Big Girl Pants – Let’s Dance
It’s quarter past six on a Sunday morning in late February, and my eyes are heavy with lack of sleep as I clatter the laptop keys in Iggy the Hymer motorhome. It’s an hour until sunrise; Marley and I have already been for a dark morning walk, and the kettle is just about to start whistling the coffee from the hob.
Two and a half hours and counting until Jay will get home from his night shift, and Marley is the only one of the three of us to have had any sleep.
Okay I exaggerated. But only a little. There were definitely brief episodes of sleep. There must have been because I distinctly remember dreaming. Something exciting and awful about a magical place with monsters who were good, and fairies who protected them.
A shopkeeper turned traitor tricked me into a cage and sold me to the bad guys. They wanted to trap both the monsters and the fairies, and I was the key. I had foolishly bragged to the shopkeeper that I had a means of seeing the normally invisible fairies, and that through them I could find the monsters.
In no time at all my cage was loaded onto the back of a van by the bad guys. The shopkeeper suddenly regretted his betrayal and raced to free me, but it was too late. The engine roared to life and the van took off through the darkened streets of a medieval town, shaking and rattling across the glistening cobbles.
Berating myself for being a big-headed fool of a brag I clung to the bars of the cage as the forlorn cries of the shopkeeper faded into the distance along with the lights of the town. I was alone in a foggy darkness with the roaring of the engine and the rattling of the cage. My eyes squinted shut against the fog then sprang wide open in shock at a particularly vicious rattle of the cage.
The van bounced from side to side. An engine roared and was gone. The quiet road we parked Iggy on the night before had not been the decent choice it had seemed after all. Hello five a.m. and full-time van-life.
If the road had been busy, I would probably have gotten more sleep. But it was, in fact, almost as quiet and peaceful at night as we had expected it would be. Almost.
We were in a ‘posh’ area of nice houses and wide leafy streets leading to a dead end a mile and a half down the road. Iggy was parked up close to a bus stop and a small shop. It should have been peaceful. People in houses with price tags floating close to the million pounds mark would surely not be gallivanting up and down the road all night. Would they?
As it turns out, yes, they most definitely would. Or some of them at least. Just enough of them for their passing to be loud and intrusive in the otherwise silent night. And given how much the van was bouncing around from the wind of their passing they weren’t exactly paying any attention to the speed limits either.
I stared at Iggy’s ceiling in the dark. Someone had poured a beach into my eyes during the few minutes of sleep I’d managed to grab in the night, and there was a hot, dull pain gnawing away at the brain matter behind my right eye. I yawned, and Marley immediately bounced upright with a most unwelcome doggy mumble that I took to mean,
“Morning Mum! Is it walk time? I think it’s walk time. I do, I do. I think it’s walk time! Let’s go! Mum? Mum! Pee time!!”
Now little Miss Marley knew just as well as I did that it was far too early for morning walk time. But she also knew perfectly well that I was wide awake, and that the birds were just starting their daily task of singing our location to the dim tendrils of daylight seeking us from the east.
I lay groggily on my back, pondering my headache and imagining the sun moving towards us from the continent. Where would it be rising now, I wondered? In which countries? And who could even try to sleep after wondering about such a thing?
Not me, that’s for sure. Especially when there were only twenty-four more sleeps until we turned the Iggster south for Folkestone, and began our journey to meet that same rising sun. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and finally, after so much longer than we had planned, to our little house in Bulgaria.
As Marley and I stumbled our way out the door at five thirty on Scotland’s still darkened east coast the sun had already risen in Levka. Google told me it would be eighteen degrees Celsius there today, and cloudy. The shepherd would be making his way around the village soon and gathering the goats for their daily trek into the mountain. Eagles and buzzards would be cruising circles in the air above our back fields, and the crowing of the neighbours’ cockerels would be drifting from side to side across our little river valley home.
If we were there now, then Marley would be out in the garden, waiting for something to pass by for her to bark at and chase away. A trick she has learned from the local dogs much to our dismay. But she is Greek after all, and in Greece as in Bulgaria, and most of southern Europe, dogs still know that it is their duty and obligation to bark at everything and anything that approaches the boundaries of the lands of their pack.
