Nov 2010

The day starts at Portabello Road market, where M2’s daughter is selling articles for charity as part of her course. I buy a present for my daughter there. M2 and I then wander through the market and I make another purchase, once I know what to ask for.

You see, when you leave your home country and go to live elsewhere, your native language changes without you knowing it. And the thing I want to buy, which I know as “tights” turns out to be “leggings”. Fortunately, I’m not caught out asking for the wrong thing, because I assumed “tights” wouldn’t be used for both tights and… erm… tights. Other changes have hit me over the years, like the meaning of the word “right” when used as an exclamation.

M2 and I go to Earl’s Court on what I’m sure is a wild goose chase. My daughter has asked me to collect a mask that she inadvertently left in a cupboard in a youth hostel over a week ago. Surely, it couldn’t possibly still be there. But there it is, in a box in a plastic bag, lying at the bottom of the cupboard. Amazing! And M2 kindly offers to take it home with her so that I won’t have to drag it around with me.

After a very tasty lunch near Waterloo Station, I go on to Euston to catch a train to Stoke-on-Trent, where I’m met by Gill’s husband who takes me and Jane (who arrives from elsewhere) to their house where I stay for three nights and two very interesting days.


Oops, I missed out yesterday. I was too bogged down. In my WIP, that is; the bogs of Scotland are all but forgotten.


Three lovely days in Amsterdam. On the first, we visit an art exhibition: From Matisse to Malevich, the Royal Palace and the Historical Museum. All are very interesting, especially the historical museum.

On the second day, we walk 16 km from Castricum to Egmond-on-See. The terrain is flat. Flat! So different from Scotland. On the way, we see a group of children on bikes. “Probably a school trip,” my brother says. “What happens if a child doesn’t know how to ride a bike?” I ask. “All Dutch children know how to ride a bike,” he says.

The walk ends at a beach. I’m interested in the seat cabins people have brought with them.

On the third day, we hire a bike and go for a 35-km ride through the Amsterdam Bos to Waver and along the river Amstel back to Amsterdam. It’s fun and I’m proud of myself – I haven’t ridden a bike for a long time. But, when in Rome….

I hop on another plane back to the familiar south of England. Cheap flights are good, although I don’t enjoy standing for over half an hour to wait for the plane to arrive and unload its passengers, especially as my legs are aching from all that exercise.

M2’s house is always busy. People are in and out all the time, phones ring constantly. Despite all that, M2 manages to organize food and other things and can even keep up with my activities. I don’t know how she does it. M2’s house becomes my base for the rest of my stay in Europe. It’s convenient to have a place to leave some of my stuff. She apologises for dragging me to the supermarket, but really even that is fun with her. And I buy things I have to take home, like salt and vinegar crisps.

M2’s husband tends to ask interesting questions. That’s not to say that M2 doesn’t. I suppose his questions are more thought-provoking. He asks me what I learned in my life that I wish I’d known earlier. I don’t answer. I say I have to think about that.

One day, I go to visit P in Windsor. We’re joined by someone I haven’t seen since uni, and later P takes me for a walk round Windsor, where I see the theatre where I enjoyed watching several plays while at uni. All is in keeping with this trip back to the past.

After three days at M2’s house, I hop over to Amsterdam where my brother lives.

Our visit to the nursing home where my mother resides is a bit hard. It’s hard because you remember the person as she used to be and realise that person is no longer. The carer who tends to her is very patient and I remark on that. “You have to be patient to work here,” she replies.

The next morning, I receive a text message from M2: “Happy birthday!” I phone her back. “Thanks for reminding me!” Later, we set off for the Jewish Museum, where we meet another cousin. We see three exhibitions – Judaism: a living faith, History: A British Story and a changing exhibition: “Illuminations”.  I find the history one the most interesting. Afterwards, we have lunch in the café. I choose a salt-beef sandwich in rye bread (what else?). In the evening, I’m delighted to see all the birthday wishes on Facebook and reply, “Just for that, it’s worth having a Facebook account.”

The following morning, I take the train to my childhood. I look at the house where I grew up. The stone wall is now painted white and the front garden has become a parking area. I take a once-familiar walk up to my old school, which I haven’t set eyes on for 39 years. As far as I remember, the outside of the building looks just the same.

The school is closed for the summer holidays. That’s probably just as well. I’ve seen enough. I visit a nearby well-equipped leisure centre. Why wasn’t that there when I lived here?

