A desert trek in Jordan

Tim and I had always planned to travel – as I expect most people do. It was always ‘one day’.

Then, in November 2017 he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – a bone marrow cancer. It’s not curable but is treatable which centres around trying to buy you extra time. He was lucky, he hadn’t had any symptoms; it had been picked up by a routine medical. After the initial shock, we settled into a routine of blood tests and visits to a consultant every three months. Before each appointment the tension ramped up, but we were always relieved to discover that his blood levels had remained stable. So far, so good.

Tim was 55. The consultant guessed that Tim might have ten years before needing treatment as he was otherwise fit and well. We worked out our sums and decided to save as hard as we could to pay off the mortgage so Tim could retire at 60. We would outrun this thing. We began exercising and eating more healthily – Tim needed to be fit for the gruelling treatment ahead.

Originally, we’d thought that when we retired we’d rent our house out, buy a campervan/motorhome and travel around Europe and the British Isles for a year. That had been the plan. I still have the folder where we put newspaper and magazine clippings – all for our ‘one day’. The diagnosis of multiple myeloma changed that. Tim didn’t want to be away from our children now he knew the clock was ticking. We decided we would plan family holidays and make the most of the time we had. And we really did.

It came as a shock on 4th January, 2019 when I took Tim to hospital with a suspected stroke. It was even more of a shock to learn two hours later that he had a brain tumour. At first the consultant was optimistic but after a biopsy, we were told it was the worst possible kind. A glioblastoma. So deep in his brain that it was inoperable. He may perhaps have a year.

More tests followed and his condition deteriorated rapidly. The only way I can describe it is that it was like dementia taking hold at 90 miles per hour. Chemotherapy was arranged to ease his symptoms but unfortunately he was too unwell to start the treatment. The promised year was reduced to six months.

After a couple of weeks Tim began to confuse words. He thought he was saying the right thing and he was absolutely spot on with his thoughts. But his words were muddled. After about six weeks he lost the ability to communicate. He knew exactly what was going on but he couldn’t speak, or write, or type, or read. We communicated in a strange way – more guesswork than anything else. 

Right until the end he kept his sense of humour and he faced the end with a strength that I admire so much. He passed away in the early hours of the morning on 29th March 2019, at home, with me and our children holding his hands.

One of the places we’d hoped to visit (although not in the campervan!) is Petra in Jordan. Tim loved the Middle East and was fascinated by its history and landscape. He loved camels and the heat, sand-dunes and the people. He worked in Saudi for a fair amount of time and made many friends. When he died it was comforting to receive messages from people I’d heard him speak of.

Tim gave me a seashell from a beach in Yanbu in Saudi Arabia. I often hold it and I think of him there. I have a photo of him outside Laurence of Arabia’s house. This part of his life was foreign to me but I used to love hearing his stories.

It’s because of all this: these stories, our ‘one day’, the seashell, that I’m doing a charity trek with Dream Challenges to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity, 2-9 April, 2022. We start our trek at Wadi Araba and walk to Petra over five days – I say ‘walk’, but this is serious stuff. On two of the days we walk for eight hours; on another two days we walk for a meagre six hours!

I’ll be setting up a Just Giving page and hoping to raise oodles and oodles of money for the charity. It’s too late for Tim, but I just might be able to help someone else.

I’ll also be blogging about my journey. I’m middle-aged, fat, and unfit. I think I might have bitten off more than I can chew. But I need to do this. I need to show Tim that I can do this.

I’m doing it for Tim. For my best friend.

This blog about my journey can be found here.

Just Molly and me

Happy New Year!

How to see the new year in is a conundrum this year. Thankfully, after ten days of self-isolation due to coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus, today I was free! Gosh, how I’ve missed my walking boots.

