It’s less than two weeks to go before I set foot on the plane (well two planes actually) that will take me into a whole new chapter of life. I knew there was only one place I wanted to spend some of those ticking-down jobless days and that was in Norfolk with my 94 year old granny, who handily happens to be the most wise-owl and inspiring women in the world and a one of my biggest life-inspirations. Long-time Like a Skeleton Key readers will recognise this quaint countryside haven from this post. My gran’s house is a time warp where days pass blissfully filled only with eating homemade soup, reading, writing and rambling around corn fields. I’m very aware how fortunate I am to still have my gran at this age, and for her to still be so strong and well enough to be a friend and confidant at that. Even since my grandad died, which is two years ago this month, she is still determinedly enjoying life and shown incredible bravery. After 80+ years of being a couple (they met aged 13 and 15!) I can’t fathom how you adjust to being a me, not a we, but she’s doing it.
This past week has actually provided me with some good pre-South America preparation, which I wasn’t expecting! Firstly, the hot water in the house has broken. It’s sort of there, but it comes out of the taps in fat drips rather than a flow… so for washing of any kind there is only the option of a freezing cold bird bath or (my preferred choice) just to be a bit stinky. The tap water has also been declared UNDRINKABLE by the local water provider, something about a bug in the pipes. I’m trying to force my brain to ignore the voice asking “but what about the gallons of tap water I’ve drunk every time I visited before it was declared unsafe” as I then remind myself that my gran is swiftly approaching a century old so it can’t be that bad. It’s strange to get into the habit of only drinking bottled water and remembering to not-so-much as swill my toothbrush near the tap; but it’s something that will soon become a way of life so it’s handy training. We are also eating the freshest food. It’s one of my favourite things about coming to visit! My uncle runs an organic garden, growing every vegetable you can imagine. My gran bakes a fresh loaf of bread every morning. And on Monday we had a surprise delivery of fresh brown shrimps caught in the sea that afternoon and munched on toast for our tea. That said, my gran also is a total fiend for baking (I wish Great British Bake-Off had existed a decade ago, as she’d have been the peoples champion I’m sure!) so every meal is finished off with at least one goodie. In fact, every 30 minutes I am being forcefully-offered a sweet treat and I learnt at an early age that no one says no to my gran when it comes to food. Safe to say, my skinny jeans are now weeping in the bottom of my suitcase. There will definitely be NO bikini photos for at least a month into our trip at this rate.
The best test of bravery has been the influx of giant mutant spiders and drunk, determined wasps that have invaded my holiday. Every day I’ve been armed with a glass and a card, scooping up spiders so big their legs have stuck out the rim of the beaker and wrangling wasps so enraged I’m sure one will come back on a vengeance mission to sting me good. This has been balanced with some beautiful Norfolk nature though. It’s like the UK is determined to show me before I leave that there is plenty of impressive wildlife to be found right here thank you very much! One morning we took a stroll up the road and by chance I looked upwards and saw flash of red amongst the green canopy of leaves. Just a metre directly above us was a little robin red breast who was singing with all his might. He didn’t seem fussed by us in the least, so gave us an incredible up-close performance of his chest puffing and wistful warbling. Then today I was pottering around the potato plot when I saw my first ever Hawk Moth! What a majestic creature. I knew that we had some roaming around the UK at the moment because my sister works for a bat protection charity, and they’ve had a few phonecalls from people reporting bats that have turned out to actually be these mothzillas.
In other creepy crawly creature encounters, my gran posted a letter on Friday. On Monday it was returned to her in the state below. A snail had been feasting on it all weekend long, on such a glue binge that it even ate the stamp. The perils of living in the countryside.
I am so greedy when I visit my gran, I constantly question her about her childhood, the war, her friends and what my mum was like as a kid (very naughty). I can’t comprehend most of the experiences my gran has had in her life, especially at such a young age. She has a diary from 1939, when she was just nineteen and World War 2 was declared. It’s a harrowing, humbling read. She is left in charge of her younger brother who was fourteen and she talks of how he misses mummy and daddy and how hard it is to comfort him when she feels the same! The entry below ends with them trembling in the dark, clutching each other, as the air raid sirens wail. She describes how everything feels “twice as bad” at night-time. Obviously this was the same scenario the whole of the UK suffered, but there’s something about it being told to me by my precious gran that brings it so much closer to home. It certainly puts modern day woes in perspective! The best thing about the diary is her use of Jeepers Creepers, a phrase I definitely want to bring back into linguistic fashion. Oh and her incredible description of, “he had a face like a rat trap” !!
It’s been such a tranquil week. In between the story telling, I’ve been nose deep in Questions of Travel by Michelle De Krester which Phil kindly bought me for my birthday after reading a review in The Guardian. It’s a beautiful chunk of a hardback, so I’ve been saving it for a time when I could read it without lugging it anywhere. Also the travel topic has stolen my heart because for obvious reasons my mind is completely preoccupied with far far away lands right now. I took about 3 chapters to really get going, but now I am half way through and desperate for it not to end. The book charts the entire lives of two characters; Australian Laura and Sri Lankan Ravi, and their experiences with Geography, travel and finding their place in the world. Currently each chapter rotates between Laura and Ravi but I expect and hope their lives to collide at some point… I just don’t know when or where. De Krester has an entirely unique writing style and turn of phrase, which takes some adapting to but is very enchanting and manages to tackle everything from tragedy to humour to romance using subtle observations that many times have made me murmer agreements out loud to myself. I am also reading The Rough Guide to First-Time Around The World which Nick bought me, as he found it useful to read before he first backpacked in Asia. It almost instantly melted away any travel anxieties I had, as it’s packed with smart and sensible answers to nearly everything I had rattled over in my brain. From packing tips to security to general stories and tales of getting the most out of your trip, I feel more like an expert every day and am chomping at the bit to get going.
I’m also spending hour after hour trying to transfer eight months of Spanish notes into a tiny moleskin because I know that my own phrasebook based on everything I’ve learnt will be easier for me to reference and understand now than anything I could buy off the shelf. I also figured it would be good revision and whilst I’m impressing myself with how much I have learnt, it is a tedious job. It also keeps overwhelming me by just HOW MUCH there is still to learn but I’m hoping once I’m immersed in the language it will come more easily. I know how to say yo soy el jefe so maybe this is enough anyway, I mean you can’t argue with that. I think my main problem is confidence more than ability. Since I’ve been learning people say “speak some Spanish!” (or in Nicks case “do Spanish bee!”) and I feel so self conscious as I blurt out my little introduction. I need to seriously get over this, or just be permanently tipsy on rum cocktails.
I’ve been trying to take a magic hour walk every day. Magic hour is a term that just means the last hour of sunlight in the day. Of course in Norfolk this is spectacularly pretty and also a cooler time of day, as it’s been scorchio all week. It’s definitely de-London-ing me to be walking along tracks where I don’t see a single soul. I just send explosions of birds into the sky and critters running into the hedgerow, as my footsteps take them by surprise.