Friday 26th September 2003: 15 Years Today I Quitpacked Northern Ireland

“We got a love that ain’t got no name” – Suede.

Don’t Stop Living, Years On: 15 Years Today I Quitpacked Northern Ireland

“See you next week mate” – every good mate, EVER.

Calendarically I won’t forget it, even though at the time it meant NOTHING to me. It was Friday 26th September 2003. I left Northern Ireland that day. I had a night on the rip in my Bangor hometown on the Wednesday night, packed on the Thursday and off I went. My Dad joined me on the trip, I drove my old car (a white Hyundai Accent) across the Northern Ireland to Republic of Ireland border to the Irish port town of Rosslare, then crossed by ferry to Fishguard in Wales then drove to Bournemouth in England. It was the start of something new. The truth?

Leaving Rosslare in (Republic of) Ireland for Wales in 2003. I never returned to the island as a resident. Ridiculous if you told me that, that day.

The truth is I thought I wouldn’t last. I was convinced I wouldn’t like my new life in England. I was convinced I would return to Northern Ireland in December 2003, having quit the course, hated the place, met no new people, not got a job, made no new friends and not watched any football. I was so so sure that would happen. I shit you not. However, the astounding results were the polar opposite. I was never going back. I loved my new life. I had new friends, a new job, I was studying at the university with multiple nationalities.

“There’s a new kid in town” – The Eagles.

Jonny Blair worked at Best Break Bournemouth for 4 years selling ice cream

Working Wednesdays – Selling ice cream by Bournemouth beach in ENGLAND. One of my most enjoyable jobs to date – spent FOUR Summers doing that!

I touched down in Belfast City that Christmas (2003) and I knew I wasn’t moving back to Northern Ireland again. I loved every moment of my first 3 months in Bournemouth. I even posted a letter to my flatmates that Christmas (on a 6-7 day trip to tell them I loved them and missed them). Life had changed. I was at Dean Court watching AFC Bournemouth more often than Alan Connell Alan in those days.

Ulster Cherry at AFC Bournemouth - Jonny Blair Northern Irish Cherries fan

Ulster Cherry at Dean Court

Despite breaking my arm during my sixth month there (March 2004), I continued to live in Bournemouth, got myself a job selling ice cream by the beach for the summer and life changed forever.

I saw a new world. I had left my beloved Northern Irish homeland gloriously behind, but its beauty also never left me. Northern Ireland is still the most beautiful place on earth. But I wanted to see the world. I didn’t need or want to live in Northern Ireland any more.

Saksun, Faroe Islands

And today, it’s 15 years ago. Wow. We all aged. My Mum turned 70, my youngest brother graduated and became a Dad, my other brother and sister and I drifted apart, I go to 1 Glentoran match every 2 years rather than as often as I could. It was all change. But seriously? When I left 15 years ago today, did I expect to have lived in over 5 countries, to have backpacked to every continent, to have worked in 50 jobs and to have watched my football team in a major tournament? Not a chance, not a chance. No way Pedro. It’s crazy.

Backpacking in Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei (apparently)

I should be happy. And I would have been was it not for the “I feel ashamed” serial liar who God threw into my life in 2014, only to send me into a deep depression in 2016. Was it ONE moment and ONE person that stole my heart and passion for life though? I can’t answer that. It seems odd to blame anyone but myself. I shouldn’t have left Northern Ireland. Probably I shouldn’t ever have left.

Jonny Blair at Bushmills Distillery, Northern Ireland

“We’ll support you evermore” Bushmills Distillery, Northern Ireland

I shouldn’t have dreamt up a plan to cut broccoli and backpack my way to Antarctica. I certainly shouldn’t have broken my arm and my leg during a 3 year degree which took me 5 years. But I can’t change the past, all that happened.

As I type this up in Poland over a glass of orange juice, I still find it hard to fathom what I have done in life and where it has taken me. I was always just a quiet Northern Irish football fan who knew how to pour a pint and loved to write. The rest was in the hands of fate and the Gods. Were there any pivotal moments on my journey the last 15 years? Yes, dozens of them. Here are just a few, in chronological order.

26th September 2003 – Leaving Ireland by boat for Wales to move to Bournemouth.

From Belfast to Bournemouth with a Northern Ireland flag

4th October 2003 – AFC Bournemouth 2-2 Hartlepool United (I now had a new team to support).

austin sheppard

Austin and I at the Hartlepool match

February 2004 – Appearing in the Lock In Reality TV show at Bournemouth University.

lock in bournemouth

The green man, the fat Santa and the death clown in the Lock In, Bournemouth, England.

30th March 2004 – Breaking my arm on my birthday.

University days in Bournemouth. Yes, I have a broken arm in this photo.