I resisted temptation to jump straight in. Instead, I took Molly for a walk this afternoon as I wanted to be near the water when the sun set. Living on the sunrise coast means our sunsets over the sea are purely in our imagination. And it’s been a flat sort of day – I glimpsed the sun ghostily doing its thing behind thick clouds earlier. By the time I got outside it had given up the ghost (ha! great pun there).

But there was something about being in mud, with the temperature just above freezing, and the breeze freezing my ears off that was pleasant. Yes, I’m going to use the word ‘pleasant’.

Much of today, the grand finale of the year, has been quite underwhelming. The day here in Essex has been grey. The temperature hasn’t changed much. We can’t socialise. Even the supermarket wasn’t very super. It’s felt as if all the air has been sucked out of it.

I’m very much aware that this is a good place in which to be. I am very much aware that in hospitals and in many households life is very different. For there, the day will not have been underwhelming. Today will have been about life and death.

I walked along the sea wall and watched the Canada geese and, as always, I was grateful for the moment. An underwhelming day is good. It means that I, and all those that I love, are safe. And who could ask for more than that?

Happy New Year, dear friends. I hope the new year is filled with love, peace, happiness, and good health….and laughter – we all need a bit of that.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Heybridge Basin, Essex

Swimming in December? Just look at that smile!

Deep into edits today, I realised I’d become stuck. All had been going well and suddenly a piece of dialogue just wouldn’t work. The conversation wasn’t sounding right – the characters weren’t doing as I wanted them to do. So I grabbed Molly’s lead and my camera, and we jumped into Jesamine for a winter estuary walk.

This time last year I was still full of the excitement of returning home from Shetland. This year is very different. So many people I know are struggling and bad news seems to be everywhere. I feel as if I’m missing Tim more than I ever have (last night I wondered if it would be weird to stuff some of his clothes that I’ve kept and spray them with his aftershave because I wanted to hug him so much – bonkers, I know). There’s a Maroon 5 song called Memories, that always makes me think of Tim, and last night, when I was scrolling through social media (a huge mistake before I try to sleep), I came across the song by One Voice Children’s Choir and I realised it’s based on Pachelbel’s Canon in D, one of my all-time favourite pieces of classical music, and I played it over and over and….well….I had a rough night’s sleep.

Where’s all the mud?

So this afternoon I headed out, tired, frustrated that I couldn’t find the right words, but Pachelbel running through my mind. The car park was busy but when we got onto the sea wall, there were only a few people around. Before I knew it I was saying hello and chatting to people working on boats or walking their dogs. The tide was in which is unusual for me. I always seem to time my walks for when the tide is out and I realised how much I’ve come to love the muddy moonscape of the riverbed.

I came across a small group who were swimming, and I got chatting to one of the ladies. She said they swim almost every day. Her smile was infectious and I felt my heart settle. Molly and I only walked for an hour or so. It was cold but not bitterly so. The landscape was a steely blue – almost impossible to tell water from sky.

Sky or sea?

I came home singing along to Johnny Cash and A Thing Called Love. For a little while I found peace – and love. For a little while I let the estuary hold me and I allowed myself to let go of my fear and sadness. I started humming Pachelbel again, but this time I was smiling and thinking of the line in the pop song: memories bring back you. To remember is usually comforting but sometimes it’s painful. That’s the risk I have to take – what’s the alternative? I have to trust that everything will be okay.

So, back home and back at the keyboard. I tried having a word with my characters but they just wouldn’t cooperate. There was only one thing for it. I highlighted their boring conversation and pressed delete!

Sunshine

Just Molly and Me

Northey Island, Essex

It’s been a while since I’ve been on an adventure. Since I got back from Happisburgh I’ve struggled with my mental health and although I can’t say I’m tickety-boo, at least I feel hopeful again. This is all part of grief, I’ve been told. There’s no rhyme nor reason to it. You’re swimming along and think everything’s fine, and then something grabs you by the ankle and pulls you under.

