The year of being sixty two : travelling



Travelling
There is a real tension for me between the desire to be rooted and the wish to travel.  As I get older this tension intensifies.  After a lifetime enjoying wandering about, loving moving house, feeling that home is where my people are and that place does not really matter, I find  myself living in a place which I love.  I would be happy to move house again but I don’t want to go very far.  I like the sense of becoming part of a community.  I love my choir, my yoga class, my Welsh lessons.  I like the fact that I know people.  I feel at home here.  There is a Welsh expression “a man of his own square mile” and it is one I have always loved.  But my own square mile, love it though I do,  has never been enough for me.

I have always loved travel, change, new experiences.  And getting older makes me intensely aware that if there are places I want to go to, things I want to see and do, parts of the world which really interest me, I need to get on and go, see, do, learn.  Time and energy are both finite.  I don’t want to do the same things week in and week out.  I don’t want one month to blur into the next until I find that my world has narrowed to a cup of tea at the same time of day, the same television programmes, a small world with all its colour and detail worn smooth by endless repetition.   I love the way travelling makes me think about the world and how it works, question things I take for granted, see how differently people live and yet how much the same we are, and, when I come home, how it makes me appreciate the place I live in with new eyes.  But how to balance staying and going is quite a hard one.

After five years or more of staying home because of the needs of my father in law and father, this year is to be a year for travel.  The big trip of the year was a return to New Zealand, to which we added  a visit to Tasmania to see family and a week in Sydney.  I spent nearly seven years in New Zealand when I was child and a teenager.  That is more than forty years ago now and for around thirty years I have been wishing to go back, to see it again, to close the circle and to see the country through adult eyes.  I remember as if it were seared behind my eyelids the vivid blue of the sky when we got off the plane in Christchurch.  I was eleven, born and raised in the industrial north of England.  I could not believe how strong the colours were, how the breeze moved the warm air against my skin, how white that skin was compared to the glowing brown  of the people on the streets and in the shops.  The furthest I had ever been was a holiday that summer in the Channel Islands and that in itself had been a revelation but this was a new world. 

New Zealand became home.  With the speed of youth I became accustomed to walking in bare feet, to wearing flipflops (and calling them jandals) to eating outside and to being that same glowing brown myself.  When we finally came back to the UK in response to the illness of my grandfather when I was nearly eighteen, I was shocked at how ill everyone looked and at how grey the world of the North of England was.

So I had wanted to go back for most of my adult life, not to live there, but to look at it again.  Family life, jobs, shortage of money and time all got in the way.  We nearly made it in 2000.  I can’t quite remember now why it wouldn’t work: Ian could not have time off work at the right time of year, I couldn’t have enough time to make it worthwhile, Ian’s father was on his own and fairly recently widowed.  There were all sorts of things that stood in the way.

When we finally got on a plane to fly to New Zealand in Feburary 2017 I was, under all my delight and excitement, a little apprehensive.  What if the whole thing was an anti-climax?  I told myself it would be fine.  I didn’t really know what I was looking for in going back so if I had some time in a beautiful country and it was a holiday, not some sort of strange epiphany, that would be fine.

It was not an anticlimax although I am still working out exactly what it was, other than a delight.  We arrived in Auckland, where I had never been before.  I thought we should see it and I thought that if we had any jet lag it would not be a bad thing to go through that in a place which had no emotional resonance for me.  In the end we were not really bothered by jet lag.  We stayed in a lovely place.  Auckland is an interesting city.  We took a free walking tour.  We took a ferry to Devonport and wandered around.  We ate good food and drank good coffee and then we flew to Christchurch.

Fab place to stay in Auckland
I had read quite a bit about the earthquake in Christchurch in 2011 which killed  185 people and caused widespread damage but nothing prepares you for the scale of the destruction to buildings.  Christchurch is a gracious city, with many stone buildings and green squares, the gently winding River Avon and a huge park at its heart.  All of that remains true but there is a sizeable area just off   Cathedral Square which is one huge construction site and the Cathedral itself is a ruin.  I had remembered New Zealanders as practical, resourceful, cheerful people with a laconic sense of humour and no time for self pity or introspection.  That seemed still to be true.  We loved the fact that the main shopping area had been rebuilt in containers and the whole place had a surpirsing energy and creativity.  

