One year ago today, at about 8pm, I stepped aboard an Emirates flight to Dubai, en route to England and I have no idea what else. All I had was a few hundred English pounds, 17kg’s of luggage and a job waiting in a pub…. Well, maybe waiting, needed to crack the interview first!
In those 12 months it feels like I have led four year’s worth of life. That may be a consequence of the ceaseless movement, the resident jobs or early onset senile dementia, I am not sure which. Not that I care, it is an awesome sensation and I remain very glad that I took the plunge to go on this adventure and grateful that I was even able to do so.
The four blocks are as follows:
1) The Old Thatched Inn, Adstock, England
I worked as a live-in waiter and barman at the Thatch for four months. It had been 20 years since I worked as a waiter, but the owner Andy was happy to take a chance on me. Although for the first 2 months he did swear I was the worst waiter he had ever had! I got better and faster and was lucky to work with some very cool people and have very relaxed locals who I got to know pretty well.
In all the years of returning to the UK since 1994, this was the first time I had spent any time in the countryside, and I loved it. I don’t think I could live there, but hey, it was cool. It was also one of the hottest summers in the UK for a long time, and I recall fondly sitting on the roof of the pub after shift, drinking a cold beer and staring at the unfamiliar northern constellations.
With my plans for roving the world in front of me, of course I was keen to leave The Thatch at the time, but I remember it fondly.
2) What followed next was 3 months of roving around Western Europe. I started in Spain for my mate Jonah’s wedding, then heading cross-wise across France, meeting old friends, family I hardly knew and plenty of strangers (and new friends) along the way. I nearly got derailed in Belgium by the beer, spent a few weeks in the Netherlands (where my longer term travel plans DID get derailed) and then went on to Germany, Poland and The Czech Republic.
This time was epic, educational, grounding, rich, lush and fantastic and very damn tiring! I have always said that I don’t believe in travelling by means of seeing as many places in as short a time as possible and yet, well, that’s kinda what I did. It was great, but I won’t ever do that again! Again, I made so many cool new friends and saw much unexpected stuff, it was awesome.
3) Part 3 was a 3 month stretch living and working at Hari Sport in Adelboden, Switzerland. This was epic, educational, alienating, fun, weird, beautiful, tiring and uplifting in about equal measures! I learned to understand Switzer Deutsch (sort of), bits of German and plenty of that language one speaks late at night when drunk and everyone seems to understand. I learned how to ski (strictly beginner level), to fit ski’s boots and ski poles and how to service ski’s… actually I think I got pretty good at the servicing! Switzerland has never been on my travel list so it was strange to end up spending 3 months there… time I was very grateful for. The sheer physical beauty will stay with me forever.
4) The chronological year closes then with the last 2 months spent in Amsterdam. This stage of itself is not yet over however, so it’s hard to give a final word on that. Let me just say that I am VERY glad to be here and that I love this city and the woman that brought me back here. I am learning Dutch, how to ride a bike like a Mokhum. I have no idea yet how I am going to earn a living or what my life here will look like. But I am definitely here for the summer and hopefully some more travelling after that. THIS part of the story continues!
I am very glad that, as a 42-year-old man, I was in a position to see all my belongings, pack my bags and leave home without letting anyone down or breaking any relationships. My father is not well and that is hard, but for the rest: thank you all for understanding that it was something I had to do. It has opened up numerous cans of worms and indeed, I do not know where all this is headed, but then again, I didn’t know that back in SA either.
Of all the reactions that I anticipated, those of envy and respect have come out as the dominant ones. Maybe those who think I am crazy just couldn’t be bothered to say it. All in all, what I can say is that if you are feeling stuck and unsure about your future and you can in fact untie the tether ropes that hold you to your current life, go ahead and do it. I can guarantee you a crazy ride of self-discovery and reflection that will only improve your mental health and your sense of self while enabling you to see the others in your life far more clearly as well as your own role in all your travails. It’s rewarding, crazy, scary and uplifting.
It has been so all consuming that I haven’t even really been writing. I felt like an old towel when I left South Africa: wrung out and unable to soak up anything new. These last 12 months have been spent absorbing experiences voraciously. Maybe at some stage they will start to come out in writing again. Right now, I am finishing the 3rd draft of that novel I have been talking about for 3 years and am very happy with it. There is even some poetry dribbling forth occasionally.
So, happy anniversary to me. I do not miss South Africa. My senses are too ignited with my current experience. But I do think about it a lot and I am confronted every day with my debt to South African society for making me who and what I am. I have been inescapably moulded and shaped by my privilege, my education, my work experiences and the social life I led while there. So many people whom the mere meeting of changed my outlook and my approach. No matter where this road takes me next, I can never forget nor lose that and I do not seek to.
Here’s to another 12 months of rich experience and discovery!