besties these days), I find myself rolling around the floor in the airport bored to tears for a solid two and a half hours while my plane is delayed. Now given that I had allowed myself that 2 and a half hours to get to the train station for the last train, it was known and accepted that there was to be no train for me that day. As I arrived into Narvik, I trotted off to the Tourist Information Center to assess my options. They were as follows:

1. Spend $1000 AUD on a taxi to get to Abisko

2. Spend $500 AUD on a hotel in Narvik if I could actually find one because the backpackers hostels are closed as it is not the season.

3. Stand on the side of the road til the following morning and freeze.

4. Hitchhike…….

So I asked the woman behind the counter for a piece of cardboard and a permanent marker. I scrawled out the word Abisko and headed down the road to go and find me a car to ride in with my map in hand.

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Me and my hitchhiking sign… hurrah!

Generally when hitchhiking it is a good idea to know which side of the road to stand on. I misunderstood the directions I was given and spent a good half an hour standing on the wrong side of the road before some lovely gents pulled over and pointed this out to me. I felt like a massive moron but laughed anyway and headed over to the other side of the road.

It didn’t take me too much longer from here to find a nice guy named Sven (yeah I know right!) and he told me he would drive me down the road to the junction where most of the trucks go by in very broken and hard to understand English. He got onto his phone and was ringing his friends to see if any of them on the truck route were going that way but no luck.

So after this, Sven decided he would drive me past this intersection and on to the Swedish-Norwegian border another forty minutes. We chatted along the way about whatever his broken English would allow and while we go along I am starting to observe my surroundings and the thermometer in the car. As we got progressively further down the road, the thermostat in the car told me that the outside temperature had dropped from the -7 degrees it was in Narvik to a now nippy -20 degrees…. We also had not seen any cars coming in the other direction as the road took us higher into the mountains and all we could see around was snow. I was starting to wonder whether I had made the right decision about this but then figured… OK, border, there has to be shelter there, I will be fine.

When we arrived at the border there was a tiny hut on the side of the road and a couple of trucks. Sven recognized one of them and he told me to wait for him while he went to talk to his friend. After two minutes he ushers me over and introduces me to his friend, Cornelius. Cornelius said he would love to drive me the rest of the way to Abisko and so next thing you know, the shoes are off and I am lifted by two men up into this luxuriously decked out truck equipped with microwave, fridge, bed, speaker system and stereo and heated seats!

I said goodbye to and thanked Sven for his amazing kindness and we started out drive to Abisko. Cornelius was one of the most incredible people I had ever met. He is a Dutch National and has amazing stories about flying helicopters in different wars, racing horses in Spain, driving truck fleets in Germany, his small kids. It was one of the most enjoyable conversations I had had on the road in Europe and before I knew it, my time was up and we were pulling into a shop on the side of the road. He pointed up the hill to me over the train tracks to where the rest of the town was and I jumped out of the truck, thanked him and wished him well on his journey delivering dairy to the northern most parts of Norway and was left on my own on the side of the road.

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Happily arrived in Abisko, not dead 😀

I eventually found the backpackers hostel. I arrived about half an hour before Tim coming in from the other direction on a high because I did not know I could actually do it and yet I did. That was the start of my Arctic Circle adventure and it set the tone for the rest of what was to be my last couple of days overseas before returning home to Australia for the first time in two years. It was one of the most amazing places on the planet. And one of my favourites……

Read more about what I actually got up to once I made it to the Arctic Circle in the next installment!


My First CrossFit Throwdown

“One of the greatest moments in life is realizing that two weeks ago your body couldn’t do what it just did”

So when I came home to Australia last I decided to give CrossFit with my old trainer a go instead of the boxing training that I would have gone back to normally. It has been five months and I am physically stronger than I have ever been. That said, I am still nowhere near strong enough to do half of the Olympic lifts to the standard weight. I can do unassisted pull ups now, but not consistently. And it is the same for toes to bar and double unders (those of you who do CrossFit will understand).