Christchurch has a temporay cathedral.  The tubes are made of cardboard!

Brilliant flags fly in Cathedral Square

The memorial to those who died in the earthquake, one chair for each life

Ian and I  went to try to find the house my family had lived in and there it was, now with a fence in front and a large gate.  I preferred it open to the street myself! 


We found the park where my brother and I walked the dog and the beach where my best friend and I spent hours on summer weekends.  We tried to find my school but the school has had a new site for many years and the old building has been demolished and was now a car park.  It wasn’t particularly moving or exciting (apart from the site of the memorial to those who lost their lives in the earthquake which is simple and very moving indeed) but there was a very satisfying sense of things falling into place.  Here was where I had my first kiss.  This is the tree we used to climb where you could get so high it became vital not to look down or I would freeze.  Here is the route I cycled to school. 

I am still not sure why it mattered to me to see it again.  The person that I am has surely been shaped by the family I grew up in, by my marriages, both the one that failed and even more by the one that continues, by my children and my jobs and all that I have achieved and experienced twelve thousand miles from Christchurch over the last forty years or so.  And yet I felt profoundly at home in New Zealand.  I could have slipped back into that way of life like a shot, if someone had moved my children and grandchildren too.  I loved the colour of the sky and warmth of the people.  I felt in touch with my younger self and I felt I understood my older self better by virtue of being there.  Every time I carry a cup of tea outside to sit in the sun, every time a bright day energises me and a dull day saps me I feel I am tapping into something quite basic about how the way I work which was somehow formed in New Zealand.

Looking down at Akaroa 

But I was right about home being where my people are.  I could no more live there than I could live in China.   Without access to the four children, their husbands and wives and their children I would be like an uprooted plant and I would soon wither and die like a dandelion pulled up and left on a path to shrivel in the sun.

The colour of New Zealand
I will write some more about the rest of the trip and about the entire holiday, which was wonderful, but this is to try to pin something down for myself.  I am not sure I have succeeded but I am so very glad I went!

Comments

  1. I'm torn by this post. I too would like to travel. What if I were never to see the world before I die? What would the point have been in being here? And while it's wonderful to have family, of course, perhaps it would be good not to have family - then there would be nothing to stop one from setting out and never coming back.

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    1. I suppose the big question, to which I don't know the answer because I don't know your life, is how and why having family might prevent you from travelling. I know that it can, as witness the constraints for us of the last few years. now, although we still have children and grandchildren and all their associated delights, nobody needs us to such a profound extent that we can't go, as long as we come back! I hope you can travel sometime. if it matters to you it is important.

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  2. Fascinating. It is still a dream of mine to visit New Zealand, but i am deeply rooted in the UK, and now, so profoundly rooted here in Cemaes that only my love of family drags me off the island. I loved reading about you reconnecting with your younger self and look forward to the next instalment.

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    1. I'd love to know what you think of new Zealand if you ever go. I've been interested since we returned in the number of people who have expressed a sense of connection and a readiness to go, if they were younger or whatever. but if you have found your place maybe you won't go and won't mind!

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  3. We visited New Zealand in December. I'd always wanted to visit because I'd grown up learning that family had built a boat and sailed to NZ, around Cape Horn to settle in Waipu. What a beautiful country it is and I'd like to visit again.
    Like you, I had a peripatetic childhood. I longed for roots and have finally put them down far from Cape Breton, where I started out and where my family had lived for 7 generations. When we have visited places I lived as a child I have, like you, felt a need to 'find the house'. Sometimes we have, and sometimes we haven't. I look at these trips as being a bit like picking up the pieces of myself that have been left all over the world. Here in Victoria I really feel as though I've brought it all together and belong.

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    1. your phrase "picking up the pieces of yourself" is a wonderful way to express that odd sensation of being dislocated. yes. doesn't mean you can't put down roots elsewhere and be happy.

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  4. Travel is something I yearn for too. As a child we lived everywhere and I still have itchy feet and could quite happily up sticks and go and live in another country - but only as long as my people come too, just like it is for you. I think that just shows that in all things it is your family that are your roots not a single place. Nothing beats coming back to them even better sharing adventures with them especially travel ones!

