Anna Hartley

A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

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Wednesday, 3 June 2020

A Year Without You

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my sister Tai's death. A year since the worst news I have ever received. Do you know what it's like to find out that your sister has been tragically killed in a completely preventable death caused by a drunk driver and then to have to catch a plane? I was in Vietnam on the day she died and Liam and I were meant to fly from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh that evening. It was horrific. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep. Forever. It felt like the world couldn't ever be right again in a way I think you can only understand if you have lost a loved one like that.

I remember sobbing in the airport surrounded by hundreds of Vietnamese people who must have been wondering what on earth could have happened. The next few days while my family in the UK and New Zealand were all together, I was in Ho Chi Minh, an amazing but chaotic city. What I can't believe is that I tried to carry on doing touristy things. That was such a mistake. I felt Tai would have wanted me to still enjoy it, but there was no joy to be had with her gone. The world needed to stop, or so I felt, and I had no energy trying to contemplate that she was gone.

You never think about what it's going to feel like to watch your brother-in-law, Dad, Uncle and other family carry your sister's body in a coffin on their shoulders. You don't think you will ever have to face that with no warning living in the first world when your family is healthy. Nothing could prepare me for it and the searing pain you feel at the injustice of it all. To go in to see her body and to know that she was gone. A woman so full of life, with so much left to do, just gone.

Tai was there on the day I was born. She was 18 and yet to train to be a midwife and she was there. She was there to create one of my favourite Christmases, when I was around 8 or 9, which was fun just because of her nature, even when it was just me, her and my Dad there for it. She was there to be the first person to get me wine-drunk when I was 14, to reassure me about 'boy trouble', and when I finally made it out to New Zealand nearly 10 years after she had moved there, she cried picking me up at the airport, saying "I always knew that you would come when you were ready". There were continents between us after she moved, and when she had her two beautiful girls it wasn't easy to stay in touch. But it never mattered with Tai because when we did catch up, it felt like no time had passed at all. She was meant to always be there.

You never think about what it's going to be like to hold your sister's ashes in your hands until you're doing it. We scattered some of her ashes in a river in Yorkshire near where she got married on her birthday in October. We took flowers and her favourite wine, Riesling. But nothing can prepare you for that sensation, that realisation, and how disgustingly wrong it feels to think, this was Tai. This was our beautiful, wonderful Tai and I'm now holding her in my hands. The pain of that is indescribable.

When I think of my grief over the past year it's funny what things come to mind of it. It's the inside of hotel rooms in Vietnam and then Cambodia which I holed myself up in until I flew back to New Zealand for her funeral. It's the little tupperware of leftover breakfast I took into work almost every day when I was back in the UK because I hadn't been able to finish it all when I tried at home, my appetite so reduced. It's the weight lost without realising, one of my best friends noticing it even in my face. It's the panic attack and the not being able to sleep and being scared to dream of Tai but also desperately wanting to at the same time. It's the missing my nieces and wishing I could see them more and thinking of how much they deserved Tai to be there to help them grow up every day. It's everything and it's nothing because I had to carry on.

But I only realise having lost Tai that you can carry on but things will never be the same. It doesn't get better, it gets different. Nothing will ever fix this. I just have to do the best I can without her. That's all any of us can do. And I know my brother-in-law is doing an incredible job with my nieces and they will know how much Tai loved them, and how special she was. That is my only source of comfort in this grief.

A year without you, a lifetime of sadness within it.

"No grief ever felt right because no grief ever felt like you." - Jonah Freud

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Spotlight On :: The Conscious Beauty Co

I've been wanting to start a series for a while on the blog where I can talk about some of my most-loved brands that I think deserve a shout out for the quality products they make and great work that they do. I think now more than ever it's important to support companies like these if you can and am loving the independent shopping movement!

Today I thought I'd start with one of my recent favourites, The Conscious Beauty Co.

