Like everyone in Britain at the moment, I am becoming reacquainted with my house. On reflection, this brick-and-mortar building I have owned for three years isn’t a place that I’ve ever really spent much quality time.
Instead, I’ve lived to roam. When not commuting, working, or trying to squeeze in yet another hen or birthday party, my weekends are spent away – usually in the UK, but often beyond the borders of the country I now call home. There’s not been one day of holiday I’ve taken since I graduated over ten years ago that has been spent in the confines of the four walls I inhabit. I don’t even spend Christmas here.
So now that I am being forced to spend much more time here, I’ve started doing all the things I’ve been putting off; hanging pictures, sorting through my bookcase and working out what it is that I actually keep under my bed.
In doing so, I’ve realised that travel is etched across my home, from the paperweight globe my dad gave me for Christmas to the mountains of travel guides I’ve been collecting in the hope that they would one day prove of use.
I lost myself for hours when it came to tackling the bookshelf over the weekend as I rediscovered a treasure trove of inspiration and memories. I leafed my way through the copy of the Ugly Five I’d been given in South Africa and reexamined the turned down pages of the Lonely Planet guide to East Coast Australia that I’d picked up in a hostel as part of a book swap while living in the country six years ago. I also located the copy of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods that I’ve been meaning to read for years that had, inevitably, disappeared down the back of the bookcase. I fished it out and finally broke its spine while curled on the sofa in the window enjoying the warmth of the sun on my feet as Bill took me on a journey along the Appalachian Trail.
I paused to repaint my living room in my head and picked out the pictures that I wanted to get printed on canvas to decorate the walls; a snapshot of our week in Kenya spent in the midst of the braying and entertainingly stupid herds of wilderbeest of the Great Migration, a long weekend on the Isles of Scilly smiling as we strolled around Cornwall in miniature, and the photograph of my mum and dad posing in their bright yellow boiler suits before we boarded a RIB ride in the Norweigian fjords.
Next, I tackled the ‘what’s actually under the bed’ conundrum and discovered my grandma’s postcard collection.
My grandma only made one big journey in her lifetime, but it was an epic; from the shores of Mauritius in 1945 on a ship full of POWs through the Suez Canal to Blighty. She refused to ever step aboard a ship again and certainly wouldn’t entertain the idea of boarding a plane; just convincing her to take the lift was a challenge.
Although she declined to venture beyond the boundaries of Britain herself, my grandma did collect postcards – she was the ultimate armchair traveller.
Among the cards scrawled in French from my Mauritian cousins were some of my own from my first big international trip.
“Hello from Singapore! I’ve finally made it out of Europe. It is so hot here – I stepped out of the airport and had to run straight back into the air conditioning because I couldn’t breathe. I’m staying in a hostel in a place called Little India and the people are incredible. I love travelling. I think I could do this forever. Miss you already and I’ll write to you again soon.”
There it was in black and white; the spark of an idea of what I wanted my life to look like and everything that I wanted to see. I could almost smell the hot, humid air and feel the sun blinding me from a bright July sky.
But the memory of the freedom that we have temporarily lost did not make me sad. It made me immensely grateful. It reminded me of all the places I still want to explore and made me thankful for the myriad experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have. It made me realise that I could use this unprecedented time as a gift. Amid the sadness, anxiety and fear, I could, for the first time in a long time, sit in my much abandoned home and think about what – and where – comes next. Because there will be a next and this won’t be forever. The world will wait for us.
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