The last few weeks have been busy. The nice kind of busy mostly; the travelling, catching friends for dinner, hiring wedding people kind of busy. In the space of a week, Chris and I ventured to highest Scotland for a wedding, visited Louth to house hunt and wedding plan, dine with friends and family, and then parted ways for respective Stag and Hen parties (same couple, due to marry next month) which would require me to car pool down to Derby for the weekend, and then finally take the train back home to Plymouth.
Did I mention we’re moving? We’re moving. It’s part of the previous blog about big changes. I meant to write a post. When I tried the words tripped over themselves. The emotions are hard, and turned chaotic on the page. I’m sorry.
Now, however, is the period that always precedes a move, particularly a big one, when life becomes the stressy, bittersweet kind of busy, and requires advanced planning, and phone-calls, and ‘goodbye – keep in touch’ conversations, all of which I’m bad at, particularly the last one.
Chris has a processing time much faster than mine; his ability to simply take information and transform it into practical plans and reasonable motives is astonishing. I’m less geared. I need a scheduled slot to allow for emotional unwinding. Before I move I start to see the ghostly visions of all the important aspects of my life which have happened on a particular chair, in a room, in a cafe, in the city. And I’ve lived in Plymouth for nearly ten years.
Did I mention we’re moving out of Plymouth? We’re moving out of Plymouth.
During my childhood, I became accustomed to picking up and moving on. Being a RAF brat will do that to you; we never set roots for very long. Even as a young child I needed emotional end space. ‘This is where I played with Barbie, goodbye place I played with Barbie’ ‘This is where the Christmas Tree was. Goodbye where the Christmas Tree was’. Somewhere in the back of my head, I have a briefcase filled with snapshots of places. I suppose it was to ensure that I would always be connected to them when they ‘belonged’ to me. Memories are fragile. I’ve lost some. I’ve kept a great deal. I’ve done this for places I have lived for years, and places I have lived for months. I thanked friend’s sofas when I was couch hopping during the bad break up phase. It makes it easier to leave.
Honestly, I’m uncertain as to why. I have always done it, and perhaps I always will.
Now I find myself having to collect these mental Polaroids for an entire city. A city I have shifted through for ten years, longer than I have anywhere, at any other time in my life. The prospect of beginning, and thus seeing through, the negotiations of leaving is daunting and unwanted. I wish for a magic button with which to bypass to the difficulty, and be, through no effort, at the next stage. In a house at our new destination, settled and accepting, building.
Life doesn’t come with magic buttons. They would do us no good in any case. Nothing would be learned or gained from such an easy experience. But the childish, afraid part of me wishes it could all be so simple, practically and emotionally.
The key to the above is that I am afraid.
I. Am. Afraid.
Of moving, of failing to know what to do and when, of not doing enough, of losing who I am in this city, this space, and failing to grow into anything in the new one. I’m afraid of being alone in a small town, just south of nowhere, and becoming lost.
Yes, of course, it’s exciting and an adventure, but adventures are often adventures because they’re unpredictable. And unpredictable is also terrifying. I’m sure Frodo had his reservations about taking the ring to Mt Doom. He wasn’t exactly skipping the whole way there. I am willing to bet, Frodo was wishing for a magic button. And he had Gandalf.
Fortunately, I have Chris who is a wizard in many ways with methodologies and keeping things moving. I even have a ring. Let’s hope orcs aren’t on the way.
‘You can never go home again’
It’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times before, but not something I ever took the time to truly consider. Growing up, I didn’t have a fixed home, so I didn’t really understand. I’m not sure when Plymouth became ‘home’. I’ve lived in many places throughout the city – seven in total – and so no individual spot has been the bases of my life, but the city itself has been the constant. I have come to know it intimately. But even in the decade I have been part of it, the city has been in a state of constant change.
