Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Day Three in which I pull out a memory, dust it off and dish it up

So, today is the first day I look at the list of things to write about and select one. I was planning on just grabbing one at random but I kept going 'don't like that, don't want to do that, already done that, seriously?' and so on. I'm going to have to find a different list, or make my own. Fussy aren't I? I suppose because I've been happily inflicting onto you whatever I'm thinking about and not what someone else thinks would be a good thing to write about. 

The topics weren't all that bad but they were too specific. I'd like to take a completely random topic and write about that; like ‘a broken barbed wire fence with tyre tracks leading to it but not beyond - what happened?’ That sort of thing. I guess that marks me as a fiction writer and also as a creature of habit. This last bit because I once again have started writing here instead of in Word for that word count. Two secs while I move us all.

There we go. So today I’m going to go with one of the topics in the list. Write about travel was a suggestion. Now I’ve travelled a bit and I have a few travel stories. Today I’m going to dredge my memory and write about the first time I travelled internationally. I haven’t thought about that very first trip in years.
I was eighteen at the time, and I was in a kind of limbo. I’d been working for Telstra (that’s the main telephone company in Australia for those of you elsewhere) as a telephonist (Word doesn’t even know this word) when the telephone exchange I worked on was absorbed into the closest large town and I was out of a job. My childhood had been somewhat different (won’t go into that now) and I was at a loss as to what to do. In one of those wild left turns that I tended to take (and still do) I woke up one morning and decided that I would go on a working holiday to the UK.
This is not that strange, plenty of Australians do it, and in those days it was almost a rite of passage. One of my grandparents was born in the UK so I could easily get a Patriality visa – which now is called Ancestry and is way more difficult to get. So on that day I got out of bed, announced my decision to my bemused family and set about making it happen. My sister lives in the UK and so I naturally decided that she would love to have me with her. Whether she did or not she got me, and coincidentally one of my brothers. He was on a wandering trip and ended up staying with her at the same time.
In those days there was no internet and no instant messaging, just snail mail and on rare occasions the phone. So it took a bit longer to arrange than it would do today. But still, I got my passport sorted, packed a suitcase, bought my ticket and was taken to the airport by my still bemused family. I had no idea of what I was doing, no clue on how to travel, not the foggiest notion about any of it but I just got on the plane and went. I don’t remember feeling anxiety or worry at all. I don’t remember being excited either, I had just decided that this was what I should be doing and I did it.
I wish I could remember the airline I used, I’m guessing it was Qantas or British Airways due to the lack of choices back then but I have no memory of the airline. I remember landing at Singapore and finding out that I needed to get off the plane and was finally anxious as I realized I was waayyy out of my depth. I was a country girl, I’d done a bit of travelling in my home state but nothing else. To me Brisbane was the big city.
I remember my eyes bugging out at the size of the airport in Singapore and then getting back onto the plane. I know I slept a lot, something I have never been able to replicate on subsequent trips and I also remember the flight attendants looking after me far better than they needed to. However I didn’t know that at the time so I’m afraid while I was grateful for their care I didn’t thank them nearly well enough.
The part of the trip that stuck the most in my memory was the landing at Abu Dhabi. There had been some sort of military upheaval and we were not allowed off the plane while it refueled. We landed in the predawn mist, and I looked out of the window to see a line of heavily armed military men form a circle around the plane. They stood in this formation for the time we were there, just shadows in the mist with the shape of their weapons clearly delineated. In the exhaustion of the last leg of a long haul flight (that only fellow Australians can understand) I felt like we had landed somewhere alien – not on earth at all but some distant planet.
That flight was 28 hours long, and by the time we landed in London I was thoroughly confused with jetlag blurring my mind and making me clumsy. I don’t remember going through immigration or customs, I don’t remember anything except emerging from the customs corridor into the chaos of the Heathrow airport arrivals lounge. My brother and his girlfriend were meeting me and I felt a moment of absolute despair, wondering how, in this crush of more people than I had ever seen in the same space together, they could ever find me.
Of course they did, they were on a walkway above me and my brother’s girlfriend got my attention by throwing a rolled up newspaper at me which hit me on the head. I was never more relieved to see someone. The enormity of what I had done had washed over me in those seconds and I found myself quite terrified of my own gall.
After that there are fractured memories. The awe I felt at seeing Big Ben (because they took me on a quick tour of London before we got the train to Salisbury which was where my sister was at the time), the surreal sensation of eating fish and chips wrapped in an English newspaper just like in a BBC television series. The exhaustion that came over me in waves. The cold – I arrived in May and had naively expected the spring weather to be much warmer.
I had never experienced the English version of spring/summer, nor had I ever felt real cold. I didn’t know it but I chose a year when they were to have one of the coldest winters on record. That May I saw snow for the first time.  I was the only one excited by the sight of snow in springtime which I didn’t understand at the time of course. I was the one running around outside, hands outstretched, trying to catch the few flakes that fell. Everyone else was inside, moaning at the sight of snow.
I was enchanted by everything that I saw, it was like I had walked into a book and become one of the characters. I stayed in Salisbury for a year and I loved all of it. I would often just stop walking and stare around me in amazement that I was actually there. I was still doing that the day before I left. Probably I should never have left, but then my life would not have led me to this computer typing these words.
You can’t go back, you can’t change the past and regret has no effect on what has already gone. All you can do is keep your memories and dust them off every now and then like I just did. Wrong turns and mistakes are part of life and they shape us just as much as right decisions do – sometimes more. I know that if I had not made the decisions I did that I would not be the person I am today – I might be considerably better off financially mind…

I’m beginning to like the person I am becoming though, and I would not have started this transformation unless I had gone through the fires of misery, loss and wrong choices. So in the end I can’t regret any of my decisions. I would not have my two children either if I had not made that decision to return to Australia. I probably never would have become a writer, only a wisher. I never would have discovered my drawing ability. I never would have discovered me and while I have discovered me rather late – well better late than never.

This is the poultry cross in Salisbury :)


  1. "All you can do is keep your memories and dust them off every now and then..." Your post did just that for me. Living in the UK during my husband's military assignment brought back so many memories. During those three short years, I felt as though we were living in a dream. I only wish I had more photos. I also had a similar experience at Heathrow, wondering how I would find my mother (I forgot her flight number); but, it all worked out (another story).

    Currently, I live in the state of Georgia along the southeast coast. The city isn't one that's on anyone's bucket list. It wasn't even on mine, but let me tell you, it's one of the most fabulous places. The history is amazing. A culture of artisans exists like I've not known in such a small area. For 16 years, I've never considered it routine.

    Next week, we'll be moving back north to our roots. I promised myself to always be seeking out the gems.

    Thank you for your beautiful photos and a wonderful post.

    1. Thank you Shelley, I'm glad you have those lovely memories. No, I don't have many photos of that time either