For a long time now I have been trying to reduce my consumption of singe-use plastic products as so many of them seem so unnecessary when you consider how long they take to decompose. One of my greatest offenders in this category was shower toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. I've tried solid shampoos and conditioners before and, as much as I wanted to fall in love with them, rarely found that they did the job in the same way as liquid ones. But I really didn't want to carry on buying disposable shampoo/conditioner bottles.

Then a couple of months ago I saw Beth Sandland using The Conscious Beauty Co products. The CB Co make hand wash, shampoo, conditioner and shower gels in a number of different scents that come in refillable pouches. You buy a set as well as their bottles pictured above (not pictured are the pumps which make getting the product out super easy), and send them back any empty pouches in their freepost envelope and they recycle every single pouch.

I've been using their products for over a month now and I love them - they do exactly what I want them to and leave my hair feeling soft and silky. The massively basic side of myself also loves how aesthetically pleasing the bottles look in my bathroom. Considering how much product I get through, they provide the perfect solution for me so that this element of my life is now essentially plastic free. 

Testament to how lovely the company is too is that I emailed them about a week ago as I have a Carex refill pouch that seems to be really similar to their refill pouches which I can't put in my at home recycling. I asked if they would mind if I put it in with the rest of my pouches from them when I send them back to be recycled, and they said of course and I now feel great knowing that's one less thing to go in the landfill.

I know it might not seem hugely revolutionary and there are still lots of areas in my life in which I use far more single-use plastic than I'd like, but I think every step forward is a step in the right direction and I'm so so happy to have found this company who have sorted all of my bathroom toiletry needs! 

The Conscious Beauty Co have a sale on at the moment which is definitely worth taking advantage of. You can find all of their products here and their explanation of how it all works here. I would highly recommend them if you too are looking for a similar solution to single-use plastic in this area!

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Training for My First Half Marathon || Run For Tai

I have never been into exercise. I think the closest I've come to having a passion for 'sport' would be Irish dancing which I did between the ages of eight and ten (and yes I don't think that really counts as a sport).

Over the past few years aside from a few bursts of motivation to go the gym, never usually lasting more than six weeks,  my exercise has been from yoga and pilates, and the occasional touch rugby match at uni I was dragged into by my housemates.

When I was in New Zealand and staying with my sister Tai, she got out for a run in her local woods at least a few times a week, fitting this in on top of her job as a midwife and looking after my two nieces. I noticed how important it was for her and we talked about how it helped her to release some stress and tension. She was the best Mum I've met and this was just another way she was an example - she knew it was really important if she were going to be able to be a great Mum to take that time for herself where she could; the whole you have to fill your own cup before you can pour from it in action, and it was amazing to see.

Tai ran the Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon in Marlborough quite a few times, including last year, and it couldn't have been more Tai; at the end you receive a bottle of Saint Clair's wine (whose riesling was my favourite wine I tasted in NZ) and Tai adored a glass or two of wine.

Once during my stay there Tai asked me if I wanted to come with her for a run. Slightly terrified at the prospect but wanting to have that sisterly bonding time, I said why not and we took her two dogs Zac and Pippa with us. Flash forward thirty minutes and I was trying to keep a smile on my face while feeling on the brink of a heart attack and wondering how people ever fall in love with running if that is what it's like. I gave up after one lap of the woods, took home Pippa who was very much on my energy level and left Tai to do another loop with the much more energetic of the dogs, Zac.

After Tai died some of her amazing friends started to train for a run in September 2019 to raise money in Tai's name. As a midwife, Tai cared tirelessly for the mothers she looked after and their babies and I have never met someone who cared so much about their job even on her night shifts when she'd come back exhausted. She was especially passionate however about helping grieving mothers who had sadly lost their babies. With the money raised by her friends last September, my brother in law was able to purchase three cold cots, which are special cots that allow families of stillborn babies to spend more time with their baby's body as it can be preserved by keeping the body at a cool temperature. You can read about them here, if you're interested. Those cots were donated to hospitals in New Zealand, which you can read about here.