Shops have closed, people have moved to other towns in other counties, and the building which used to house my little studio flat, the place where this very blog began, was demolished to make room for a more modern, taller establishment. My friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about having out-grown one of our old haunts, a shabby, quirky student favorite on the outskirts of the city centre where we once enjoyed pints of tea, greasy cheese based meals and monster size milkshakes. This was before we enjoyed a meal at another of our old favourites, which was redesigned some years ago when new ownership took over. There’s a blog post somewhere in the records where we are drinking tea there.
Everything is in a constant flux, shifting and altering with the stream of time. Nothing can ever be the same for very long. I’ve been present for all these changes, and in a sense I’ve been part of them. The girl who started this blog is not the same girl who writes it now. I got somewhat older, arguably wiser, I moved onward with the city. And now I am tasked with the step of moving away from it, knowing it will continue to bustle on.
The memories I have gathered here will join the box in my mind, they will be as they are, unchangeable, but the places they occurred will continue to be sold, occupied by others, closed, demolished, come under new management or become something else. It is the inevitability of all things, all places at all times. But the saying is right. I can never go home again. It won’t be be there anymore.
So, for a little while, I will be without a home, save my own skin. Then will begin the task of creating a new home. Before all that comes leaving, and endings, and changing of chapters. That’s another popular phrase – it’s not the end of the book, simply the beginning of a new chapter. But the pages have yet to be turned, the content unfolded, as yet unwritten. And soon, Plymouth will be a once upon a time – something I tell my children, show them perhaps on a holiday south to see the sea. ‘This is where I did this,’ I will say, ‘And that happened to me there. This was once a that.’ I’ll draw the Polaroids from the box and share them briefly, looking back on today now, when everything was so uncertain.
So, now commences the ending before the beginning; the final visits to favourite places, fond farewells to companions. Peering back in the rear-view mirror of a life passing out of time into memory.
For now I am simply afraid and excited about the adventure to come.
Back in the Autumn of 2013, which feels an age and a day ago now, I wasn’t doing so well within myself. On the job front, I was having a better time than I had been the previous year, being finally out of retail, and part-timing as a writer and child-minder, but I was making little money from either. On the personal front, I had recently broken-up from a whirlwind romance, which had been off-again on-again since spring. The experience was something few people actually knew about, and fewer still knew the whole story*. Truth be told, I had been saddened and a little embarrassed by the whole affair, and even though I was happy it had come to a conclusion, I was starting to feel disheveled about ever finding a person with which to spend my life.
My dour mood stayed with me for a while. I was still living on a pittance, keeping my head above water, and living with the rag-tag group of characters at the Buddhist centre. Nearer Christmas, I started to feel better. I had a trip organised to see my parents in the majestic land of the Swiss, accompanied by my long-time best friend for the New Year, and my work now included tending to the care of an adorable 9-month old who lived on the same street**. All this kept my mind away from relationships, and all the complicated mush associated with them. I was trying to figure out how to be me.
Just before New Year I was given the news via text message that I was being asked to leave the Buddhist centre over spacing issues. If there’s anything which is going to help you figure out who you are, it’s being thrust into the unknown with no money, no close friends living in the same city as you, and enough emotional baggage to fill the cargo of a Boeing 747.
There’s a person you’ll have to grow into before you meet the person you’re meant to be with. At that dark, transitional time, I wasn’t yet who I needed to be for the universe to deem me ready to meet Chris.
I was a penniless writer-come childminder living in the city, and he was a recently recruited officer cadet living in digs in a riverside town about an hour away. We were so close, but so far. I was single, but he had a recent girlfriend. Our destined meeting was to happen in just a few months, but I didn’t know that then. I was still just hoping that someday it would happen. Just hoping one day I would be enough.
There came a particularly difficult day; January 21st 2016***, a wet, cold excuse for a day, which had been a barrel of chaos in almost all areas. At work I had been told my pay was to deplete, a message had come through reminding me of my impending need to find new accommodation, my shoes were leaking, everyone I called was otherwise engaged^, and my family were at regular blow-outs.