The thing that kept me with CrossFit, was that it was hard. For years I thrived on the feeling that you had worked so hard and so fast with boxing training that you could barely stand. You had nothing left in the tank to give because you had given your all. And in a different variation of movements and exercises, I found that again in CrossFit.


So my friends who have been doing this way longer than me and are way better at it than me said “You should enter the competition”, to which I initially was like ‘noooo waaaayyyy!’ Since my little adventure on the Overland Track, I have been stretching, rolling, at massage therapists trying to get my hips and back into shape after becoming pretty tight and out of whack. They still aren’t right and so I still can’t do things to the capacity I used to. But after a wine and a whole bunch of peer pressure my “Aversion to the Word NO!” kicked right in and I am finding myself online and paying up my registration fee…….

The workout was released a couple of days before the event and I had a total meltdown. It consisted of 3 rounds. A 10 min AMRAP of 7 deadlifts, 5 hang cleans, 4 front squats, 3 hang snatches and 2 overhead squats for reps. Follow this up by two and a half minutes of rowing for meters. Then a 10 minute AMRAP of “Annie” with a run at the start. “Annie” is all double unders and sit ups.

I am not overly good at any of these moves other than sit ups. I am way better with the gymnastics movements like pull ups, box jumps, burpees, toes to bars…. and so my meltdown began. I went to the gym two days before the event to see a friend who stayed with me for a while and taught me how to do a snatch properly. Criticised my techniques for things and helped me to get to a point where I believed that I could. After that I stood and stared out the window for an hour and a half going over double unders over and over again. They were marginally better than before. A sense of calm and purpose had set over me. I felt readier than I had ever been. I knew what I had to do now, and I knew that I could.

I woke up with a bit of a cold at 4am the day of the Throwdown after an entire night pretty much of dreaming about snatches (and not the female genital variety, the weightifter’s variety… sorry for all you boys out there – fantasy shattered!) Everything was ready to go, I got my gear and I caught my lift to Devonport.

After arrival, we checked in, they wrote a giant M52 on my arm and I went to warm up and get sorted. The first of my events was to be the row. Without much of a warm up, I sat on the machine and full on gassed myself for two and a half minutes. To the point where I rolled off the rower when I was done onto the floor and stayed there for about another two minutes. Jelly legs and a shaking body had earned me a 654m row and 654 points towards my total tally for the event. It then took me another ten minutes of rolling around the floor for any kind of controlled functional movement of my body to kick in, that is how gassed I was from this row. I couldn’t have given any more.

The second event I was to go into was the first AMRAP with the Olympic Lifts. I chose the 15kg bar scaling option and set my sights on a round a minute or completion of 10 rounds. It was tough, my forearms burned and my body ached but by the end of it, I had managed 10 and a half rounds or 224 reps for that round. After deducting my 30% from this due to the lower weight penalty, my total was 156.8 to add to my row.

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Overhead squats…. my favourite! Not!

The last event for the day was the “Adventurous Annie”. This was to be a 705m run with obstacles through the end of it, followed by the double unders and sit ups. Now as somebody who does not run well, I paced myself, got back with five minutes to spare to work on the double unders and sit ups. I managed to get 114 reps for the AMRAP. My day was done. My total points tally came to 924.8. It was enough in the points ranking to place me about 14th out of the girls but as I had scaled, I was not allowed to compete in the final 16 girls for the contest. Probably a good thing too because after only 5 months of CrossFit, I don’t know whether it would have been achievable for me.

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Part of the “Adventurous Annie” obstacle course…. giant tyres.

The first final was a 10 minute AMRAP of 3 rounds of 15, 16kg for women and 24kg for men, kettlebell thrusters, one bell in each hand, and 15 chest to bar pull ups followed by 3 rounds of 15 toes to bar, 15 box jumps and 15 bar muscle ups…. It was a brutal display of courage. Most of the women didn’t finish the first three rounds and most of the men got into the fourth round if they were lucky. It was one of the most courageous displays of athleticism I had seen and 3 women and 5 men from our gym went through to compete in this before they decided the top 6 men and women.

