New Beginnings

On this Christmas Eve I’m thinking about new beginnings. More specifically, the new beginnings that two of my friends are making – one, in fact, who at this very moment is on a plane from New York to Hawaii to start the next chapter in the rip-roaring adventure that is her life, and the other who is spending Christmas in Bali after losing her boyfriend to a tragic accident earlier this year and returning to Australia without him to rebuild her life.

Both these friends are brave beyond all measure. They have endured the most testing of times and yet have still stood up in the face of tragedy and adversity and said to life, you know what? You won’t beat me, because I won’t let you. Their strength of character both astounds and inspires me.

Jen, the friend en route to Hawaii, is the fellow wanderer and writer who I met in India in 2011. She forged a fantastic life for herself in NYC from nothing, but she knew in her heart it was time to move on and has ignored her misgivings and the doubts of those around her to make this change happen. She is a free spirit in the truest sense of the word and is my muse and spiritual twin (as cheesy as that sounds it’s true).

Sarah, meanwhile, has been to hell and back in recent months after the loss of her wonderful Paul, and yet has borne her loss with a huge amount of dignity, poise and humility. It was incredibly brave to return to Australia so soon after Paul’s death and resume her life there but it seems, from the outside, at least, that the sun and her wonderful friends over there are beginning to work their magic, and whilst I’m certain she will never get over the loss of her love, I’m hopeful she will find in life many other much deserved joys that will bear testament to the fact it can still be wonderful.

So here’s to new beginnings, fresh starts and adventures-may they take us where we want to go, and may they make us richer in spirit and strength than we were before.

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Fresh start

The alarm went off at six, but before it could even reach its shrill crescendo Graham was in the shower, singing loudly as he soaped himself. Brenda reached a hand out of the depths of her warm cocoon and smacked the clock hard to make the noise stop. In doing so she managed to hit her hand on the bedside table, which caused her to swear. She was still swearing when Graham returned from the shower, his face flushed from the heat of the water, or excitement, or a combination of both.

“Morning my flower,” Graham grinned as he towel-dried his thinning grey hair. Brenda looked her husband up and down, noticing with faint disgust the wedge of fat that sat atop the towel around his waist. His belly button and its immediate vicinity were so thick with hair one might, Brenda thought, fairly assert they bore more resemblance to a wild animal than a human. No wonder he enjoyed camping so much, she thought crossly.

“Hmph,” was all Brenda could manage as she extricated herself from the covers, throwing them off and braving the exterior climate – which was several degrees cooler due to Graham’s borderline obsessive dislike of central heating. Despite being a bank holiday weekend in May, the weather was stubbornly – and perhaps predictably – refusing to play ball. Gale force winds had hit during the night, and if the weather reports were to be believed there was yet worse to come.

“Are you excited about our trip, my flower?” Graham asked as Brenda circumnavigated her way around his bulbous form, grasping for a towel on the hook on the back of the door whilst simultaneously trying to avoid physical contact with her slimy-skinned spouse.

“Ecstatic,” Brenda replied, slipping out of the door and padding grumpily down the hallway to the bathroom.

Thirty minutes later and they were on the open road, camping paraphernalia packed into the boot along with Sadie, their pet golden retriever. It was raining so hard that the windscreen wipers were rendered ineffective, not that Graham seemed to have noticed. With every swoosh of the wipers Brenda’s fury increased, yet Graham merely hummed along to his Van Morrison tape and shovelled handfuls of boiled sweets into his cavernous mouth.

They reached the campsite by late morning, and whilst the rain had fortunately stopped by then, the field was more liquid than solid. Brenda, white-knuckled with ill-concealed rage, pulled on her wellington boots and dutifully assisted with the carrying of multiple loads of she-knew-not-what to the location Graham had identified as being the best for their stay. It had not escaped her attention there were no other campers to be seen.

