My sister of course. A week of drinking, catching up and being a foreigner, what more could you ask for.
Chasing the sun and wet weather, though of course I will quickly learn to regret this decision, in my sun burnt water logged agony.
Long drives, hot weather, serial killers and dust, dust and more dust. hopefully somewhere a large red rock.
After far too long travelling, I am now somewhere that I want to be, and more importantly wants me to be here too.
Waiting around is my greatest failing and I do it very badly, so the days after New Year were a rather uncomfortable montage of untamed panic, bag packing mayhem, sleepless nights and curiously random exclamations that should have remained as internal dialogue. Lesley and I walked the length of Studland beach the afternoon before leaving Swanage, it was a pleasant way to spend my last full day in England, a horizon consisting of nothing but sea, a traditional motif for new beginnings (I considered using "high adventure", but decided that opening bank accounts and buying foreign phone card sims isn't really that exciting) on returning I picked up the phone and started the final round of phone calls to say goodbye, well adieu to be honest, to my friends here, Bonny, Callum, Mark, Steve and Pete Croft. I don't mind leaving the country, I mind leaving my friends, but as many of you realise, my need is to be somewhere else now.
After finishing the conversation with Pete and then saying goodnight and farewell to Jason and Lesley, I poured a rather large alcoholic drink, accepted that the next chapter of my life was now starting and found the words I needed:
I am finally leaving, don't know where I will eventually end up and it is beautiful.
Though not fully covered by the statement "eventually" the next stop from Swanage was Andy's sofa in London, my second home (the 06:30am check in requirement would be an impossibility traveling up from the Gateway to Nowhere). With the exception of my sister, no one has so steadfastly stood by my side in the last nine months more than he has and Andrew was my deserved companion for the last hours in the UK, well we say companion, more chaperone, due to a small weakening of resolve (I'll explain my departure reasoning: Big parties = feeling unable to come back if things do not work out - No party = One can come and go as one pleases in and out of the country), Michelle, Tash's work college, had booked us all into a Tapas bar with the shock troops of the Core4 and a selection of the most beautiful women in my life, it felt like a farewell harem to be honest, but as ever I am a gentleman and so only had the best of intentions for these gorgeous lovelies, conversation and wine.
In departure I felt, as I do now, this paragraph being written in San Francisco, a little numb perhaps, but no great feelings. It is difficult to feel anything when you don't know what is coming next I find. Oh yes there was something, smug superiority as I handed my boarding pass in at the gate and found I was being upgraded, therefore it turned out, defeating any jet lag on arriving at Ben and Johanna's because I had slept the whole way in a nice big comfy seat.
As Ben acknowledges, Tash was one of his oldest friends and it was in conversation with him in Sydney earlier on this year that I initially hatched this traveling plan, something that he has managed to help further with by now giving it a name - he term was Vergangenheitsbewältigung (Coming to terms with the past, usually used in describing Germany's processing of it's Nazi and holocaust legacy). So a trip of such coming to terms could be called "eine Vergangenheitsbewältigungsreise" not the romantic phrasing I was hoping for, but as ever from the Germans, it is descriptive and to the point.
This then was a visit of (it is not good English but I feel friviouls) significant significance.
Johanna, Ben's wife, has just given birth to Ruben, a brother to the frenetic three year old Felix and for a brief moment in the planning it looked like my arrival would be inconvenient, however Ruben appeared just after Christmas and by the time my flight landed they were just getting into the routine of no sleep that I understand is the norm for new borns' and as it turned out, non adjusting older brothers.
San Francisco it must be said was a bit of a revelation, I have never been a fan of the US, but this Californian bay, which reminded me strongly of Melbourne, with the notable exception of all the "I voted for Obama" bumper stickers, embodied the Californian aesthetic that I have long heard so much about. That is not to say that Ben is a tanned surfer, the heavy responsibility of holding a doctorate specialising in Italian Fascistism lends him more of a intellectual air and curiously I discovered a professional grocery shopper. It is unfortunate these days that one can be in any part of the world and find something of home, in my case it was Safeways, the popular supermarket. Continuing the European theme, this I appreciate is quite a jump, but please keep up; Melbourne is said to be the most European city in Australia, partly due to it's architecture and climate. The San Franciscans also spend a lot of time discussing the weather, not the actual weather, but the several curious micro systems that because of the hills that separate several sections of the metropolitan area, turn the hot californian summer into a foggy English Autumn. I saw nothing of this, though using a hazy reminiscence of episodes from "The Streets of San Francisco" TV series I bloody well tried hard to imagine this "right pea souper" but to no avail.
My time in San Fran was, as you'd expect, particularly if you have read the above paragraph, laid back, as my traveling modus operandi is to spend it with people and not buildings. Felix is spoken to in Swedish at home, but conversed mostly in English with me and occasionally in Swedish as well, with a little Spanish at one point, so I felt truly a linguistic numb skull. I have discovered in my travels that my deeper English brogue (and not the high pitched cockney accent that sometimes comes out when I am pissed) is very useful in story telling and so whenever Felix selected a book I could read, that was not in Swedish, I would roll my "R's" and elongate my "A's" and find rhythm in any rhyme. One morning at breakfast Felix was particularly interested in a book of nursery rhymes, you know the drill, one spoonful per rhyme. This book contained all the English standards and quite a few others that my keen British brain quickly concluded were either just made up or pinched, intended as page fillers, from books at the Victoria and Albert museum. Hunmpy Dumpty we all know, Jack Sprat is a bit of a stretch, but A Diller A Dillor, not a clue. Felix then, was feeding himself coaxed spoonful after spoonful, working his way through the pages, which were all illustrated, so that if they couldn't read, at least a child could point at the characters to hear the rhyme. As soon as he turned the page I knew that option two, some random collection of drivel about a couple and a dog, would not get a hearing and that just the very image of a girl with a cat would be instantly problematic, "are you sure you don't want this one" I found myself gingerly coaxing him away from the inevitable and much to Johanna's amusement, "you surely don't want me to read that", the answer came clear "yeah that" and so my little tick list of "things to do in this new life" continued its strong surge into the absurd...
First kiss: A small compassionate peck in the lips by a female work colleague of Pierre's after I had issued the statement "yes I know how much stress can affect you, my wife died last month" to stop her whining on about her "hard" job and bad back.
First time holding hands with another woman: Kate at the funeral.
First touch by a woman on my naked skin: Jane my Masseuse in Swanage, all above board I will have you know.
First time with a naked female: Apparently this is likely to be Kate's daughter Abbey, nudity is her new party trick, I am seeing her next week.
None of this is how I hoped it would be and most certainly is not going to plan!!!
"I love to stroke my pussy....." The rhyme began, my uncomfortableness was clearly evident to Johanna even though this feline based ditty was completely child rated, she didn't care however, as she was trying not to laugh. Great I was thinking, I have now talked dirty to a three year old!
Ben and Johanna's relationship is so beautifully honest and worked at so hard, that one wants to do absolutely everything one can to assist them on their glorious journey through life, so they were cooked for in the way that some of you have already experienced and my culinary skills were even elevated to full catering chef one evening when they had friends round. I found my self cleaning up for them as well, the statement "if Tash could only see me now" appeared more than once in my head during the week.
In the car on the way to the airport Ben and I discussed what was happening next, "you are the last of the goodbyes" I commented "from now on, it is all hello". What comes next will be no less difficult, but I am glad to say more positive, and as we hugged our farewells, my eine Vergangenheitsbewältigungsreise at last turned a corner.