Anyway, Jesamine’s poorly (an electrical problem) and it’s nearly a year since I went to Shetland, and I thought it’s about time I took some time out and spent a few hours invoking some of the spirit I found at my November home. I’m calling it: be more Shetland.

So yesterday I made some tattie bread and boiled some eggs. And today I headed for Northey Island – just seven miles down the road. I’ve been before, a long time ago, and it’s the inspiration for the book I’m writing, although I’ve given it a fictional name and taken huge liberties with its location, size and layout. The island’s owned by the National Trust and you need a permit to visit which sounds very important but it’s just a case of dropping them an email with your request. I was lucky to get in, visits are stopped from 1st November till spring because of the number of overwintering birds that use Northey Island as their home, the short days and the weather.

And speaking of weather – it was Shetlandic, shall I say? The cold, wind and rain took me right back to last November, and having boiled eggs and tattie bread for lunch was perfect. There are no facilities on the island: just a farm, a house that’s used for holiday rentals, and a bird-hide. And that’s the beauty of it. As the wind buffeted me I felt miles away from home. The only sounds were the birds calling, the wind in the trees and occasionally the tap-tapping of rigging from boats across the water.

The farmer’s field was filled with Canada geese, dunlins toddled around on the mud picking for food, I watched an egret spread its wings and take flight. The plants that make up the saltmarsh were in glorious colour, and I spotted a path through the reed grass down to the water, which surely must be a sign of water voles. The air was salty with seaweed, the clouds were low and grey, and my face was wet with rain. Trudging along with Molly by my side, I realised that my heart wasn’t racing, my hands weren’t shaking and my brain-fog had gone.

On an island, just seven miles from home, I found peace.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Happisburgh, Norfolk

Happisburgh lighthouse

I went to Happisburgh simply because of the name. Intriguingly, it’s pronounced ‘Haze-bruh’ but I shall always pronounce it Happys-berg in my head. I stayed at Manor Caravan Park for two nights which was lovely. I had a view of the Grade I Listed church and the lighthouse, and the sea was just a fifteen-minute walk away.

I’ve read about houses sliding into the sea and remember seeing Happisburgh on the news. But nothing prepared me for actually being there.

Sandy cliff

The beach is shallow and sandy and the shoreline has boulders in places, and old groynes and timber posts a little out to sea – all to try to protect the village. The cliffs are made of a sandy clay and they look so fragile. Mounds of cliff top sits on the beach where it has broken away, the grassy clumps looking out of place.

Signs warn about getting too close to the cliff edge – they say to stay at least five metres away, but I wonder how old the signs are because the path runs precariously close in places. As I walked along the cliff, I came to a row of houses that looked to be so close to the edge. I thought they might be abandoned but, shockingly, they still appear to be inhabited. It made me shiver and worry. At what point do you decide to abandon your home? There is no government compensation or rehoming scheme – everything is destined to be lost, claimed by the sea.

The coast is eroding at an average of two metres a year. Over the last twenty years, thirty-five houses in Happisburgh have been lost to coastal erosion. The village has a population of just 900.

That evening, the wind picked up and rain set in. I could see the lighthouse blinking softly in the gloom, and Jesamine was swayed by the gusts. I closed the curtains against the night and as I drifted into sleep I thought of those residents near the cliff’s edge. Were they able to sleep, or did they stay awake, keeping watch? Did every creak make their heart lurch and make them want to run? Unaware that their houses had been built on shifting sand, and consequently, their lives, too, were they clinging desperately, hoping for the best?

I’d wanted to have a happy time in Happisburgh, and mostly I did. I had lunch at Hill House Inn where I got chatting to a lovely young family. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to write one of his Sherlock Holmes adventures here. The village has also been visited by Turner, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Sir John Betjeman, and the Queen Mother.