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    1. you put your finger on one of the pleasures of travel which is the contrast: the being away and the returning. if you never have that sensation of being away, with all that it entails, you cannot have that altered sensation of return. and interesting about the peripatetic childhood too!

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  5. Isn't it weird just how much travel can change your attitude to life? Having no roots of any substance now my parents have died I long to travel and maybe even live somewhere else. The 'maybe' only because Other Half is yet to be convinced. He does have stronger family connections. I loved Australia more than I ever thought possible and would return in an instant. But perhaps I need to experience New Zealand as well!

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    1. interesting! if you love Australia, which I do too, I wonder how you would feel about new Zealand? I would live there rather than Australia I think but I don't know how much that reflects the fact that it has already been important to me. it's a very different place though even though it shares so much in the way of climate and way of life.

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  6. My father was from New Zealand but I have never seen it. In my twenties I travelled a little, and the to and fro from Switzerland. But now ... I like my home comforts, and armchair / laptop / books for travelling.

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    1. I assume that I won't always want to travel and in a way that is a reason for doing it now. we are a fortunate generation both in that we can afford to travel if we wish and in that we can travel virtually and make connections across the world.

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  7. I wouldn't mind doing some traveling right here in my own country, returning to some favorite locations and seeing some new ones. Usually, it's the lack of money that keeps me home, or when we do have a bit to spare, I feel I should save it for when we don't! The times I have been away from home--at the most, for a little over a week--when I returned, I was so thankful to be back home I hugged my house! Oh, there is no place like home where we can find comfort and be ourselves. Frankly, I love being home--I always have plenty to do and plenty to enjoy.

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    1. It's fascinating to see how different we all are. I am struck by your phrase about home being "where we can find comfort and be ourselves". I do understand that in very many ways but for me I find that I can feel very intensely myself when travelling as I seem to have shed some of the extraneous but noisy stuff of keeping a home going. Mind you, without the anchor of home I think I would soon feel rootless and not like myself either: hence the tension!

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  8. Wonderful post. I love travel.....I love home. I've cried on the way to many airports not wanting to leave home. Magically as soon as the plane leaves the ground I'm happy. We quite frequently go away for two months at a time and when we get there...it becomes home and I don't want to leave. My poor husband shakes his head....
    I've been told that parts of NewZealand are very much like the small Island where we live. Whenever I get over my love and need to spend time in France that is where we will go.

    Ali

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    1. Ah yes, sounds as if we share a similar need for both states! Mind you, yours is a bit more extreme. I don't think I have ever cried on the way to the airport! :)!

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    2. This might be a case where it matters that we can't see each other! I didn't mean this to sound anything other than pleased to have found a fellow sufferer!

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  9. I seem to go through phases of wanting to travel and explore faraway places (but always, always come home to family) and wanting to know our own islands better. For the past five years we've spent our holidays slowly crisscrossing the country on footpaths and trails and getting to know these places far more intimately than zooming past in a car or train.
    I loved New Zealand and we revisited lots of places where my husband had worked in his twenties, which gave the travelling more focus. Caught up in the excitement of the trip we even discussed the possibility of taking a three month break out there, but I notice that several years on that seems to have been forgotten.

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    1. we thought about going out for longer too Anne. it's such a beautiful country and there is a feeling of only scratching the surface! like you, whether that will continue now that we are home and caught up in our lives here remains to be seen!

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  10. How wonderful that you made that trip, Elizabeth, reconnected with a part of yourself and your life. It is a strong instinct, to revisit, as well as to try new places. There are some places in the world I simply feel indifferent about (although that could well change if I ever had the opportunity to go there) and others that I feel a real affinity for - France, Scandinavia. There are other places I have visited purely because someone close to me was there for a while - Japan, Indonesia. I long to spend more time exploring this country especially the edges - the West coast of Scotland and the Hebrides come to mine and the wild Atlantic coast of Ireland where my ancestors lived their lives. But home is always where family is.

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    1. I very much agree about the Western edges of the UK Marianne. or even, as we spend a few days in northern Scotland, the northern ones. there is something about that sense of being on the edge of the known world!

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  12. You don't even need to go quite that far . There's nothing better than sitting having a coffee and people watching in a new city ... and the "What would it be like to live in that house?" can be just as much fun in Wigan as in Wellington .
    But I think you've done it the right way round , building the family base first makes the coming home feel so right .

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