On route home, on the long street which ran between where I got of the bus and where I lived, I hit my lowest moment. A loose slat caught my foot and set me tumbling down into a puddle, causing me to both slam my knee so hard tears weld-up, and get coated in a nice sheen of rain soaked street grime. If there was ever a metaphor for how I felt my life was going in any given moment, that incident was it. I remained where I was while my throbbing knee recovered, crying because I had fallen and because I felt my life was falling; because I was covered in mud and because I felt like mud.
And in that moment I wanted someone to be waiting for me; someone who would know me enough that they knew I was going to get up from that puddle, even with a busted knee and tear soaked eyes, and limp my way home if I had to. Just like I had always done when vicious plot twists wrangled themselves into my story. I knew I would do it alone, but I wanted someone who knew me to not let me get through it alone^^.
74 days remained before I would discover who that someone waiting was, but I didn’t know that, kneeling there on that pavement, wet and cold and in pain. I didn’t know who he was or where he was or what he was doing or when he was going to walk into my world.
If I had known, I wouldn’t have wept in the dirt. Here’s what I would have done.
I would have dusted myself off, and stood up, and carried on down that road, past my abode at the Buddhist Centre to the train station positioned just a few streets behind. I would have purchased a ticket for Totnes and taken the first available train to the station there. Once there, I would have waited patiently in the rain, maybe for as long as an hour, in the dark and cold, for the next bus service to Dartmouth. There I would alight, and start running.
I would run from the bottom of the town along the river edge, and take on the steep hill leading to the majestic building which sits at the top, behind a set of ornate gates, monogrammed with a seafaring logo. The guards at the gate house wouldn’t keep me out either^^^. I would bound over the barrier between us, through the parade grounds, and into the building, and I would head to the zoo*^ where he was living at the time, along with the rest of the guys in his division. But even if they were there, I wouldn’t stop. I’d find him in the mess of maleness^*, and I would get his attention, gently saying his name, and I would look at him.
I would look into his washed out green eyes for the first of what would be many times, knowing he was doing the same thing. And I would say this:
Hey Sweets. Sorry. Chris at the moment. That nickname won’t mean anything yet.
In 74 days, you’re going to meet me. I imagine the idea of that is horrifying right now, given I look like I swam here through a dike using my knee as a flotation device, but I promise I’m usually groomed, with joints of a regular size. Truth is I had a really bad day, just a stupendously bad day in the middle of a stupendously bad few months, and I just wanted to see you, because soon you’ll be who I turn to on all my bad days. And I know I don’t have that long to wait, but I want you now. I want us to be us now.
I know I have a little bit more to learn before I can be with you, so I’ll leave in a minute, and wait until the Universe really brings us together. I mean, right now you have a girlfriend, and I have issues up the wazoo, so I think we both have some aspects of our lives which need to play out. Particularly the girlfriend thing, who by the way, has more issues than me. But our meeting is coming; that amazing day is just a few months from now. And the odd thing is, it’s going to be just as average as any other day. But we’re going to meet, and that will make it one of the most incredible days of both our lives. Because two years later, we’ll still be together, living together, fighting all the bad days together, and sharing all the best days.
74 days doesn’t sound like much, but when it’s the gap between you and I, it still feels like an eternity. Because I don’t want to have to wait to be with you. I want to be with you now; I want to know you and laugh with you and love you now. And I know you want that too. I do, because I am going to know you. Soon.
You’re going to know me, and I’m going to know you – but not like anyone else. We’re going to know each other in that deep, everything kind of way. Not just the little things like favourite food and what make’s us laugh, but the dark, scary, messy stuff, like the worst thing you ever did, and all the little broken bits inside.
And man are we going to love each other. So much. Just so much, that if I start trying to describe it to you here and now it’ll all come out as cliched rubbish. Not to mention all your oppos here will probably make fun of you the moment I leave. Well I suppose they will anyway – I mean I just burst in here from the street, crazy Jane no-body, desperate to meet the man she knows she’ll marry. Let’s face it, they’re going to give you stick. I’m sorry about that. But I may as well keep going now, huh?
