Thirty before Thirty

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Oh my giddy aunt, I’m 30. What the heck happened to my 20’s?!

I’ve now reached that dreaded milestone that my mates insist on calling the ‘Voldemort’ year – so horrific and feared you have to whisper its name rather than say it out loud in public.

365 days ago, my approach to this most feared of days was pretty much this…

Until, that is, one of my dear friends Jenn gave me a Purpose – with a capital ‘P’.

On my 29th birthday, I was challenged to spend the run-up to 30 taking on 30 ultimate challenges or dreams in a countdown bucket list.

From giving an elephant a pedicure to being a backing dancer for a hillbilly group, it has been quite a year.

Thank you to all the special family and friends in my life who have been there every step of the way to share the madness and the laughter.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for you.

So have I gleaned any life advice in these last three glorious decades?

Only that time is so very precious, so you should seek out and find beauty in each and every day.

Treasure those who treasure you.

And always end each day with a smile.

Love Laura x

1. Surf the North Sea

This was a ridiculous amount of fun – surf, sand, sea – and a hot roaring fire with champagne and marshmallows.

This was also the first ‘road trip’ taken by just us kids.

My three brothers and I all took on the waters off the coast of Scotland for my 29th birthday to kick start my 30 before 30 challenge.

My toes turned blue but the wetsuits worked a charm – turns out you can go to the Scottish seaside without hypothermia setting in.

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2. Learn more about elephants

There’s a leafy green area in the west of Scotland which has the proud, if dubious name of being the UK’s retirement home for dysfunctional elephants.

Years ago, Blair Drummond realised that there are some elephants in this world for whom it is too late to save and return to the wild. Elephants too damaged, psychologically and physically by humans to be strong enough to survive on their own.

Their hope is that in a few decades, the last of the captive elephants will peacefully pass away and there will no longer be any elephants at any zoo in Britain – because they really aren’t happy there. As the keeper said to me, “they’re too complex, too intelligent, for us to even begin to comprehend how to provide for them.”

Until then, Blair Drummond care for broken elephants. And I got to help them.

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They have a strict no contact policy which I completely support. Keepers never enter into the same territory as the animals, but they do give the elephants an opportunity to voluntary take part in vet checks.

Basically, if an elephant feels like having its feet brushed that day, it will come to you.

And so it was that I got the chance to give one elderly pachyderm a pedicure.

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My elephant is 40 years old, with another 20 odd years to go in this world, so she’s patient, a bit arthritic and has a tendency to nap while in the middle of, well, anything. Eating, drinking – standing on one leg.

She is an absolutely beautiful and quietly dignified elderly elephant. And I’m so thrilled I got to meet her.

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3. Camp in a wigwam

In the final countdown to my birthday week, my South African friends Victoria and Kevin took me to a wigwam on the banks of Loch Ness armed with two bottles of Prosecco and some pork sausages.

We had a fire (in the rain), toasted marshmallows (in the rain), took a trip to Skye (in more rain) and had an all round brilliant time.

And then, early on the second morning, the rain stopped, so I got up to sip some hot tea and watch the sun come up – which happens at an alarming 3am during summer in the north.

There was me, and several dozen other silent campers all dotted along the banks of the loch. We were all strangers – and we never said a word to each other. We all knew why we were all there. We just gave each other a quiet nod, sat down with a hot cuppa, and listened to the birds singing in the sunrise.

Once the searing pink dawn had faded to blue, we all got up and left quietly, as if to leave the magic unbroken.

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4. Dance with Riverdance

This was SO awesome. Thanks to my well connected friend Jennifer, the troupe of Riverdance came to give us a masterclass on that dance of all dances ‘Lord of the Dance’.

You know, that one from Eurovision all those years ago with that chap and his uber fast feet?

I got to dance right alongside the talented troupe and am proud to say my wee feet kept up well, if not quite so as elegantly as the professionals – and they were so utterly lovely and supportive.

LOVED IT!

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5. Be a backing dancer for a hillbilly group

This was so unbelievably weird I don’t know where to start.

No, this wasn’t something that was on my list of things to do, but it was so utterly unexpected and fantastic, it belongs right here with the others.

Again, it was with my lovely Irish dancing buddies – this time up north in my new favourite town of Fochabers, for the Speyfest Festival.

We were one of the dance acts on, but one night, we met Hayseed Dixie, a hillbilly rock group, backstage and they invited us to dance for them as backing dancers.

It was a massive friendly crowd of folk lovers, big men in beards and dungarees, lots of beer and great craic.

Utterly awesome, awesome night. There are photos somewhere – one day I’ll share them 🙂

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6. Watch the breakfast club

Yes, I shamefully admit it, up until a few weeks ago I had never watched The Breakfast Club.

