Before and after photos are the in thing right now. Everyone loves to see that quick fix, the imperfect ‘before’ photo next to the shiny, new, ‘after’ version. It’s so satisfying to see the stark comparison, it makes change seem ever so easy and achievable, and more importantly it shows everyone just how far we’ve come.
When we visited Adam’s old boat moored up safely in Shepperton marina, we got the wow feeling. My Mum and Dad had taken over ownership, always on the hunt for a new DIY project (Adam calls it my Dad’s shed on steroids), and they’ve been working on it since we left in February.
We hadn’t seen the boat for six months, and in that time they’ve been working tirelessly on her. By the time we got round to visiting it was the definition of a before and after photo.
The boat Adam and I once called home was completely transformed. In place of the floor we once slept on there is a beautiful double bed, complete with bedside table, mood lighting, curtains and even walls!
The bucket we used as a toilet for months is now a fully functioning toilet, and the bathroom is an actual room rather than a dirty curtain. There is a working shower, a sink, and an artistic toilet roll holder. It is honestly incredible, and we were pretty jealous at how swish it’s going to look when it’s finished.
I have to go a little off topic here to have a quick gloat about my Dad. As well as being one of the wisest, most thoughtful and most patient people out there-it’s down to him that I passed my maths GCSEs (and many others, since he started tutoring maths GCSE and A levels), he is one of the cleverest, with his PHD in physics and his unwavering thirst for knowledge. On top of this he is an electrician, plumber, car mechanic, carpenter and architect.
For those of you who don’t believe me, you can take a tour of my house, where my Dad not only built me a downstairs bathroom, renovated my bedroom and landscaped my garden, but also built me a whole new room in the form of a shepherds hut in the garden. And if you’re feeling nauseous at my Dad rave, then I will add that he’s completely useless at removing gigantic spiders. Everyone has their faults.
So knowing all of this about my Dad, we shouldn’t have been so surprised at the boats transformation. He has all the skills and more to make this project a success (and my Mum is great at holding screwdrivers). But we really were, because every time we’ve asked my parents how it was going, their response has been a little worrying.
We heard how water had leaked everywhere in a pump mishap, how the steering needed to be taken apart and how it was taking them ‘such a long time’ to do everything. We got the impression that nothing much had changed, so to see it looking like something out of a boat showroom was quite a shock.
I wondered why they hadn’t been boasting about what an amazing place it was turning into. Why they hadn’t mentioned the beautifully varnished woodwork or the stylish tiling in the bathroom. Yes, of course they were being a little modest, but the real trouble was that they were too close to it all. They saw the changes in such minuscule steps that they didn’t even notice them happening.
They knew the hours it had taken to fix all the things we couldn’t see. The shower that may have taken a weekend to install actually took months longer, because behind the scenes they were sorting out the plumbing, and the walls, and measuring the tiny space over and over to make sure the appliances would fit.
The hard work it took to reach the ‘after’ photo was all happening backstage, so they hadn’t taken the time to sit and enjoy the final show. The hours and hours of hard graft, of late nights spent researching specific parts, or sewing upholstery and the frustrating days when everything was going wrong, were all the bits they could remember. The finishing touches that make the place look so impressive and polished are just a tiny part of a bigger picture.
After months of being away from the place I’d called home for most of my life I got the before and after pictures of everyone’s life in full colour. I had the excitement of seeing amazing changes in the lives of my family and friends, changes that they probably have never stopped to think about. They have spent the year improving themselves, their houses, getting better at their jobs, starting new jobs or helping their children grow into wonderful little people.
They’ve also all worked through hardships or huge changes that have helped them to become better people-to learn and grow. Do they have before and after pictures? Probably not. And they have probably never stopped to think about how much improvement they’ve made, because it’s all happening so slowly for them. But the great thing about being away from it all for so long was that I had the pleasure of noticing it all. It was one big before and after photograph for me to enjoy.
We left for a new life nearly a year ago (if you’ve just joined, start from the beginning here!), and the changes we’ve made haven’t been small in any way, but we still don’t have those before and after photos to show off our hard work. We came home empty handed, with no evidence of the way things have changed for us. We didn’t lose a whole load of weight, or get stylish new haircuts, or even have a new outfit to show off. We don’t have the house, the car, the money.
We’ve put a whole lot of hard work into making our lives move closer towards what we really want them to look like. We aren’t the same people we were a year ago and we aren’t the same couple either. This year our before and after photos have changed more than ever, but not in the way people might think.
The before and after pictures that matter to us are the changes that have taken place in ourselves. How do we photograph how much braver we have become through taking this risk and leaving behind everything we once knew to be life. We can’t capture the ways we have learnt to trust in each other and communicate better. We have no gauge that tells us how much more resilient we have become. We can only photograph appearances, we can’t show off the changes that happen inside.
If only my parents could photograph the determination and growth of skill to get the boat looking like a place we would all want to live in. If only my friend could show off her passion and fight in her aim to make her comedy career a success. If only we could show the world how we have taught our children to share nicely instead of capturing how tall they have grown this year, or show the before and after of an emotional struggle that we have finally conquered, or our determination to improve our financial situation. Wouldn’t Facebook be a much more interesting place.
This is Antisamos bay in Kephalonia in 2017, where Adam and I first went on holiday together and where we spent the entire week dreaming of owning our boat and sailing the world. We walked up and down marinas for ages, talking about what kind of boat we would want, where we would go, how we would never be able to afford it.
The ‘after’ is Antisamos bay in 2019, and you can just about make out Hot Chocolate anchored in the bay. We arrived just after sailing into 30 knots of wind, after doing an emergency man over board manoeuvre when we lost a winch handle in the sea. We dropped anchor in this place that we had dreamt about sailing to 2 years ago, and in all of the worry about whether we were doing it right, how close we were to other boats, whether we were too shallow or deep or too close to the shore, we barely took a moment to let the enormity of what we’d just done sink in.
In these days of wanting constant results, it’s easy to forget the journey that gets us there. We forget the burst pipes we had to fix, the storms we had to wait out, the no’s we had to work around and the tantrums we had to deal with. So when we’re in the middle of our own before and after photos, the bit no one really wants to see, I think it’s more important than ever to remind ourselves that we may not ever have that comparison for the world to see, but we are making slow and steady progress towards that end goal-the magnificent ‘after’ photo that shows just how far we have really come.
Let us know your before and after ‘photos’ in the comments below! Let’s celebrate our successes 🙂