Baby, Dog and I stumbled, panting through the front door. We were returning from yet another woodland expedition. One that had seen us wade through seas of bluebells, clamber over rickety bridges and seek respite from the late morning sun under the billowing oak trees and whispering ferns. The birdsong was deafening in the humidity. I was convinced we were interrupting a David Attenborough project. I applied lipstick. Just in case.
We had followed the lazy, muddy river all the way down to where it tumbled into the north sea, welcoming the blast of the fresh salty breeze as we tiptoed around the shiny sea weed clad rocks to find the natural spring that hid amongst the pools of ocean debris. While Dog lapped at the torrent, I filled our bottles, adjusted Baby in the backpack and gazed up past the dunes to the farm house, a solid mound against the cobalt sky. Cows and sheep lay dotted about basking in the sun in a nearby field as a tractor shunted up and down in another. The bleats of the lambs were almost drowned out by the gentle crashing of the waves on to the deserted beach.
Upon our return, perspiring, tired and just in time for sandwiches He looked out from the cool darkness of the study and proclaimed we were to buy a caravan. He nodded confidently whilst proclaiming this.
Because we don’t spend enough time in a car tooting up and down the motorway from posting to posting?
Travel is one of life’s luxuries. However, once you become a mum, travel becomes a business trip. I don’t want my business trip to be to be in a park on the outskirts of Hull. Sorry Hull.
I already live in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere.
I want my business trips to include hot water. Enough to fill a bath. A bath that I don’t have to share with 73 other people in flip flops, shower caps and hand sanitiser. I want a bed that doesn’t double as a dining table. I want the option of not being able to hear a family member do a poo while I microwave a bowl of baked beans.
I don’t want to worry that Dog will sniff out the family septic tank, nor do I want to worry that Baby wont sleep in the same room as He, Dog, the kettle, the radio, the toilet and I.
I DO NOT WANT TO DO WASHING UP.
Later that night after I had waved Him away with his ‘Caravans R Us’ catalogue I sank back into my pillows and remembered a time when business trips hadn’t been about fibreglass toilets and sleepless nights, when it had been a promise of adventure…
The plane touched down, fleetingly at first and then with a jolt. It was met with a rapturous applause and the praising of gods. I just sat, clutching my passport and cigarettes. Terrified.
It was 3am in Istanbul.
Like a sheep I trotted behind everyone through the dimly lit maze of corridors, each posted with (incomprehensible) symbols before finding myself alone in the vastness of passport control. Handing over my crisp new identity book to the bored looking uniformed official I tried to ignore the feeling of wanting to go home. Now. Back on a plane to the southern tip of Africa.
I was being grunted at. The official shook his head and handed back my passport, “No.”
I began laughing hysterically. In my head. No?
An hour and one incredibly expensive second stamp in my passport later I was waved through into the now empty baggage hall.
An hour and one lost luggage form later I trudged through the exit doors, out into the murky morning, the silence broken only by the sounds of call to prayer. The sky was a burnt orange as I lit a cigarette, inhaling. I began to cry on the exhale.
I had been hired as the chief jeweller on one of the worlds most prestigious cruise liners and every pair of high heels that I owned, along with six months worth of clothing, was now on course for Sydney, Australia.
A month or two later, firmly ensconced in a pair of my globetrotting heels and I am waiting in the wings of the cruise ships darkened auditorium. Every seat is filled. I feel sick and shaky with nerves. I can’t wring my hands as they are clutching my notes, nor can I fiddle with my hair in case I become entangled in my microphone.
There is a nudge to my lower back and I turn to see a waiter balancing a single shot of rum on his tray. I grin. The waiter grins. I neck it. Its our routine. I feel marginally better.
Striding out on to the brightly lit stage I can feel my knees buckling and my stomach doing the dance of fear. ‘What would actually happen if I just turned around and walked back off?’ I wondered as I neared the podium. Errr. That would be embarrassing.
Glancing through the darkness, I smile broadly, greet my audience and dive in to my presentation on the mining of rare African gemstones. Within an hour I have wrapped it up, bowing my head slightly to the applause I make my way down from the stage and begin mingling with the hundreds of passengers, answering questions, basking in compliments, sipping champagne and brokering tax and duty free gem related deals. I feel confident, fabulous and high on the wings of ego fuelled glory.
As my audience begin to cipher off into various dining rooms for dinner, I sneak through a side door and descend into the bowels of the ship. Walking down the main crew corridor, the I95, I stop and lean my shoulder into a heavy fire door and enter the crew bar. A hot, dark and musty pit. It was littered with tables and crew, some winding down from a day of waitering, pool service and concierge duties, others gearing up for the nightshifts of bar work, entertainment and house keeping. Plonking myself down after picking up an icy cold white wine from the bar I scrape my hair back and light a cigarette. Closing my eyes my heart rate begins to slow to a normal pace. And I’m back in the game.
The following morning we were docked in Kusadasi, a quiet beach side town on the western coast of Turkey that offers the entrance to the historic ruins of Ephesus.