May 2004 – Getting a job selling ice cream on Bournemouth beach.

Jonny Blair holding Mr. Softees in Best Break Bournemouth

Selling ice cream at Best Break in Bournemouth.

March 2005 – My trip to Germany and Poland.

Warsaw Old Town Square in 2005

December 2005 – Starting the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club in Weymouth.

The SOENISC champagne launch photo on Weymouth Beach, December 2005

June 2006 – Moving to London to work in Public Relations for Bite Communications.

Working in London for Bite PR (I’m the green cowboy)

July 2007 – Backpacking around the world, starting in Toronto, Canada.

jonny blair travel blog 2007 canada

Having a beer in Toronto and starting my travel blog Dont Stop Living – way back in 2007.

27th August 2007 – Starting this travel blog, Don’t Stop Living.

Where it all began for Don’t Stop Living…

December 2007 – Breaking my leg while back in Bournemouth trying to finish my degree.

Footloose and legless - 2007 hat-trick of broken metatarsals.

Footloose and legless – 2007 hat-trick of broken metatarsals.

May 2008 – Working on the ferries for Wightlink.

Jonny Blair Working on the Wightlink ferries from Lymington to Yarmouth in 2008

Working on the Wightlink ferries from Lymington to Yarmouth in 2008

November 2008 – Meeting HG and falling in love for the first time.

October 2009 – Backpacking in Taiwan. Game changer.

DSL globe xinying

The Don’t Stop Living Globe is at the front of a Primary School in Xinying, Taiwan.

November 2009 – Working in an Irish Pub in Parramatta, Australia.

PJ Gallagher's Irish Pub Parramatta, AUSTRALIA

Working in PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pub in Parramatta, AUSTRALIA. Loved it!

8th November 2010 – Meeting Panny Yu just after our first landing at Barrientos in Antarctica.

meeting panny yu

After meeting Panny Yu in Antarctica and Uruguay, I headed to Hong Kong to visit her.

June 2011 – Moving to Hong Kong to work in Delaneys Irish Pub.

delaneys irish bar 2 continents

Behind the bar in Delaney’s in Hong Kong on the Day I worked in 2 continents…

31st July 2011 – Getting engaged within a year of meeting Panny Yu.

dinner in sai kung hong kong

Family engagement dinner in Sai Kung, Hong Kong in July 2011.

September 2011 – Spontaneously becoming an English teacher in Hong Kong.

Teaching English and having fun in Hong Kong in 2011

“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road” – Green Day.

16th November 2014 – Meeting Poznan friends.

Backpacking in India

Trying Grzaniec (hot beer) in Poznan

Trying Grzaniec (hot beer) in Poznan

27th March 2015 – Visiting Tunisia, my 100th country.

Cheers from Tunisia – country 100

May 2015 – Watching AFC Bournemouth win the Championship with a 3-0 win at Charlton.

Champagne breakfast on the Victoria to Charlton train. Making all the noise everywhere we go.

September 2015 – Watching Northern Ireland win 3-1 in the Faroe Islands and all but clinch a place in Euro 2016.

Caught on camera at the football stadium during Northern Ireland's 3-1 win

Caught on camera at the football stadium in Torshavn, Faroe Islands during Northern Ireland’s 3-1 win

November 2015 – Splitting up with long term partner Panny Yu after exactly 5 years. We visited 44 countries and all 7 countries together.

Panny and I meet Mr. Pat Tayto himself.

June 2016 – Watching Northern Ireland at the Euros.

Northern Ireland 0-1 Poland (Euro 2016)

July 2016 – Deciding to settle in Europe again, in Gdańsk, Poland.

Arrival in Gdansk, looking somewhat jubilant. I had no idea I was staying here long term!!

September 2016 – Depression, a suicide bid and ruined by liars and Guru God wannabes.

That day on the tram tracks at Gdańsk, Poland.

Suicide bid. That day on the tram tracks at Gdańsk, Poland.

December 2016 – Launch of the website ‘Northern Irishman in Poland’ and an attempt to get some kind of base and normality back in my life.

Introducing My New Blog: Northern Irishman in Poland, Połnocny Irlandcyzk w Polsce

26th September 2018 – Away from Northern Ireland for 15 years today. No better off than when I left. I’d rewind time and change so many things.

I’m sipping an orange juice and eating pork ribs with kapusta (Polish cabbage) in a place called Centrum Zarządzania Światem in Warszawa today and it’s just sinking in that I’ve been away for 15 years. I recently visited Włocławek in Poland, the latest city on my journey, which has now amassed around 950 settlements and 165 countries. Nobody knows what’s next.

Relaxing in Włocławek this week - 15 years later.

Relaxing in Włocławek this week – 15 years later.

Don’t Stop Living.

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