I know a lot of us who loved Tai didn't want to stop there and so at the start of this year I started to think about also running in her name but having never even finished a 5km run in my life, was very daunted to say the least. But I decided to just go for it, found the Wimbledon Common Half Marathon which is scheduled for the 11th October 2020 (two days before Tai's birthday) and signed up before I could get out of it.

I knew I didn't want to run it alone though so the amazing people in the photo above are those who were nutty enough (lovely enough) to say yes to running it with me. We have all been training and sadly that has had to be socially-distanced style the past couple of months but we're all still getting out there when we can to keep training ready for the half in October.

I ran my first 10km run on Wednesday and I can't tell you how amazing that achievement feels. Before January I genuinely never thought I would run that far in my life so to have done it is the biggest shock and surprise to me! Doing it for Tai is my complete and utter motivation and there have been many times where I went out for a run and truly felt like I couldn't do it, but thinking of her has helped to get me back out again and not to give up like I usually would. It's not easy at all and I've now got to double the distance I can run but I pray that I will get there and I'm trying my very best!

The charity we're running for in Tai's name is Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity. Sands provides support to families who have lost a baby - their helpline is still open even in lockdown and the work that they do is incredible. I know it was a charity close to Tai's heart. There therefore isn't a better charity to run for in Tai's name, and to feel like we're able to carry on her legacy even a little has really helped me when it feels like there is nothing to be done and thinking of her death just brings darkness.

There will probably be some more running content around these parts because of this and I'm keen to share how my training is going and what I'm doing. Mainly because I still can't believe it's happening, but also because I truly believe that if, like me, the only thing holding you back from running is thinking you can't do it and that it will never get easier, you can and it will. I still don't love it but I don't hate it either and the feeling I get after a run is incredible.

I know this is a difficult period for everyone and there are so many important causes out there but if you have even just £2 to donate and would like to do so, you can help here: and it would truly mean the world to me if you did.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Australia 2019 Travel Diary // Brisbane & Byron Bay

If you've been reading here for a while you'll remember my New Zealand travel diaries from last year, which covered the three months I spent there. After NZ, Liam and I headed to Australia and then SE Asia for another three months and I never wrote up those travel diaries as we were on the move so much more and I didn't want to write them on my phone. So this is a year late but I've dug out my travel journal (first time I've looked at it in months) and I'm finally going to start finishing those and I thought I'd start today with Australia.

We spent about a week in Australia which of course is nowhere near enough time to see much of it but to be honest it wasn't high on either of our travel lists so we just stopped since it was on the way to Bali from Christchurch and thought we might as well have a few days there. For that reason, we only saw Brisbane and Byron Bay but had an amazing week with some special guests!

BRISBANE :: We had a flight super early from Christchurch to Brisbane so arrived exhausted and then had to work out the train system to get to our hostel. I remember this day very clearly being a shock to the system for me for multiple reasons. For one, this was the first day I properly had to carry my travelling rucksack around, as before we'd always been in the campervan so just stored it in there. I remember my rucksack being significantly heavier than Liam's (I tried to pack light and thought I'd done well but wow I carried far too much) and hauling it around in 35 degree heat was not the one, here or throughout Asia. It definitely got easier though as my poor shoulders acclimatised to the weight over time. The second shock to the system for my princess self was sleeping in a hostel for the first time. I know I sound like a complete baby (and I am) but I really hated that week we spent in hostels in Australia, it wasn't so bad once we got to Byron Bay and stayed in a much nicer one but the one in Brisbane wasn't the nicest and having 8 people on bunk beds in one room was not my ideal. I just hated the lack of privacy but if you're not campervanning around NZ or Australia, hostels are definitely the only way to do it if you're on a budget like we were. Shockingly, I did make it through the week and the hostel experience, and was then very grateful that everything was so much cheaper in Asia so we could afford private rooms.

