Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

Island Blog 63 – Silver Girl

Silver Girl

 

On June 1st Jenny  died.

We have been friends for over 4o years, the same as my years of marriage.

Our children knew each other as little ones and those children now have little ones of their own.  We had a bet going, she and I that her daughter-in-law would give birth before my own did.  The due dates hold hands, they’re so close.  I will see my new grandchild, but she won’t see hers.

Over the years, our roads travelled in different directions, but we kept in touch.  When she first got breast cancer, she was completely herself about the whole thing.  No time for this, she said, need to sort out treatment and keep moving.  She went sailing after that, for 7 months, she and her man, in a yacht to beat all other yachts with big-ass sails and comfort below deck, every comfort, and the wind in her hair and salt on her tongue, whilst I became an Island Wife.  But women who connect at a wild and deep level, who recognise each other’s spirit and love it, never lose touch, even if the contact is once a year.

We sailed with them once, meeting them on a Greek island.  We all wondered how it would work, four of us converging where Two Roads meet, after 30 years apart, and living in close quarters for a couple of weeks.

I could have been a big pain in the ass, I said.

You are.  She replied and handed me a beer.

In the evenings, moored in a little warm harbour, we would cook, eat and make music.  They taught me songs, and I them, and there was something magical about the candlelight, the warm nights, the laughter and song.

She did much with her life and was never still.  She was the second woman ever to command a Royal Navy warship.  A transatlantic skipper, a magistrate, a wife, mother grandmother, although that title sounds way too old for her.  She adored her family, and actively showed it.  She was feisty, impossible, decisive and noisy and there is a big hole left now she is gone.

But what will stay with me for ever, and this may sound selfish, is what she gave to me.  She never faltered and when I did, she whooped my butt.  I’m not saying, or even imagining, that she had life sussed, because I know she didn’t think that at all.  I saw, at times, such sadness in her big eyes, and she might tell me, briefly, or she might not.  When she knew she had only time left, she would still pick up if I called, or answer a text with humour.  She came to my book launch down south in a bright pink wig after aggressive chemo.  It was our last hug.

I salute her.  She is a woman who challenged me to be the best I could be, just as she challenged herself.

Sail on Silver Girl.

Island Blog 21 – To Travel Hopefully

Island Blog 21

As the outside shoots past my grubby window, I take in my fellow travellers.  I know where I’m going, of course, and they are going somewhere too, somewhere that requires them to pack a sandwich and a bottle of mineral water, pick up their book or kindle, their music machine and their mobile phone, just as I did first thing this morning.

I unpack my picnic and sigh quietly (I am in the quiet coach) at the squash of bread and lettuce and crumbly cheese, all gloopy now with the mayonnaise smearing up the window of my cleverly designed sandwich bag with a seal-again top, which I can never seal again, by the way.  You have to match the tram lines or it just won’t seal and it always ‘just won’t seal’ under my fingers.  I could put my specs on, but decide, instead, as I am too hungry, that I won’t bother.  I’ll just post it into my mouth in fingerfuls and chew it…..quietly.

The woman across the way from me is texting.  She has been texting for 40 minutes now and her buttons must be quite worn out.  Her keypad pings with each letter and she obviously can’t spell because, every so often, I hear her puffs of exasperation escape into the warm air of Coach B.  The man behind me has a dry cough, and I feel the punch of each one hit my shoulder as if he is firing peppercorns between the seats.  I shift a little, although I don’t want him to think me rude.

And then there are the whispering people, who hardly move for fear of breaking the rule of silence.

Where are they going? I begin to wonder.  Are they going to or from?  Is one of them running away, or running towards something or someone, and is there hope in their hearts or the foetid drudge puddle of exhausted defeat?

Do they love and are they loved?  Do they sing or write or make the best parsnip soup in the village?  Do they have regrets?

I like to answer some of my questions myself, for I could never speak them out into the polite air of the quiet coach.  I pretend the man with the cough has finally walked out on his over-bearing wife, having told her the thing or two he’s been wanting to tell her for years.  That’s why he has a cough now.  His vocal chords are astonished.

I continue this reverie, developing it to such a degree of joy and happiness on his behalf, that it’s all I can do not to swing round and congratulate him.  Instead, when its my turn to leave, I flash him my widest smile and alight, minding the gap.