When results came through, we had two boys in the top six for the final. It was to be a strong man contest. Deadlift 200kg ten times, then lift and carry it 12 meters before pushing a sled across the lawn for 20 meters with 160kg of weights piled on it followed by a 50m sprint. One of the boys from the other gyms managed to finish this in under a minute in what was one of the craziest displays of strength I have ever seen. Our boys did well and we were all incredibly proud.

It was an amazing day all round and I had a great time. The whole CrossFit community is really supportive of each other and it is something that I am happy to be a part of. It is like a family.

This is my CrossFit family

There are not too many challenges that will push you to your physical and emotional limits. Together we laugh, we cry, we scream, we yell, and at the end of it all, we go get drunk! (OK, well I don’t because I am too busy laid up on the couch with raging chest infection and cold exacerbated by competing…. but ordinarily…. 😀 )

Being the Edo Elf

So for those of you who aren’t familiar with this story, I found myself becoming somewhat of a Canadian celebrity of sorts. I wound up becoming the face of Edo Japan’s Christmas promotion to help out people and give back to the community. I am sitting at the hostel one day going through my emails for different promotions jobs and I get another email requesting for people to dress up as Elves and run around doing good deeds for people. They also wanted two people to do some photos and to do a small video showing off the good deeds for Youtube. Information wasn’t overly forthcoming but since I will literally give anything a try, I wrote back and said I would do it. They wrote me back and said. good work, you have been chosen. Meet us this day at the office and with hair and make up done and we will do the photos.

I arrive at the office and the usher me off to a professional photography studio with my friend Marco where we get fussed over to the max with heaps of direction and people playing with my clothes and hair and hat and it goes on and on. Massively professional photos to go on the webpage and in the restaurants. I am starting to get suspicious of the magnitude of this campaign….

Two days later and it is even more full on. There were hair and make up artists waiting for us with all of the camera crew at the Sunridge Mall and I am thinking, “Holy hell this is a production and a half!”. And it was. This is Marco and I hanging about waiting for the filming to begin and getting all doled up and elf like.

Marco and I spent all day filming different scenes of us helping out people that were set up and then they let us go about trying to get reactions from people in the mall. I call this phase ‘scaring the shit out of people’. We are skipping, clapping, singing Christmas songs at the top of our lungs, scaring people as they come out of elevators and just being all round excessive. It was amazing fun, and come the end of the day we had our interview…. one problem however. “Ummm…. we thought you were a Canadian. We didn’t want an Australian elf…. Can you do a Canadian accent?’ And so I gave it my best…. The shoot wrapped and I didn’t hear anything else much of it until about a month later when I am working handing out samples of Almond Milk at the womens show and I ran into one of the producers who had gotten the video sent to her the day before and she showed me. I was hysterical. I had no idea how good it was going to be or what it was going to be like, but this wound up to be the final product….

Spot The Edo Elf Commercial 

After going up on youtube, my friends thought this hilarious. People would play it, laugh at it, and play it again. It got to the point where that jingle song at the start of the clip became the sound track to my life I heard it so often.

About another week later I was working another promotion with a giant penguin at the airport when it happened. I found my first Edo Japan store since the photos got used in store. It was really strange and surreal at the same time. I kept staring at the jangly mobile thing on the ceiling as the workers stared at me and I said to them ‘That is me!’ and they said ‘No, it isn’t! It looks nothing like you!’ and so it continued. My first real trip into a proper store though was with Lisa and I was crazy. There were stickers of me on tables, trash cans, windows… it was mental! I did not imagine when I answered the email the magnitude of this campaign. I took cheesy pictures inside and even Elfed myself in Marco’s cardboard cut out 🙂

After this I got to do some of the street promotions. We spent another morning filming a segment for a news program to promote Edo Japan giving donations from their gift cards to the food bank over Christmas.