My mate Mary was horrified when she found out.

Cue a night of Breakfast Club madness with the Glasgow girls, made all the more special by the fact the film was made in the year I was born – 1985 – a great vintage year.

Don’t You, Forget About Me! Dah, dah, dah, dah!

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7. Capture a meteor shower

I love last-minute decisions – especially the kind that ignite after that whispering spark of adventure that blows in when you least expect it.

I had spent several weeks writing stories about the up-coming Geminids meteor shower over Scotland – but it was only on the actual night, five seconds after leaving the office, that I decided to hunt it down.

Cue a mad drive through the winter darkness down the west coast of Scotland to Galloway Forest, one of the few places in the UK with Dark Sky status.

By nightfall, thousands of stars and even the Milky Way are all visible without the use of a telescope within its borders.

Temperatures dropped so low the ground glittered with a diamond frost. When it hit a mighty -7C my tripod attachment actually snapped, it was so cold.

Not that I cared all that much though, because above me, the heavens themselves were moving.

Sat alone at midnight in the darkness, with up to 60 multicoloured meteors per hour shooting over my head – that was a moment in a million.

For the first time in, well, ever, I actually put my camera away, stuffed my hands in my pockets and simply gazed upward – not wanting to miss a single second of it.

Travelling at some 22 miles per second, the meteors burn up at around 24 miles above the Earth.

To this day, without doubt, it was the most breathtaking thing I have ever seen.

I did snap a photo on the drive home though – a fire painting one beneath the stars to mark the adventure. Though it’s doubtful I will ever forget the night the stars danced above my head.

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8. Throw a massive pyjama party

This one was for my lovely friend Angela who got married this year.

I had the fantastic honour of throwing her a hen party – and part of that involved the biggest onesie/tiara party ever attended by girls over the age of eight years old.

There was champagne. There was raucous singing to Pitch Perfect.

There was lollipops, bed bouncing and all things pink.

If you haven’t had a pyjama party recently girls, get it sorted. It’s amazing what girl time can do for your soul.

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9. Visit my favourite castle

This has been on my wish list since I first saw it on a Scotland calendar 18 years ago.

The stunning Eilean Donan castle on the island of  Loch Duich.

Now, if you’re from Scotland like me, castles are as common as sheep. It’s hard to not find one.

And yet, this one has somehow evaded me for nearly 30 years, partly because I actually had no idea where it was, but also because I shamefully shoved it too far down my ‘to discover list’.

Then, last week, I accidentally stumbled across my stone wonder on a road trip to Skye with some visiting Saffa guests.

My little heart leaped at the sight of it as it popped up just around the corner on one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever taken.

Definitely – definitely – going back at winter to capture it under starker skies.

Isn’t she gorgeous?

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10. Go on a hunt for the Northern Lights

So this is a slight cheat as I did this before I turned 29, but as this was a life dream I had to include it.

My mate Ruth and I undertook an incredible trip to the Gateway to the Arctic, off the northern coast of Norway just south of Svalbard.

The snow up there is soft like powder and at night the sky dances.

We were lucky enough to see the bright green glow of silk across stars as the Aurora came out for us – and by day we raced through white valleys in husky sledges, stopping to eat piping hot reindeer stew in the welcoming tents of local tribes.

All moments and memories to last a lifetime.

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11. Solve a murder 

Okay, so not quite a real murder but an incredibly fun murder mystery game!

‘The Room’ was started by two 16-year-olds in Europe and has spread like wildfire around CSI series buffs like me. This fab night was held in a secret room in Glasgow, involving blood test kits, clues hidden in walls and all sorts of exciting things. I can’t give too much away as I don’t want to release spoilers – but go play it! SO much fun.

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12. See a west end musical

If you haven’t seen Wicked yet – go. You won’t regret it. I’m not actually a massive fun of musicals, but I loved this one. Even with its green babies and bubble machines.

I was lucky enough to travel down to London with my wee pal Caitlin to see the production, thanks to us winning a trip from Frazer Suites.

The lights, the Thai food, the race through the underground – fantastic weekend ladies trip to London!

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13. Take the road less travelled

To be fair, this has sort of been a mantra for my family for several generations.

Travel, or to be specific – unusual travel – runs in our blood.

We don’t so much as take the road less travelled, as we do blaze a trail through any unsuspecting foreign shrubbery we can find.

Yet, still even we can find days shooting by without making the time to answer the beckoning call of adventure.

So it was a very real pleasure to just jump in the car with mates recently and drive without any particular destination in mind.

We just picked a road, went for it, and ended up finding this amazing castle in Perthshire.

