Sunday 13 March 2016

The Contrary Roadtrip: an epilogue

Every epic story deserves an epilogue.

As I sit on the balcony under the warm glow of an E14 sun, the haze gently obscuring the towers of Canary Wharf and the flowers in bloom, I can’t help but recall that first March four years ago when we sat here chatted, giggled and nearly caused an accident on Cotall street owing to outrageous flirting by the truly flirty one, I could never have imagined what a four years it would be. It’s true I keep feeling my eyes well up and I know this will pass, but the memories never will.

The road-trip was an astonishing three week journey tacked on the end of an incredible four year journey, a journey that took me from one life to another with the support of a friend who made it possible, kept me - moderately - sane and provided endless giggles. Life changing? Almost certainly, perhaps not as dramatically as the first, but in more subtle ways. It’s made me think and reflect on what truly matters to me and - importantly - where I want to go. Not the specifics you understand, let’s face it if you’ve read the last few weeks posts you’ll know that planning and details are things best left to others, but rather the overall picture of what should happen over the next few decades.

Will I do it? No idea, I couldn’t manage to stick to a simple plan to get through a single day never mind crossing a life. But for the first time it’s been clear in my head and I know I can do whatever it is I decide that I will do.

So here I am, 3340.3 miles after I left Contrary Towers back in Contrary Towers. I’ve been through five countries, used three currencies, struggled with four foreign languages, taken several ferry trips, been exasperated, tired, overjoyed, amazed and deeply perturbed. I’ve stayed in commercial hotels, insanely wonderful guesthouses, a convent, a palazzo and even woke once to the sound of the waves crashing on a pebble beach. The weather has included the sun of the Côte d’Azur, snow in the alps, rain all over and the a tremendous storm over a place that can barely be pronounced: Krk. I’ve been on snow, a pebbled shore, knee deep in mud, several rolling decks and dozed on an island jetty with just the sound of the waves quietly lapping beside me. And the sights! There have been examples of dodgy Italian engineering, massive bridges, black cathedrals, phallic potatoes, flooded pavements, vistas the camera couldn’t capture, endless tunnels, dull roads and roads that make you want to be somewhere else. In short there has been almost everything.

The range of experiences has been astonishing. Admittedly when discussed most people recoiled in horror at the thought of planning a journey across Europe where only three details were known and so much had to be made up, but that’s what made it good. That was the adventure. The thrill of having no idea whatsoever what the new day would bring. Yes there was a vague plan but that was mostly so we knew when to go so we could reach one of the three key dates. It’s true that this non-plan could only work because we both had internet access on the go, but hell, if we have it then *everyone* can have it and everyone can be contrary.

A friend of mine said earlier today that I’d been an inspiration. I think she has forgotten that she herself was an inspiration to me in how to deal with life. However I presume she meant about travelling. I’ll be honest, I’ve inspired myself, or more accurately, we’ve inspired myself as I probably wouldn’t have done this alone. But now? Well now I could.

Yes it’s better to travel with someone but I know that they have to be the right person and have that insanity that means it’s perfectly acceptable to walk around a mountain in mud and rain before eating sarnies quickly before the traffic wardens turn up. And if that person isn’t there? Well then you do it alone as otherwise you fret and worry that the other person is okay and isn’t stressed by your erratic approach to touring.

I’ve learned that maybe being nearly 49 has reduced my stamina and that I do need to stop for a break after 90 minutes or so as I cross countries but with that I also learned that by pacing myself I can cover huge distances without feeling exhausted.

The most astonishing thing I learned is that after sharing a car and room day in day out we never ran out of things to discuss to the point where on the last night in Split we had to sit talking until 2:30am and then started again at just after 7am because we still had so much to say.

I’ll admit that it’s going to leave a huge hole in my life and being back home surrounded by the sound of silence is very difficult. But I also have so much to do. I have a job list growing rapidly at work, two eager young things that I will mentor and next week not only do I have have my youngest son staying with me - and hopefully my eldest visiting - but I will also collect keys for my new home: the new Contrary Towers.

And here’s the thing, the realisation that only came in the last couple of days as I talked - endlessly - with an old friend in Versailles: Contrary Towers is not a place, it’s a state of mind. And that might be something difficult to understand. But it’s strangely comforting that however much things change they are still the same because by definition change is the norm.

It’s not surprising that Mein Herr became our de facto theme tune for the road trip. But there's another thing, as I write the campaign for Britain to exit the EU is in its full rabid frenzy. Pourquoi? As I see it this trip would not have been anything like as simple if it had not been for political union. And as for currency? Well I would rather have used a single one. Plus the only slow points were as we passed from non Schengen areas into Schengen ones. True it was an anti-climax as we entered Italy from France but then it was fab to travel through Slovenia, Italy and France coming back and only having to flash the passport in Slovenia, indeed the next time for any scrutiny was coming back in to Britain... Don't they know who I am? So yes, I support Europe and staying in it as from my PhDitzy point of view it seems to actually work, if there is a problem it's... Us.

I think that for now I should sign off so I can finish a drink that until this trip I couldn't pronounce plus I have things to think about including a selection of work, life and plans but I want to leave with one final thing, thirty years ago at University I stumbled upon a quote from T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding that I think perfectly sums up how I feel:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

...and back again
Be contrary, you know it makes sense...

We are contrary, hear us giggle! Lots.

1 comment:

  1. What a gorgeous epilogue. It's been lovely being on the road with you both. X