As the winds buffeted them this way and that, Graham stoically erected the tent with minimal assistance from his frigid wife, who had taken to retreating to the car every twenty minutes or so for the comfort of a few blasts of hot air. Eventually the tent was up, and Graham moved onto blowing up the mattress. He’d even thought to bring pillows this time, he informed his wife with glee, seeming not to register the look of incredulity on her face that spoke of wanting to be anywhere but exactly where they were in that moment.

Brenda sat in one of their decrepit camping chairs and watched, arms folded stiffly across her chest. In spite of herself she had to admire her husband’s sheer belligerence in the face of such adverse weather conditions. Less hardy souls would have beaten a hasty retreat by now. Not so Graham, for defeat was not a word in his vocabulary. Once, Brenda supposed, she would have found such qualities endearing, but as she sat knee-deep in mud in this wet field she was at a loss to work out how she’d ended up here.

For dinner they ate sausages, cooked to a cinder atop a rickety gas fire. The weather gods at least gave them some peace for the duration of their meal, but not long after the heavens opened and rain lashed down upon them once more. There was nothing for it; they would have to go inside the tent.

“Shall we play cards my flower?” asked Graham in his usual stiflingly optimistic tone. “It’ll be like old times, do you remember? When we used to play rummy by candlelight after the kids went up to bed.” Brenda did remember, and for a fleeting moment felt her heart soften towards this silly old fool whom she had married. She consented to a game before bed, for old times’ sake like he said.

After what seemed like an interminably long day it was time for bed. Brenda and Graham clumsily took off their outer clothes and climbed onto the mattress in their long johns, pulling the sleeping bag on top of them. “Well hasn’t this been nice?” Graham said as he flicked off the torch.

“Nice?” came his wife’s voice from the darkness beside him.

“Yes, my flower, don’t you think?”

There was a brief scuffle as Brenda fumbled for the torch and the light blinked back into life. She glared at her husband and raised herself up on one elbow. “Do you really want to know what I think?”

“Of-of course, my flower” Graham stuttered.

“Okay, then I’ll tell you. In twenty years of marriage I have never liked camping. Not even for a second. I humoured you at first, because I was in love, and because I wanted to please you. And then, when the boys were born I did it to please them. But there is nothing about sleeping in such cloyingly close proximity to you without a single luxury in sight that appeals to me. Nothing – got it?”

Graham nodded, his mouth hanging open in bewilderment. “But I thought…”

“You thought what, Graham? That I enjoyed it? What have I ever said or done to give you that impression?”

“You never said you didn’t.”

Brenda stopped mid-flow to consider this point, and for a moment they stared at one another in quiet contemplation. “You mean, if I’d said I didn’t like it you’d have stopped – just like that?”

“Of course, my flower.”

Brenda opened her mouth to chastise her husband further, but the words dried up in her throat. “Oh,” was all she could manage. “I see.” She flicked the torch back off and lay down on her back, feeling the counter balance of her husband’s pose beside her. Was it she who all along had been the fool not to say how she really felt? Could all those years of bitterness have been avoided if she’d simply admitted that Graham’s choice of holiday wasn’t her cup of tea? This was a revelation that both frightened and excited her.

As they lay in the darkness with their private thoughts a tiny hissing noise started up. Soon the noise was louder, more urgent. Within moments the air bed had deflated, and as her bottom touched the floor Brenda laughed. She laughed so hard her sides hurt, and soon her husband’s laugh had joined her own. When they eventually recovered themselves Graham flicked on the light and grinned.

“There was a B&B a couple of miles back. Shall we spend the night there?”

Brenda grinned back. “Yes please.”

“Fresh start?” Graham asked as he pulled his wife to her feet.

“Fresh start,” she agreed. “Oh, and if we’re having a fresh start can I ask one more thing?”

“Of course, my flower,” said Graham.

“Don’t call me your flower. If there’s one thing I’ve hated even more than camping all of these years it’s that.” She laughed again and took his hand, guiding him out of the tent into the night.