Elcho Castle is a handsome little fortification along the banks of the River Tay – and we had the entire thing to ourselves to explore, from the grounds right up to the battlements.

SO much fun. Cannot stress enough how amazing it can be, to venture out without any idea of where you’re going. You just don’t know what little gems you will discover…

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14. Hold a photography exhibition

I have always wanted to do this, but never felt confident enough in my work to be able to show it properly to anyone other than friends.

Despite the fact my images are on a national news site every day, it can be a very different thing to pop them all in one place and go ‘hey, look what I did!’ without feeling like a berk.

Because most of the time, I really don’t feel like I’m doing anything other than pointing and pushing a button with a prayer.

Until, that is, I did a photography course at Harvard – and they made me think. They even made me do maths which, as a journalist, I have an obvious natural aversion too.

But at the end of it all, I had a selection of images – and they went into an exhibition in Cambridge, MA.

I didn’t actually get to see it because I was on the wrong continent, but I hope it still counts.

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15. Have a massive family Christmas

This wasn’t on my list, but after Christmas 2014 I knew it should have been.

This was our first proper big family Christmas in what felt like ages – all of us, my lovely Aunt and Uncle Chamberlain included – traipsed down to the Yorkshire Dales for a cottage family Christmas.

There was turkey with all the trimmings, roaring log fires, long walks across the moors and a bottle or three of sherry.

Loved it.

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16. Have coffee in a lama cafe

Again, this was a stumbled-upon moment that I have to share because I think everyone should try it.

On the long road down south from Scotland to England, there are a vast number of service stations stocked with Burger Kings, watery instant coffee and the general atmosphere of a whirling vacuum of poor souls who’ve played too many games of ‘I spy’ and had the life sucked out of them.

And then there’s the Lama Cafe.

Don’t stop at the massive service station – drive ten minutes and stop at the giant sign that says ‘I Love Lamas’.

In it, you’ll find delicious coffee, squishy couches and furry lamas who are excited to see you.

Everyone loves lamas. And they’ll make the next six hours of your drive a whole lot happier having seen them.

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17. Open the London Stock Exchange

This was surprisingly fun.

Historically a bell or electronic ding marked the market opening on the London Stock Exchange’s trading floor.

Today, something akin to an X-Factor buzzer gets pressed and a giant cube lights up alongside an array of flashing lights.

There’s a digital countdown a bit like a NASA rocket launch and much cheering by everyone who doesn’t work there.

Thanks to the Women of the Future programme which I am a keen ambassador for, I got invited down to London to launch the stock exchange at their market opening ceremony.

New companies are invited to take part as they enter the market – a big hurrah as they dive in to play with the sharks I guess.

Still, surprisingly fun to be there and see it all happen. If you get the chance to go, I would really recommend it.

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18. Learn to bake

I have a very good friend Josie who has taken it upon herself to make sure I can look after myself as an adult.

Several have tried, pretty much all have failed, but Josie did manage to get me baking successfully to her credit.

It was largely thanks to this little munchkin Elowen, from whom I have learned much.

Particularly that painting hedgehogs is still fun and that baking tools are more optional than necessary.

All you need are fingers, cocoa powder and the regular taste testing of ingredients to be sure of success.

Thank you Chef Ellie and Josie!

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19. Meet a movie hero

I got to meet and photograph Professor Snape at a movie premiere! And on his birthday too. He seemed genuinely pleased I knew it was his birthday too 🙂 Happy Birthday professor – you were my favourite Potter character.

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20. Do more for others

I didn’t have an exact plan in mind for this, but I knew I wanted to do something for a different charity each month of my 29th year.

So, from cake sales to simply wearing a t-shirt and donating to causes, I’ve delved into 12 charities and done what I can to support them.

In the process, I’ve met some of the most incredible and inspiring people in the world. From those campaigning for organ donation to those at the forefront of fighting cancer, it has been an honour and a privilege to hear your stories.

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21. Go on a treasure hunt

How on earth have I only just heard of Geocaching?!

My lovely Saffa friends brought this into my life in the final week of my being 29 and I’m completely addicted.

It’s only the world’s biggest treasure hunt, with millions of little parcels hidden across the globe which you have to follow clues to find.

Curious? Check it out here

I found my very first on the banks of Loch Lomond and there was even a Happy Birthday sign in it waiting for me!

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22. See the Kelpies

Kelpie, or water kelpie, is the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland.

The giant water horses up at Falkirk are something I’ve been meaning to see for some time now and I’m so glad I finally made the journey.

Rising 30 meters from the ground, they’re the world’s largest equine sculptures and at sunset, their silver mains glow pink and gold.

