The last two days of our trip passed in a blur of fields and trees. Steep-rooved houses, criss-crossed Tudor beams are either clustered into towns, or spaced out like candles on the flat landscape of a birthday cake. The van brakes ground, or they didn’t grind, we developed an oil leak but kept topping up. The sole aim was to get home now, distance to cover in case our train pulled into the Euro Tunnel, sliding into the darkness without us.
And yet, like a child on Christmas day fighting tired eyes for fear of missing grown-up events, we clung to the last hours of our amazing odyssey, torn by the requirement to get back and our desire to turn around, shoot off in any other direction but home.
From Nantes we made it to Mont Sainte-Michele, it’s tall gothic spire puncturing the sky, launching upwards from grey mud-sand of Normandy beaches. We allowed ourselves a stop from incessant forward movement, to tread its causeway and jostle with multi-cultured faces and voices, squeezing round corners, along ramparts and up to the Abbey itself. Despite it’s apparent medieval nature (think Hogwarts- meets Lindesfarne-meets Bamburgh Castle), it’s mostly a 20thcentury fabrication. Tiny turrets jut out at odd angles, wonky chimneys offer ledges from which pairs of seagulls squawk in protest at disturbed repose.
Then back in the van, into gear: onwards.
Our final evening, Boulonge-sur-Mer, was an opportunity partly for reminiscences, glowing memories over a bottle of wine on a last supper out, and the transactional stuff that I’d fixed on achieving. M, ever patient sighed as we sheltered from icy rain dashing out to the launderette machines cleaning and drying clothes and dog bedding. In my head, it was essential to re-enter the UK without a mound of smelly washing.
I was discombobulated, hormones not helping, but in mourning what was over I was snipey and focused on little stuff rather than seeing a bigger picture.
Next morning, air cleared, mug of tea shared and approaching Calais, we clicked back into the sync I’d shoved us out of. Notes were compared as miles passed: favourite days, favourite nights out, the best of ‘this’, worst of ‘that’, things to change/avoid, do differently in future. Would we stick with this van or make a different one? Where would we go next time?
What was clear as the road signs counted down the kilometres to our exit, was that we’ve done many journeys in the past 96 days, the least of which was the 5000+ miles. We’ve learnt what we can achieve if we decide on a course of action. M’s confidence has grown: he had lost faith in his ability to make things, the intimidation putting him off the idea of building the camper to start with. Now he describes how he can reshape the kitchen area, estimating half a day for the work. He’s started to write, and gets lost in his own thoughts and words, creating a narrative so different to mine, M fluid at expressing things that I find it harder to say.
My beliefs have shifted too. I’ve started consultancy work that I’m loving in its own right, proud also to be contributing independently and more significantly to family finances, outside of the guesthouse. I know now that we can make a new life, lots of new lives. I have more confidence that ‘blue sky dreams’ are not in fact only suitable for the ether, they have more value and less risk attached to them than was assumed. My determination to have us both reach for them offers real benefit, rather than folly. Just look at what we’ve done so far.
Which doesn’t at all cover my gratitude. I am shortly in danger of being one of those gushy actresses who, hands clutching a shiny award, overstays their stage time. But, if you’ll allow me to monopolize your attention for just a short while longer:
Thank you Mr Wilson. You are my best friend, my enabler, trustee of the dreams, tears, heights reached, lows plumbed. I am afforded influence, and though I’m judicial in what I push for, there are times when the adjective is simply ‘pushy’. I’ve nudged and then oomphed you. Thankfully, you see our adventures as good things, have loved the journey and appreciate the necessity of changes coming our way. A lesser man might have descended into resentful irritation. You have not. You wake each day determined to be both cheerful and the best human that you can be. I stand in awe of such resolution on a daily basis.
Vicks has been a stalwart supporter of this and other departures from the norm. Her visit in the middle of the trip was precious time. It provided opportunities to chat about subjects inconsequential and more serious. I hope she and I keep running/cycling together. I love the space it provides, time for the two of us and our endless striving towards her ever-more-ambitious sporting goals.
Family have been wonderful. Curators of our journey, lines of contact to speak with, eternally supportive and encouraging. We got back to the UK and stopped first with the “London Lot”. Out came the trolley jack, copper slip, clamps. Off came the wheels, problems identified, rectified, rolling stock restored. M up again early on Sunday morning, hands around the brakes and their innards, supervised by Uncle Ron. Then we go North on Monday for M’s Mum’s birthday (she’ll be 82), to see my Mum, Dad and Joy, to spend time sharing the highlights, good and bad.
We’ve been blessed with friends who’ve assumed our abandoned responsibilities, sorting the cottage and caring for it’s guests, ensuring plumbing keeps flowing in the freezing weather, collecting the post and sending weekly reports that the guesthouse is still standing. Our garage was broken into, we have pictures for the insurance company, accounts from neighbours and colleagues in the police force. There’s a raft of kindness that we’re profoundly appreciative of, buoyed by the sense that although we sometimes feel like a separate double act, clearly we’re not and have many people to be glad for.
And, I’m grateful for all the people who’ve responded to this blog, sent messages of support, noticed our tribulations, even just affirmed their presence with a “Like’. Each bolsters, endorses, encourages, make me fight a desire to hide or keep this exploration of the possible quiet and private. You’ve come with me; your company has been invaluable and reassuring.
It’s going to be a roller-coaster ten months. We’re stopping the guesthouse, which necessitates leaving it. That’s four floors of downsizing and we’ve no idea of into what. The guesthouse bookings are very busy, lots of guests who are valued friends and new friends to make. Lots of decisions, weighing up, taking down, simplifying and stripping away.
Optimism is my natural bent, I assume success and strenuously resist losing that outcome. I have huge buckets of optimism for the future, our blue skies are liberally littered with fluffy clouds of opportunity. All we need to do is decide where we’re looking first: North, South, East or West, and surely, that can’t be too difficult. Can it?