In the afternoon, I meet up with my cousins for a play at the Churchill Theatre – Alan Ayckbourn’s “Bedroom Farce”. I have a lovely time, but … well, I’ve seen better farces.


Looking at my school’s website, I see that today is the start of anti-bullying week, and that the school has an anti-bullying policy. Progress has been made. I wonder if it would have made a difference in my case. I hope so.

This is taking too long. It’s now two months since I returned home and my blog is still on holiday. So I’m going to post every day until it’s finished. Well, that’s the plan anyway….


I say goodbye to M1, who has been so good to me, take a train to Euston Station and walk to St Pancras Station dragging my suitcase with me. I’m sure those mounds on the pavement at each crossing are useful to some, but they’re quite a nuisance when you’re wheeling a suitcase. It takes me some time to discover I’m in King’s Cross and not St Pancras. While I’m waiting at the information desk to ask, “Sorry for the stupid question, but where is Starbucks?”, I notice that one of the staff’s jobs is to help elderly/infirm people to get to their platforms. I’m impressed.

Fortunately, I’m still on time for my meeting with Cathy Walter, who turns out to be a friendly, warm person and very pleasant to chat to – even for me. The two hours we spend together fly by. She says she wouldn’t have known I had a problem and that causes mixed feelings. I’m happy that I’m managing to keep up my side of the conversation. And I wonder if I come over as a fraud. The fact is that I behave differently with different people, and Cathy is very easy to talk to. Also, I’m generally more at ease with strangers because they don’t have preconceived opinions of me. Most people with social anxiety are just the opposite and are most scared of talking to strangers.

Then I meet my eighteen-year-old daughter, who has been visiting Paris and London with a friend. I’m amazed how well she has coped. She gives me a music box with my favourite French tune, one that brings back pleasant memories:

I don’t want to arrive at my cousins’ house too early and I don’t want to wander around any more with my suitcase. So I sit in the station and watch people and wheeled articles going past. Of all the things we used to manage without – mobile phones, laptops, electric kettles that lift off the part connected to the electric point – wheeled suitcases are the most unfathomable. Surely the technology was available to put wheels on suitcases fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, and more. I also see wheelie bins in a line, pulled by a man in a vehicle. They remind me of a line of ducklings following their mother.

My cousins are pleased to see me and tell me the plans for the next three days.

Back to civilisation.

The woman in the tourist office did well to warn us about the deer. Many of them are caught in our headlights as we hurtle along the road towards Inverness at an unearthly hour of the morning. Fortunately, D spots every one. They don’t seem particularly scared. I think the driver is more scared. But he drives very well, leaving me time to remember that, in our hurry this morning, we forgot to take the shortbread that was left over, and to worry that the petrol will run out. We pass only one petrol station on the way, at Ullapool, and that’s closed.

We’re met at Gatwick by M1 and her husband, who have driven for two hours on a Sunday morning to compensate us – well, me actually – for our recent troubles. How wonderful! Here, as I kiss D goodbye, begins the second part of my trip.

The first difference I notice, as I get out of the car after the pleasant two-hour drive to M1’s house, is that it’s much warmer here. We have drinks outside in their garden, marred only by several unwanted buzzing guests. After a delicious lunch made by M1’s husband (I’m not jealous of her even though he makes all the meals … well, not much), M1 takes me to a lovely place where we walk around the grounds. Unfortunately, I fail to write down the name of it. But I do note how nice it is to be able to be online again after Achiltibuie, where even phone connections were problematic.

My notebook is now sprinkled with phone numbers and flight information, but we’re no nearer to knowing how we’re going to get away from this remote corner of the British Isles. It’s not that we haven’t enjoyed our time away here, but enough is enough. We want to leave.

The ferry journey back to Ullapool seems interminable. When we finally arrive, we make our way to the car, where we try to discuss our options civilly while not in the best of moods. We decide to try the tourist office and end up spending over an hour while an overworked assistant takes time from helping other customers to try and sort us out. All the options turn out to be very expensive, and so we choose the most convenient one – a flight from Inverness to Gatwick tomorrow morning. As we thank the assistant for her help, she gives us a word of warning: “When you drive to the airport, look out for the deer.”

In the evening, standing outside in the cold by the road (because there’s no reception for the phone in the house), D manages to book a later flight home. Adding up the prices of all the flights, the car and the hotel, he calculates that the cancelled ferry has cost us about £600.

« Previous Page