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23. Be an astronaut

I need to thank Google for this one! I got to attend one of their awesome ‘Google Parties’ which was space themed and try on a real NASA space suit.

Spurred into action I then spent a few more glorious days with the lovely chaps at Edinburgh observatory, catching up on their exploration of black holes, time and the furthest reaches of the galaxy.

And the history of Birdseye Custard (private joke between us space people).

I cannot express enough how much you need to go and have coffee with these guys.

I learned more about the universe over one cup of Tetley’s with them than I could ever hope to have achieved on my own. Thanks guys!

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24. Get published

This may seem a little bit of an odd one for a journalist to have, as I do get published every day online, but I’ve always wanted to write short stories and one day, when I’ve got time, maybe even write a book.

But step one is complete, as I did manage to get one short story published this year in the esteemed Charles River Review!

It’s a Harvard University publication of written works and it hits the shelves this week which is so exciting.

There’s just something so real about holding something you’ve written in hardback in your hands, rather than on a mobile.

Next step a debut novel – probably on hedgehogs.

25. Climb a mountain

This one was inspired by a fantastic chap I met by the name of Alan Rowan.

Alan is a mountain fanatic and has climbed the Munros twice, the Corbetts and all the 3000-foot peaks in England, Ireland and Wales. He is currently closing in on a third round of Munros as well as ticking off the Grahams.

A former Daily Record reporter, he is also known as the ‘Munro Moonwalker’ a midnight mountain climber who ventures up Scotland’s peaks at night to watch the sunrise at the summit.

So I decided to give it a go.

I’ve not yet graduated to night hikes yet though, because I struggle enough to find my way in daylight, but last summer I had a gander up Ben Lomond, the sleepy giant that guards Loch Lomond.

It’s about a 2.5 hours to climb on a good day or 3 hours in my case when you’re being drenched.

But still, the sight from the summit is magical, from the peaks of Ben Lawers in the distance to the sea of mountains parting to reveal the Inner Hebrides and the upthrust Paps of Jura, it’s an incredible view.

My phone picture is rubbish, so this is a better shot I borrowed off the web so you can see what I mean.

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26. See an African sunset

You’ve never seen a sunset until you’ve seen an African sunset.

It’s hard to explain, but the horizon just seems that much more endless and the sky that much more tinged with gold.

My favourite sunset spot is Signal Hill, especially when in the company of good friends and bubbly.

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27. Spend time with something furry

Getting older can be depressing, especially when boring grown-up stuff creeps in like council tax bills, car MOTS, figuring out what to do with your life blah, blah, blah.

And then there’s dogs.

Who pretty much have a life of food, walks, Frisbee and nap time hugs.

Which is why I’m so thankful I had the pleasure of hosting my brother’s dog Sam for the week.

We got up and ran around playing with sticks before dawn, raced like weirdos thrown the Glasgow parks for several hours a day and, most importantly, had couch cuddles before bed.

It does the soul good to be around something so fluffy that thinks you’re the most amazing being in the whole wide world just because you found the biggest stick ever in the park.

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28. Throw a massive party!

If you’re going to turn 30, you may as well do so disgracefully, with table dancing, lots of champagne and one heck of a party.

To celebrate leaving my roaring 20s behind me, I threw a mega bash Great Gatsby style, with plenty of moonshine and some awesome flapper dancers.

Thank you everyone for coming and for helping me raise so much money for the STV children’s charity.

I had, absolutely, the best party of my life!

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29. Grow my mind

It’s so easy when you leave school or university to sink into work and focus on only a few things in your life when really, there’s still a whole world filled with knowledge yet to be gained.

There are so many languages yet to be spoken, cultures to be explored, historic events to unearth.

I simply could not leave this world without learning as much as I could about it – and making sure my mind is as full and fat with things I’ve seen and discovered as it can be.

My biggest gift in my 29th year has been the chance to stretch my mind.

After flying to Boston on my 30th birthday, today I’ve arrived at Harvard University as I enter the final haul of my Masters degree there.

Thanks to incredible support from my work, dear friends and fantastic family, I’m in my favourite library in the world with some incredible professors soaking up knowledge like a sponge and stretching my brain in the best of ways.

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30. Learn to be me

My 30th thing to do before I turn 30 is perhaps the hardest of them all and the only challenge I perhaps haven’t quite finished yet.

It’s simply to learn who I am, take the good bits, weed out the bad bits, and be me as much as I can be.

I love sunsets, dancing under stars and eating cake whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I love my friends, my family and I’m learning to love me.

Thank you so much to everyone who has been part of my life for the last 30 years. You have filled it with beautiful, magical moments.

I can’t wait to take on another decade on this magnificent, breathtaking planet we call home.

Here’s to 40 things before 40!

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