Journey Update: Late June 2013!
The ferry took four hours. We occasionally ventured on deck and squinted at the horizon as the UK coast expanded from thin black squiggle to the coastline of Poole.
Going by sea, it didn’t dawn on me that we were really back until we walked out of the terminal and onto the street. Up until then it had all been fairly familiar- sailboats scudding by, squat red buoys, reeds and rocks. The tireless lapping of the waves at everything humans build to fend against them, ride over them and plunder their riches. We saw it through glass from a long way up, but it was our same wet world.
Outside the terminal there were road signs to places with evocative names like ‘Brighton’, ‘London’ and ‘The WEST’, sluggish snarls of traffic and only fifteen minutes to reach the train station. We jumped into a taxi with an angry moustachioed man, who hated all the stupid tourists lined up in front of him queueing for the bridge to lift. He knew a shortcut. With a furious wrench of the wheel, we skidded round the tourists and belted over the estuary on a different bridge, to the station. We paid him with the damp remnants of our real English money scrabbled from Joker’s corners. It wasn’t quite enough. Given the rage bubbling under his tash, I was pleasantly surprised that he let us off the remaining 49p.
Once on the train, we tried to sit back and enjoy it. I love train journeys, especially with a book. I had a good one, but- I couldn’t concentrate. I kept staring out of the windows. Those old terraces you see with their gardens facing the rail line, laundry flapping as we swept past. The hedges and fields and gawping cows and plastic bags like ragged white flags hanging off the buddleia. The faces thronging the stations, so motley and neat and young and old and hip and square- a peculiarly British tapestry of difference and tension, pretending to politely ignore each other.
I turned to Sam.
“I’m excited. It’s exciting, isn’t it? To be back.”
“I dunno. I’m not really feeling it. It’s pretty weird.”
“Aren’t you excited about seeing our friends?”
“Well. It’s just… weird.”
“Why aren’t you excited? You should be. Don’t you care about seeing our friends?”
Suddenly I was about to cry. He was right. It was weird.
We changed trains, and we were closing in on Bristol. Arrowing through the hills, kissing the edge of the canal we’d travelled down a year ago on Lexia. Stopping in Bath with its prim uniform of creamy stone, Bristol next. The sun was low and red and the sky purple, a deep orange sun melting into the hills separating us from our hometown. It was beautiful. It felt doomy- the colour of blown deadlines, bruised dreams. Marking our half-arsed return to the place we’d cast off triumphantly months before. Within the space of eight bloody hours. We clung to each other squinting out of the window, trying to get on top of the anxiety.
At Temple Meads we struggled outside with our big bags and caught our breath under the familiar station clock. We queued for a cab and it trundled towards the centre, up Old Market, towards Easton. We gripped hands and stared into the streets.
The cab pulled up outside our friend’s house. I lifted my camera as Sam knocked on the door, and the battery light flashed red.
The tall silhouette of dear Matt Jennings appeared in the dim glow of the hallway, and I was filled with total joy.
“Stop bloody filming, Smyth. Come in.”
We did. After a cup of tea and an hour of catching up. it was hardly weird at all. In the spare room we stretched out on a real double bed and slept, watched over by our friend Emily’s impressive shoe collection.
The next morning, for some reason, Sam decided to announce himself to his workplace and head in for a meeting in person. I thought he was insane, having done his job successfully online for our entire journey, but it was pretty nice to indulge in the luxury of time apart. More than a metre apart! Can you imagine? I swung my arms about quite a bit after he left.
I announced our arrival on Facebook, had an immense and blissful bath, and headed out into the streets of Bristol. I had a few people to meet for coffees and the confidence I’d bump into more as I roamed from Easton to the Centre and back via Montpelier and Stokes Croft.
It was great. The very kerbstones welcomed my feet with their familiar cracks and bends. I saw three friends in the street and we stopped and talked like I’d seen them only yesterday. I poured stories into beloved faces and drank in their lives, smiles and speech patterns like water in the desert. I felt blessed not to be a stranger.
Unlike many of my friends I never did the ‘travelling thing’ for months or years on end, or even many holidays abroad as an adult. As a result this was my first conscious taste of the rootedness we’ve built over 10 years in Bristol, and the difference between making new friends and being in a place where people just know you.
Most people remarked on how calm and serene I seemed, and I speculated that boat life had probably done wonders for my patience and resilience and smoothed off some of my hectic, anxious edges. Or it could be that walking the streets of Bristol again for that four days was like bouncing into a brightly coloured hammock we’d woven ourselves over the years and stopped even noticing? We drank, sang, and talked and talked.
During that time we also met with the friends we’d been emailing and saw the land. We spent exciting hours poring over maps, legal arrangements and land management plans. We loved the plan even more after seeing it, but there were still months of working out ahead of us.
We went to Wales and spent a weekend seeing a big chunk of extended family, which was great in a hill-walking, friendly bickering, roast-eating way. Then back to Portsmouth where I grew up, to spend an evening with my best friend El.
Soon it was time to cross the water to Joker and continue South.