It is ten past eight now and I have been writing for two hours. Jay’s shift is over, and he will be home sometime in the next twenty minutes, so I must wrap this up quickly and get the van ready to drive to a daytime sleeping spot for him.
It will be a faster road trip out to Bulgaria than we would have liked. But for the best of reasons. Our daughter and grandson are flying out to spend the Easter holiday with us, and we need to pick them up from Sofia airport on the first of April.
We have nine full days plus one evening to travel from Glasgow to Sofia – a trip of roughly three thousand, two hundred kilometres (two thousand miles) Once we are on the continent we will drive for four hours a day, split into two, with a long lunch break and a mini explore somewhere along the way each day. Followed by a second stop for an evening ramble, dinner and sleep.
I wish the tour could be longer, but sixteen mini stopovers are better than none and I also cannot wait to see our little house and our friends in the village. This time there will be no Covid travel restrictions either and, Marley’s operation allowing, we will hopefully be able to spend a few weeks touring in Turkey as well.
On the eighth of March it will be six years to the day since Jay and I took the train from Edinburgh to Darlington to collect Iggy from Kimberley Caravans. And in many ways, it feels like we are starting all over again. The world has spun a few times since then and many, many things have changed to bring me back to that feeling of “just beginning.”
Three years ago, we were catching Carnaval in Portugal and Spain, one eye faintly on this new virus from China. None of us yet comprehending just how much it was going to change the lives of everybody on the planet within the few short weeks ahead.
Yesterday I saw a post from those most excellent of bloggers the Our Tour crew from Carnaval in Malaga. I had found their blog way back in 2016 while we were hunting motorhome for sale ads daily looking for our van. Over the course of those months of hunting I devoured every post they had written – hungry for our own adventure to start and loving every detail of theirs.
I could almost hear the sharp click inside my head of connections made, as I looked at their Carnaval photos from Malaga. Three years since Covid began, six years since we first started out, and it was time to get moving again. In this one post from Our Tour these two circles of our lives were woven into one.
Marley enjoying Carnaval in Elvas, Portugal
Six years older, one large Greek Shepherd Dog, and an old cottage in a faded yet beautiful village on the eastern edge of Europe. Iggy Van is no longer the shining show home of yesteryear, but a grizzled, scratched and mud splashed old road warrior, with an extra sixty-eight thousand miles on his clock. And I too bear new scars – both inside and out – from the long trials of 2022.
My doctor has signed me off with her blessing to travel to my heart’s content. But there are still some more tests ahead for me when my name pops up to the top of the waiting list. Just to be sure that the ongoing problems with my gut really are IBS and not something more sinister.
The doctor is casual about it all, no concern, just making sure.
And here I am. Standing on the verge of a new adventure with the grand old age of sixty waving at me from two years down the road. Last year’s brush with death has changed me, and I want to use this time of being so wide open to let it change me some more. To embrace ever more fully that actual death, that is waiting to claim me somewhere out on that horizon. Walking patiently and unseen by my side until we arrive together at that moment in time that only Death does know.
Maybe that moment is twenty years or even more in my future. Or maybe it is today, just this side of lunchtime, or at twenty-three minutes past three. All that is certain is that it truly is waiting, and each tick of the clock brings us closer.
And so, I put on my big girl pants and begin, slowly, to dance. To push forward with enthusiasm into the new day. To let go of dreams of finishing goals and realign with the minds of children in just “doing” for the joy of it. For life is in everything, even the scary bits, and life is now.
I am full of scary bits. But more than ever I know I do not have time to listen to them. So, I shall continue forward, with them squawking inside me, into the foggy tomorrows where my ending lies quietly hidden. And this time there are only three goals that I want to carry with me.
To live every moment, as much as I can, in joy and gratitude and delight for this precious existence.
To be the kindest “me” that I can.
And finally, when Death steps out of the shadows by my shoulder where he has been standing all my life, to say
“Oh. It’s you. Alright then.” and smile.
Smile at the memories, smile at my loved ones, smile at the sheer wondrous joy of ever having existed at all. Then close my earthly eyes and drift off, for a darned good sleep.