I exited QF1 from Singapore to Heathrow with the obligatory sand paper eyes and bee lined towards the airport mobile shop. I knew the drill. Local SIM card, a few quid, a few MB just to get me by. I had a few hours before I needed to board the train from London to Chester, near Liverpool, for a week of work. The process took about 2 minutes. Despite going through this hundreds of times a day the Eastern European girl behind the counter was a lovely fountain of ease and positivity as she asked where I was going, where I would spend most of my time and how long I needed the local number for. She then recommended the right mobile plan and within 2 minutes she had removed my Australian SIM, replaced it with a UK one and then checked I was all good to go.
As I was packing away my unfamiliar pound notes I sensed this hovering, uncertain presence behind me. The counter girl looked up, smiled and asked to help the tall, young, scruffy stubbled awkward Australian guy who was scanning the 50 phone plan offers looking a little bewildered. I smiled at how different we seemed. I had done this a hundred times from Russia to Estonia.
She politely started the questions to ascertain what would be the best plan….Where are you going? How long? Is Europe on the plan? How much will you call home…..
I had almost switched off and started thinking of moving to the Underground to London when the awkward Australian gave his answers.
“I’ll be in the UK for a few months…..then I might go to Europe….I’m not sure where yet….I’ve got about 2 years….I’m not sure when I’m going home……”
This rush overcame me. I turned to him and smiled and said “That sounds like the start of a pretty big adventure.”
“Good luck. Enjoy.” I said. He smiled as I walked towards the tube station.
I smiled for a while after that – thinking of this guy. How different our journeys were and how strange it was to be back. It’s been over 2 years since we landed from Dublin and re-entered a more stable world. It’s this strange paradox of seeming like an eternity yet simultaneously seeming like it was two minutes ago. Yet there I was walking the land we had set out for. Australia to England overland. Miles and miles of trains and buses and taxis and sleep and fear and uncertainty and excitement and sheer overwhelm.
There I was again. South Kensington, Hyde Park, Kings Cross…these names dragging up warm memories that became bitter sweet as soon as they surfaced. Standing on the tube cradling my bags and I could almost SEE my three beautiful daughters sitting sideways with backpacks still on, wide eyed but somehow calm and acting like it was so NORMAL to be on the London underground when in reality they were 10, 8 and 6 year olds who had just crossed the planet by land.
I walked out of Kings Cross and down towards Euston. Dragging work laden luggage, feeling like I should point to a red London bus and give a hoot to the nearest child saying “We’re doing it!! We’re doing it!!” But there was no one to hoot with. Londoners don’t get too excited about wide eyed Aussies walking their streets…..
Same place. Different Journey.
So strange how the mindset impacts how you see a place. A week working near Chester and I was surrounded by some of the most ultra-English country you could imagine. More English than I could remember. The hedge lined roads, irridescent green fields, grey skies and biting air. Pubs like the Nags Head and Red Lion that are so old they seem unreal. The only pubs like that in Australia are O’Malleys Irish bar in Tuggeranong with the faux hardwood beams and ye-olde-worlde light fittings. Pubs so English they look like they are from a theme park.
But it was just so much harder to feel. I was on time lines, waking, working, sleeping, planning, re-planning. There was no idle directions or camping in fields. There was no 3 hour op-shop meanderings and talks with Mel over a can of Boddingtons. There was no Harry Potter in the back of the van and back seat fighting over who got what seat. There was no little leg to reach down and squeeze when something cool appeard as we drove along in the Transit Van.
Did it really happen? Could it happen again?
It could but of course it would never be the same. It would be somethiing different. Teenage girls and older interests. More debate over what we should see and do.
Then again…maybe it will never happen again. I get that nagging, creeping reality bite that that was it. That was SO unique in our lives that it will probably, categorically, never happen again.
But different things surely will. I reminded myself of that as I sat in the streets of Granada in my three day, Ive-come-so-far-I’d-better-use-the-chance trip to Spain after I had finished work. I sat with my back against the whitewashed wall, in the sun. Trying my best to do as the Roman’s do. Two beers down and it was only 3pm. I closed my eyes and listened to the hum around me. The lovely cadence of the Spanish voices, the clip clop of women wearing wildly inappopriate footware for walking cobble stoned streets, the street artist selling his wares while playing soft reggae, the babble of people all moving down their own path. So many paths, so many journeys – with me just sitting there in a two beer buzz taking it all in and thanking my lucky stars for what has been.
It’ll never come back but then that’s probably a good thing.