I love you. Some part of me has always done so, even when it was just the idea of you. I always knew you were somewhere, and I always loved you, and I love you now. In 74 days, you’ll see.
That’s when our story is going to begin, in a coffee shop, on an otherwise ordinary, rainy morning. I know this all seems wildly unlikely; two people just finding each other one day, but we will.
We’re going to know each other. And we’re going to love each other. And it’s going to be the adventure of a lifetime, a story we write and share. Fighting the monsters together, taming dragons, exploring foreign places, searching for buried treasure, changing the rules, breaking the rules, paining futures in the clear night skies, ducking for cover when the storm hits, kissing in the rain. The whole 9-yards and then some.
You and me. That’s all we’ll need.
Anyway, I better go now, because you’re probably going to get some phone call from your crazy soon to be ex-girlfriend, demanding attention and raving over something small you forgot to do, and I’m almost certainly about to be thrown to the ground and arrested for running in here uninvited, but it’s been worth it just to see you when I feel like the world is against me. I can fight the world with you, Chris.
See you in 74 days. Wait for me, alright?
But, I couldn’t do that. I didn’t know about that seemingly ordinary morning in April just around the corner. I didn’t know about Chris, or his smile, or his way of making me smile even when I’m crying. I didn’t know how much I was about to love someone just for being the person they are. I didn’t know any of it. I was just a girl in a puddle.
So, I lifted myself off that pavement, and I took a long breath, and I hobbled home alone.
*This can be attributed to my young-adult make-something-of-myself appear-perfect pride problem. It’s not such an issue anymore, but it bubbles to the surface every now and then, which is why even after the cooling effects of time, I’m still not liable to speak of that spring/summer relationship in any concrete detail. Maybe one day though. I’ma workin’ on it.
**As of the time this is posted she will be three, which I think makes me 1263538-years-old.
***I’m not 100% sure on the exact date, but I am certain it was a Tuesday, because Domino’s had the special two-for-Tuesday running as I walked past. There’s a chance it was the following Tuesday, but I needed a solid date for dramatic effect. Let’s call it creative license.
^ I mean in terms of being able to answer the phone; at the time, I don’t think any of my close friends actually had a ring on it, save two who had wed the previous September.Rest assured though, if my life were a sitcom, at the time, probably everyone of note in my circle of allies would have been neatly paired off.
^^ That should not be taken as a discredit to any of the wonderful people I had in my life at the time. Guys, it was a really rough day, and as stated above my tries at communication failed.
^^^They jolly well would. I imagine outside the realms of this hypothetical land where I am able to know the future, the most I would get here is a face-full of gravel as I am tackled mercilessly to the ground for trespassing, but in the mood I was in that day, I reckon I would have made it further than on any other day. Not that I would jump gates and barriers at major military training facilities, nor recommend doing so. Let’s face it, I would hardly do well in prison.
*^ From what I understand, ‘the zoo’ is the initial dorm area where the cadets bunk together for the first period of their training, before moving to more private pastures later. They are the only animals in it, as far as I am able to discern.
^*Fun side-note here concerning messy maleness (all PG I assure you). I once visited a ship as a guest while most of the occupants were on shore leave. Chris took me aboard in the early days of our relationship as a quirky date/see where I work kinda deal. There were a few sailors still milling around. When Chris took me to see where he and other cadets slept, I was astonished to discover no one was much dressed, and none at all above the waist. One guy was changing when we stumbled past him (I saw nothing), and another was ironing in his boxers. I never did find out if Chris had mentioned to anyone that I would be stopping by, but he certainly didn’t warn me of the very very casual dress code.
— In the end my knee was fine, just very bruised and a bit swollen for a day or two. I used one of the monks’ frozen veg packs to aid the recovery when I got home. Actually, thinking on it, I’m not sure I ever told him I had done so. O_0′ Wonder how karma will get me for that error. I did live without a freezer for a year, so maybe it already has.