But onto Brisbane itself. We only had one full day there which actually I think was enough. It was really nice but nothing amazing in my opinion. We started our day of exploring in the Southbank area and went to the Gallery of Modern Art which had a really cool exhibition on at the time which was fun to look around. (Also it had air con so that automatically made it a winner.) After getting our culture fill we crossed the Victoria Bridge, had a look around the farmer's market and headed to City Hall, which is a beautiful building with an incredible clock tower. When we got there all the tours for the next couple of hours were full so we booked onto one later that afternoon and headed to catch the City Hopper Boat.

An amazing service Brisbane offers is completely free boat rides on the City Hopper, which is a really great way to get around. We hopped off at Kangaroo Point and tried to get to a lookout past Story Bridge but sadly the bridge was closed for maintenance so we headed back on the City Hopper to get back to City Hall. Even if you don't have anywhere in mind to go, the City Hopper is definitely worth a trip on as it's such a lovely way to see Brisbane and I'm still not over the fact that it runs for free! The tour of the clock tower at City Hall was really cool and had an incredible view so is a nice activity to do too. By this point in the day we were pretty exhausted from lots of walking around and the heat so we decided to go to a rooftop bar for a drink. We went to Sixteen Antlers which was super nice and then walked around the city some more. So that was our Brisbane in a day experience. Like I said, it was nice but nothing that particularly stood out about it.

BYRON BAY :: The next morning we caught a bus to Byron Bay and had the best few days there. We stayed in a YHA hostel in a room for four people which was a lot nicer and the best part of these few days (aside from Byron itself which is a complete dream) was we spent them with some friends. It just happened to work out that two of Liam's friends, Izzy and Maddy, and my friend Chania and her boyfriend Nat were all in Byron Bay at the same time as us. Liam and I had kept missing Chania and Nat in New Zealand so it was so nice that it worked out that we were in Byron at the same time as them. (As a sidenote Chania is an amazing writer and wrote about her travels and our week together so you should definitely check that out here.) When you're only travelling with one person it's inevitable at points that you get sick of each other so even though I think overall Liam and I got on super well during travelling, I know the chance to socialise with other people was very welcome for us both!

One of the first things we did when we got to Byron Bay was to obviously head to the beach. Liam and Nat (and later Izzy and Maddy too) spent the afternoon surfing and myself (having tried and failed to have any ability to surf many years before) and Chania spent about three hours chatting and chatting and chatting. It was absolutely bliss and lifted my mood so much. The next morning all six of us did the famous walk from the town to the lighthouse which was lovely and then went to the most amazing beach, Wategos. The sea water was so clear and the sand so fine, it's just a perfect beach if there ever was one. We were all having such a good time together that we decided to extend our time in Byron Bay which meant Liam and I didn't head to the Gold Coast as we were planning to but that was definitely the right decision for us. The rest of our Byron Bay activities included a day trip to Nimbin, an infamous hippy town which was definitely an experience, Chania and I spending two and a half hours in an amazing jewellery shop where you can have your own jewellery made (yes I am a travelling cliche and still have my Byron Bay shell anklet on and my aquamarine necklace from that shop), ordering the most basic acai bowl at Combi cafe, and a St Patrick's Day gig by singer Lisa Hunt who proceeded to get multiple men on the stage and to persuade them to strip. Definitely a slightly surreal evening but so much fun was had that night.

Again, the most stereoptypical review is about to ensue but Byron Bay has such an amazing, chilled out vibe and is such a lovely little town. I can totally see why Chris Hemsworth has set himself up there. I would visit Wategos Beach there every day if I could and miss it more than ever now that it's torrentially raining outside in London and we're in lockdown. Those few days in Australia were super fun and and I'm so unbelievably glad the six of us were all there to enjoy Byron Bay together. From Byron, Liam and I caught the bus back to Brisbane, slept in the airport and had a ridiculously early flight to Bali which was a completely different experience and where I'll pick up next time I write a travel diary.

I hope you enjoyed this post and that it maybe gave you some travel inspiration for once this is all over! It's been so fun to relive it this morning and remember that there was life before this horrible pandemic and that there will be life after too!
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