Mooching down the crew gang way in shorts and a t-shirt, the harbour breeze whistling through the gap between the ship and the harbour wall, I made my way along the pier to the entrance of the old town. Stopping to greet the jostling jewellery shop owners, dapper in their three piece suits, beads of sweat along their brows. We sat on old wooden deckchairs at the entrance to their shops, sipping on apple tea as we spoke about our shared trade and the bustling tourist market. After a while I would wave goodbye and continue down narrow, cobbled side streets away from all of the buzzing cafes, market stalls and boutiques crammed mostly with hefty Americans practising their bartering skills, to the lone bus stop. Squeezed between the cloaked locals fanning themselves furiously as the temperature soared, clutching their trollies and carrier bags, babbling loudly we trembled down steep roads and winding coastal paths until I tumbled off, shouting, “tesekkur,” to the driver and precariously made my way down some stone steps, the air thick with the hum of cicadas. The coral coloured sand was already scorching hot as I ran on tip toes towards the hardened damp areas where the tide had been just moments before. I would spend hours reading my books or my lecture notes, turning every now and then to baste myself in sun cream or to have a nibble on my sandwich and a sip from my water bottle. When I became too hot I would roll a few feet and wallow in the clear, tepid shallows, letting the waves nudge me gently back to shore, feeling flurries of little black fish dart across me every now and then.
By mid-afternoon I would see the trails of dust and exhaust fumes in the distance as the tinny local bus was making its way back to town. Clambering aboard I would snooze all the way back to the ship and then quickly shower and dress in my finery. Navigating the rabbit warren of crew halls I would flounce down the ships plush master staircase ready to greet the table of passengers that I would be hosting that evening in the main dining room.
Pacing our way through the sumptuous courses of various freshly grilled meats and sea food and copious torrents of wine I would just about manage to blag my way through conversations about politics and education, pensions and investments, smiling and nodding all the time with the adage old phrase of ‘fake it to make it’ pirouetting through my mind. I would also be constantly gauging any potential customers; to my right was a couple with names like Bill and Betty who owned 73 funeral parlours across North America and to my left was the dean of a top state college. Hmmm.
In the lulls between discussions I would amuse them with my anecdotes of spending my late teenage years on the beaches of Africa, barefoot and serene. Where I had learnt about precious stones from their sources, my apprenticeships as I studied gemology and my long balmy nights spent designing glorious pieces for private clients.
When the last of the dessert wine had been drunk I would lead large groups to the onboard diamond exhibition where I would coax and compliment, engage and encourage, taking both cash and credit cards.
Much later that night sitting on the highest deck of the ship having bid adieu to our now glittering consorts we were surrounded by the rest of the crew. We listened to the show band strum away on their guitars, foreign lullabies, as we drifted away from the Turkish coast line, the sky a milky blue, the stars twinkling, shards of the moon dancing in our wake, the glistening lights of the harbour almost out of sight. As we lounged on benches and bean bags, smoking cigarettes and drinking potent cocktails from red plastic cups the wind, hot and salty, blew in small gusts. A hundred different nationalities united as we did every night to laugh and dance, drink and relax. Listening to the waves lash the bow of the ship far, far below….
Coming to I realise that those waves were actually sound waves coming from the baby monitor beside our bed in our house in the middle of a foggy field. Feeding time. As I leant against the kitchen counter top eyeing up stray crumbs and waiting for the microwave to ping it occurred to me that I wanted to feel like that again. The shrill shivers of excitement and drive. To lose the inhibitions and self doubt that I had somehow wrapped myself up in after getting married, having a child and immersing myself in military life. There is absolutely no reason why I can’t, why you can’t, feel like that all of the time. I keep saying to myself, “Soon, soon I will do this.” What if soon is too late? We think we have time.
Those dreams, the ambition, the sense of pride, the smell of success … start now, even if it is something small, whether it’s jotting down ideas for the title of the novel that is burning inside of you, buying a domain name for your business, looking for inspiration in books, online, from friends. Do it.
At what point in my vows or during labour did I give up my right to be me? The most fabulous version? It may have got lost amongst the deployments, the summer balls, the hoovering, the tears and the football togs, but get it back out, give it a flap and get going.
There are two women who inspired this blog post.
Heledd Kendrick, the genius and military mum behind, “Recruit for Spouses”. She’s had tea with our blinking queen!
A woman, who within weeks of giving birth to her youngest child, felt a surge of acknowledgement for other people like herself, military housewives, who crave the adrenaline of actually living, of being independent, of being present, of taking responsibility for their own path and eventually their own legacy. All without the stigma that comes with being a military wife. So she only went and set up a recruitment agency for this very reason! Albeit knowing that we have all added a few extra chores/children to the list, married men who drive us around the country (and sometimes the bend) and admittedly there are a few tweaks to priorities that need to be made, but have our husbands allowed washing up and child rearing to stand in the way of their careers and life ambitions? Nope.
Go and have a nosey around their website, have a chat to her and her wonderful team, dig your CV out. You have absolutely nothing to lose.
Cat Williams, a fellow military wife and the wonderfully free spirited author of, “Stay Calm and Content” fame.
Dipping into her book when I was having a momentary overwhelming sense of self doubt allowed me to tap back in to the source of courage, self esteem and determination that drives me. It was like taking a deep breath. Our lives, our paths, our thought processes, like everything in our reality, are so simple, but we forget, she reminds us of this and allows you to find yourself again. Not the wife or the mum, but just you. The fabulous version.
Keep her next to your bed. The book. There will be a law against the former.
Top Tip for This Week: Beyonce has the same 24 hours as you. Do with that as you please 🙂
Until next time xoxo
I have linked up to the wonderful,