In the centre of Louth sits St James’ Church, a beautiful parish church, built in 1563. The crowning jewel of this particular landmark is its 295 foot spire, which can be seen from almost anywhere in the town. The spire is the tallest of any medieval parish church in England.
Inside, the building is ornate in structure. I imagine before Henry VIII’s purge of Catholic decoration, the interior was actually quite splendid. Remnants of a more glorious past remain, but even without gold and silver, the place is gorgeous. The usual detailed stain glass windows can be found at either end of the church, and wooden statues of saints adorn the side aisles. The alter, located behind the chancel, depicts intricate marble carvings of religious figures. Beautiful as the church was, Chris and I had ulterior motives for venturing inside. Rumour had it, if you turned up at the right time of day, you could climb to the top of the spire. Chris had missed out on a chance to ascend when he was in school, and I love views.
It cost £1.50 each for the privilege of going up. Besides that, the only standing between you and the top of the spire, is a spiral staircase consisting of 199 steps. Our arrival in the late afternoon meant we had 45 minutes to reach the height and come back down before the church closed for the day at four o’clock to prepare for the evening service (I presume). As I approached the door to the spire an elderly woman enjoying a cup of tea at the coffee shop informed me of the spectacle I was about to see. Apparently, on clear days, you can see right to the estuary on the far side of the town. Unfortunately, the day wasn’t clear; dark clouds were threatening rain, but I was excited none the less.
199 steps, leading to a 295 foot high panoramic view point. The staircase, as you can imagine, is a tight spiral of stone, worn down by hundreds of years of use. Some of the steps dip considerably compared to others, and the only support is an added rope banister on the outer wall. Other than the odd window, most of which were distorted glass, there was no way to tell how far we’d climbed. No, I wasn’t counting steps. What I was doing was keeping one hand on the rope, and concentrating on keeping a good pace. Chris, being the well trained, fit Navy officer that he is, was flying up. I don’t consider myself to be unfit, but it was a struggle to keep up. Plus his legs are considerably longer than mine. The stairway is essentially an eternal corner, and I could never actually see him, only hear him, as we continued upwards.
Seven minutes later, a little sweater than I like to admit, I succeeded Chris in reaching the top. As detailed, the view stretched for miles towards the horizon. Wind whipped at us atop the spire as we gazed down at the orange slated rooftops of the town below. The passageway around the roof of the spire is narrow. You’re surrounded by the customary grey rock columns, embellished with weather worn carvings. You can walk along three sides of the square top; the fourth is cut of by jutting stone. I’m not a big person by any sense of the word, but even I failed to squeeze through. So, not quite panoramic, but enough to cause a significant jaw drop. Looking straight down you could see easily just how high we were, but looking out, and I often find this with certain places which show views of towns, the houses appeared like toys, and if I stretched out far enough I could pick them up and rearrange them like Lego blocks. Louth is particularly interesting because it contains small clock towers and a hodge podge of uniquely shaped buildings and gardens. Terracotta bricks mix with lush green trees, and even on the greyest of days it was lovely to witness.
Far away up at the top of the spire, I really felt away from everything. Stress continued to strip away with the clean air, and just being able to witness a bustling town so quietly from above had a soothing quality. Being there with Chris was also a blessing. Often we are able to just be in each other’s company, and speak and remain quiet in the right places. So I was alone, but not alone, able to enjoy what I was doing without having to explain why. I took a moment to ensure I was still grateful for what I did have, for the little details that made life easier, or happier, or clam. For the people who have always been around me, when I needed them yet couldn’t ask for their help. For those few moments there, just being, able to quietly watch the world pass me.
It took us another ten minutes to descend the staircase, getting warmth back as he climbed down after having it taken by the bracing air above. Back outside the church, I took a moment to peer up at the tower, to see where we had just been standing, and I clutched Chris’ hand tighter, and together we walked into the rain.