And then it began. The wonders of Stephen Avenue…. Stephen Avenue is full of the weird and wonderful. Marco and I all elfed up met a leprechaun, a man who told us he works for the Massad, a UPS guy who’s trolley we looked after, friends that came to point and laugh at us, and a whole array of homeless people or people who kept asking us what we were giving away for free and then told us to piss off when we said ‘help’. It was hilarious.

After a shift as the Edo Elf one afternoon I went to pick up my friend Lucas in the hospital after his surgery and he had been showing people the video when I roll in with my stick and sack full of costume. I got to meet and talk with some lovely people in the hospital and help to cheer them up. It was really nice to be able to give a gift card to some parents to go and have dinner courtesy of Edo Japan while they waited for their daughter to sleep in recovery. It was a super humbling job to help people doing things, but I have also discovered how little people like help these days. They always assume that you want something back in return for doing something nice, and maybe we as people can learn to give without expectation, but also how to be gracious in receiving.

Elfing people in the carpark by paying their parking meter fees!

Post this they gave me a whole bunch of stickers that I used to Elf people with around the hostel. I even tried to elf my friend while he was sleeping by putting stickers on his face. All around it was probably one of the funniest promotions jobs that I have had the pleasure of being a part of  and the best part is, nobody recognizes me or believes that is me! (Especially with the Canadian accent :P)

Woman vs Wild meets Murphy’s 1st Law – Dano vs Algonquin Provincial Park

Murphy’s 1st Law: “What can go wrong, will go wrong”.

Well I have to say that it appears that lately all good ideas start in Walmart…. sadly they also seem to end in Walmart. The original idea was to go there for cheap cereal and a $15 brie cheese wheel (850 grams, hell yeah, what a bargain!) Somehow, this wound up in the sporting isle staring up at a box on the top shelf containing the ‘Seahawk 2’, an ingenious vessel that was not only on sale for cheaper than you can hire a canoe for the weekend, but was destined to take us into the far reaches of the Algonquin Provincial Parks canoe routes for ‘the best and most adventurous weekend ever’. Or so we think……

Day one it starts hammering down with rain in the afternoon. So much for getting there early to set up, you can barely see the road in front of you trying to drive there and as such, we were delayed getting there until at least 8pm, just in time to set up right before dark.

So far, Nature 1, Woman 0.

Given that we were so late getting there, we did encounter some pretty spectacular things on the side of the road on the way. One of which was a turtle who had hiked his way up the side of the river bed and was starting to dig a hole in the sand in which to lay eggs. In the grand scheme of all things turtle/tortoise, he was named ‘Curtis the Turtoise’ (despite being a ‘she’ – as far as I am concerned, they are all named Curtis…. Jamie Lee Curtis is a girl…. anyway) and Curtis was just adorable.

“Curtis the Turtise 1, burying eggs in the sand”

We almost ran over another Curtis in the middle of the road. We literally scared the piss out of this little guy. He urinated the entire way off the road as we chased him away from the ‘squash zone’ and down the hill into friendlier territory.

Scared pissless – Curtis 2 crossing the road

After the Curtis hunt, we arrived at the park gate and tried to pick a campsites for the two nights we would be there. First night, easy. Second night on the paddling trip, we were like “yeah, we’re fit, we can row a blow up boat 10km down the stream to the Opulescent site out of the Barron Canyon! No problem!” It was the next day that this again proved to be a little optimistic, and the real ‘fun’ began.

Day Two of Dano vs Wild. We get up, pack the tent and all of the equipment we need into the blow up boat. It is at this point that things start to look dubious. To be honest, I don’t know how the hell we even decided that two people and a whole stack of food and camping gear for a night would fit comfortably in a blow up boat. Nonetheless, this is the outcome.

Covered under piles of gear in the boat. Cannot steer….

And after rowing no more than 2km down the way before realizing that not only is trying to row 10km in a Walmart blow up nearly impossible, but it is downright impossible when you have to portage through a stream of jagged rocks. In a kayak this would be possible. In a blow up Walmart boat, it is most certainly not. One may say this left me some what deflated…..

Reflecting on poor life choices….

