A a newly married couple in an early home, Mel and I had one of those magical nights where we drank red wine and sat in front of the stereo listening to music till late. We posed challenges like “play the song you would listen to if it was your last on earth” or “the song that most makes you feel overwhelmed” – then we would lean our heads on the side and flick through the rows of CDs until THE song hit you. Then we’d press play, lean back, sip of wine – then choose another. The simple joy of flicking through your music collection until the perfect song for that precise moment jumped out at you.
In the internet age we often try the same thing at home with Grooveshark or another music streaming site. But something weird usually happens. When faced with the ENTIRE worlds music collection on hand….I freeze. I usually end up playing Fergal Skarkey or just choose “Best 80’s mix” on the playlist section. I get analysis paralysis. An overload of options that seems to overwhelming that it leaves me reaching for something I am familiar with. This is of course not helped by my acute awareness of how much I like crafting perfect moment and fear wasting a moment that COULD be so great…..
So you can imagine what my head has been like for the past 2 weeks. We reach the end of a massively significant phase. We complete a dream held for decades and then we face into the question of “where to next?”. WHAT next? Faced with the ridiculously decadent question of how we spend the next 8 months of our lives surrounded by the sheer, breathtaking richness of Europe….I just shut down. It didn’t compute.
It goes to explain our radio silence on the blog front and why we have seemingly crept into a small hole and been unsure when to pop our heads up out of it.
There are constraints of course. Big fat constraint number one is money. I thought I had inherited my mothers knack for budgets and a penchant for austerity measures – but in reality we blew 65-70% of our budget in the first 9 months. We still have more than half way to go. So we are staring down the barrel of stretching the funds while still soaking the experience dry.
So after the euphoria of arriving in London we had the joy of staying with an old family friend just out of London. For 10 days we were taken in, smothered with generosity and given a dose of true family life again. School drop offs (not for our girls though – the thought of 7 hours of school horrified them….), home cooked meals, hours on trampolines, a dog at our feet, a hamster and that lovely bustling 6-8pm time slot in a home where the adults chat over wine and the kids roam and play. Mel and I researched, wracked our brains, took long walks and chatted, plotted, budgeted and planned.
Scattered amongst this were several brilliant London days. Cruising the Thames under the shadow of Big Ben and gaping at the endless “I can’t believe I am here” landmarks that only London can provide. Mel and I are pointing excitedly at where Shakespeare performed plays and where Henry VIII locked his wife up – while Tully and Ellie pointed to bridges that Harry drove over in “The Prisoner of Azkaban” or another that was attacked by Deatheaters. We have shown our daughters Borobodur at dawn, the spellbinding magic of Angkor Wat and the Great Wall of China…..but by God I think their eyes sparkled more than I have ever seen as they stood in line at Kings Cross Station waiting for a photo at Platform 9 3/4. JK Rowling is the wonder of their generation. Their Tolkien.
From London we set off for a night in Bristol with an old friend. One of those friends that you don’t speak to for 15 years but within minutes it feels like it was yesterday. From there we settled into 2 weeks at Newquay,Cornwall. Another old friend, another shower of generosity, cups of tea in the afternoon sun recapping memories and filling in lost years and more anguished planning. In between endless hours on the internet and planning we have snuck out and driven the English country lanes, walked on wind blasted headlands and wandered through coastal towns that are so ridiculously English you feel you have walked onto some movie set or an English theme park.
But the plan seems to be emerging. Two weeks ago we were buying bikes and cycle touring Spain for the last 5 months. Then a financial analysis revealed that this would cost us much as buying a car – so we settled on that option. That lead to days of researching, looking, test driving and finally purchasing a vehicle. A 2004 Ford Transit with 9 seats in it. So high you can walk around in it, so big you could put a double bed in the back and still have room to move around and cook in. And that is the plan…..if we could legally drive it.
And therein lies one of our more ridiculous adventures.
After seeing the vehicle online and it fitting all the requirements we drove for 5 hours to inspect it. Half way there we realise we made the amateur mistake of going ANYWHERE on a Friday over the English Bank Holiday / half term break. But we made it with several hours of detours – and the vehicle was good. We poked, prodded and drove it and after some gentle haggling we paid up. But after high fives and hugs we then tried to get an insurance cover note….at 6:30pm on a holiday Friday. Needless to say we couldn’t – so the van stayed put and we forked out money for a hotel and dinner. No problems we can sort it in the morning…
But the morning revealed that 1: we can’t drive that class of vehicle (it is technically a minibus) and 2: no one will insure us. Gentle pleas for the car yard to just take the car back were politely refused and we were left with the last remaining option – remove some seats, reclassify the vehicle as a van and cross our fingers. Something we can’t do until the Bank Holiday is over.
So we returned to Newquay on Saturday morning along with half of Southern England who were all heading towards the coast. Mel and I sat mute staring ahead for several hours as we crawled along the M5 at less than walking pace. Sitting in mile after mile of traffic that teasingly flowed then mysteriously stopped dead, then flowed again. Then we ran out of food, the petrol light came on and there was nothing left to drink. Roadside services were not an option as that would add 2 hours onto the trip and we had a deadline to return the hire car we were in. So there we were in the English traffic. Returning empty handed, thousands of dollars poorer with nothing to show for it, feeling stupid that we hadn’t researched insurance more deeply and with tired children in the back weeping with hunger. In a traffic jam.
It’s so funny this journey. It swing us through the extremes of emotion yet strangely also still makes us feel those passages of overwhelming normality or burden. The stress, the problem solving, feeling trapped inside the house, children’s needs. Wherever you go – there you are. But then just as I am feeling stupid for being overwhelmed something will happen that pulls me from it. I get a glimpse of Big Ben, or my daughters playing on a Cornish headland in a storm or we drive over sweeping impossibly green English hills rolling into a vanishing point away to the sea. It pulls me up and gives me the slap of perspective.
But we are just emerging from what seems like weeks of it. Anxiety about money, plans, next steps, making a mistake, having to come home early. All piling on top until I have just had enough. But I think we have pulled up from the serious dip. We will find a way out and soon will be camped on a Portuguese beach watching the girls play in the Atlantic Ocean – the third Ocean their gentle young feet have touched. Just that last fact makes my belly flip with excitement. That we – they – have touched three Oceans. That is important. How we get around insuring an obscenely large Ford Transit minibus seems secondary. I just need to get the slap of perspective.
And I feel it coming on.