Nature 2, Woman 0.

And so it was decided that the night would be spent at the last spot along the river before the rapids started and we dragged the boat up and set up home. The campsite was really awesome, very pretty and everything was set up fine and dandy. Then the dusk sets in and this is where woman vs nature really begins.

Let me firstly address the insects. Not only did I have Australian grade 40% DEET bug spray on me, but this seemed to no avail for some of these bitches. Whether it is the deer fly, the spiders or whatever supernatural mosquitoes, I managed to wind up with two golf ball sized swollen bites behind my ear and on the back of my neck, and one tennis ball sized swollen lump with two red fang marks in the side of my body.

Super venom kicking my arse… serious welting

Nature 3, Woman 0. 

And so then it starts getting on the dark side of life which then poses the question, what to do with the food and the scraps. It is bear country and I don’t particularly want to become bear food. So we took the tow line off the boat and tied a rock to one end in the hope of putting it over a tree to tie the food up. Then this happened……

The tow line of the boat stuck in a tree with a rock on the end of it….

Nature 4, Woman 0. 

I am pretty sure that by this stage Murphy is out there somewhere laughing his arse off. I sure was. For those of you whose eyes aren’t good enough to see, that is our rope stuck in the tree with the rock on the end of it. Which now poses the problem of what it is we are actually going to do with the food so that the animals and the bears don’t get it. So I come up with this amazingly inventive idea of burying the food and rubbish under a pile of very heavy rocks, which we finished building right as it got dark.

Can’t see our food? Awesome… totally hidden from bears and other animals…

The hope here was that there would be breakfast for tomorrow morning. But just in case a bear came, not that it would really have done anything much at all, we were equipped with bear fighting tools, ie. 1 big stick to poke him with, one biggish rock with which to throw at him, and one giant set of lungs with which to scream and yell and then run for your goddamn life.

Bear fighting tools

The sticks came courtesy of a beaver dam that had washed its way down the shore and this had landed just down the way from where we were camping. It made excellent firewood and so we burned this to stay warm despite the at times torrential downpour that we thought would hinder the process of making a fire whatsoever.

Nature 4, Woman 1.

And so it was time for bed. In the morning when waking up it was kinda like Christmas. Time to go and unwrap your rock wrapped presents to see if you can have breakfast this morning and much to my happiness, I found that despite the minor bite marks of the chippies through the rock crevasses, that food and garbage was all still intact and I got to eat my beef stew ration, chocolate milkshake and chocolate pudding desert for breakfast.

Yes! Still have food! Despite the tiny hole from the chippies


Nature 4, Woman 2. 

By this stage, despite Nature still having the upper hand in the situation, I felt like I was winning. How can you not be winning when you have food? So after a quick pack up it was back in the blow up boat and see you later to our home of a night as we let the current pretty much drift us half of the way back to the Achray lake entrance. It was a nice, workless float 🙂

Home on the hill

Nature 4, Woman 3.

So we made it back finally in our blow up boat, vowing never, ever again to attempt such a stupid thing in a blow up Walmart boat but to be non-stingy and invest in hiring a canoe next time. I also vouch to bring ten million cans of permethrin to kill any living insect (I am a nature lover, can’t you tell), and to also wear sunscreen on the way home in the boat. Nature had the last laugh you see by giving me sunburned thighs in retribution for my lack of paddling efforts on the way home. Not only that, but when I got home and took an antihistamine to make all my swollen bites go down, and all this achieved was in sending me into a drug-induced coma in which all I could mutter was ‘huh, whaaa, waaateerrr’. So in the end I think the final count was Nature 6, Woman 3. And despite Nature and Murphy having the last laugh, I was still also laughing because if you don’t laugh you cry right? That and the whole thing was just outright funny. I can say for sure though, I most likely haven’t learned my lesson, and that at some point in time, most probably in the near future, I will again embark on yet another bout of ‘YEAH!! That sounds like an AWESOME idea!” And if the past is anything to go by, it will be yet another hilarious disaster.

Til then x