Cormorant – how I love these guys

Tim would’ve liked it here, I’m sure of it. And I missed him very much. It’s alright this driving to places and walking and seeing things. It’s alright spending my evenings with the radio on and writing or reading…. filling every little piece of time to stave off the yawning chasm of loneliness threatening to swallow me up. Although it’s alright, it’s exhausting. I miss the time spent sitting back in companionable silence, or chatting about the day. I miss times spent laughing at a shared joke needing no explanation. It seems that I keep busy to stave off the emptiness – I do things to try to fill the ragged crater that is all that remains from when he was taken.

Happisburgh driftwood beach art

While I was doing my final washing up at the campsite, a man disregarded social distancing and took a place next to me. He glibly informed me that it was ‘all b*ll*cks’ and if he had coronavirus, he wouldn’t be at the campsite. He told me that he works at Newmarket and he’s seen how people panic about Strangles in horses but there’s nothing you can do about it; you have to let it take its course. He said that Covid-19 is the same and there is no point in social distancing. I said I’d lost my husband last year and I couldn’t bear it if I lost one of my children and that one is classed as vulnerable. He scoffed and said: ‘It don’t maaa-er. If yer get it yer get it. Corse there’ll be fatalities. It’s only natural. People are just selfish.’ I don’t think he saw the irony. I shut up and let him rattle on.

I left Happisburgh trembling and tearful. I drove along the coast to Eccles on Sea where I was informed by a local that it’s a private estate and it’s impossible to park there. On I went to California where there were no spaces and all I saw was a sea of holiday chalets.

At Winterton-on-Sea I once again found calm. The lady in the parking kiosk was friendly and the dunes were spectacular. I spent an hour walking along the beach, letting the sun and wind caress my face, and the softly breaking waves soothe my mind. I was so engrossed in the moment that I didn’t see the wave curling over my feet. Never mind. Canvas shoes soon dry out.

I arrived home exhausted and tearful. Yesterday was spent doing chores and today I had booked to go on a workshop. But after a night of insomnia my nerves are on edge and I’m opting to stay in bed for the day. I can’t risk an offhand comment that will send me sliding into the sea, scrabbling in the sand to keep my head above water and stay ‘normal’. I know that the gentleman who’s running the workshop is lovely and kind. But what if there’s someone there like washing-up-man?

I’m just not strong enough right now. But tomorrow, well it’s a new day. And tomorrow I’m grateful for work at a coffee shop. Tomorrow, I shall do my best to have my sunny side up.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Mersea Island, Essex

After a night of insomnia I finally got up at 3.45am yesterday. The weather forecast was for rain and thunderstorms all day but I decided, on the spur of the moment, to take Jesamine and Molly to Mersea Island – just 40 minutes away.

Now, I have spent a lifetime planning and I’m gradually learning to let go and just go with the moment. Thankfully I haven’t completely forgotten my Girl Guide moto of ‘Be Prepared’ and Jesamine is loaded with supplies, so the thought of a cuppa by the sea in the rain (with nothing to do but get in and drive) was most appealing.

The sun, trying to do its thing

Visiting Mersea Island is always exciting. The journey takes you through little villages where the road sometimes dwindles to one lane. Chocolate-box cottages line the lanes and straw bales lay in fields. The road meanders through Tollesbury (known as the village of ‘plough and sail’; and a filming location for Great Expectations and Liar), through Goldhanger (you remember Jeremy Bamber and the White House Farm murders? – I always give a little shiver as I drive through), Great Wigborough (where I volunteer at Essex Wildlife Trust‘s headquarters).

Mersea Island sits in a creek as it opens out to the sea, and is connected to the mainland by a low bridge, called The Strood. It often floods at high tide, completely cutting off the island. Somehow, that sounds rather magical and Agatha Christie-esque!

I’ve only visited the island by car before, and never this early in the morning. No parking is allowed by the waterfront and the car parks I usually use had locked gates, or a barrier that poor Jesamine couldn’t limbo under. It felt rude to park outside someone’s house on a double-yellow line, so I drove around and around – there was nowhere. No room at the inn to put the kettle on and let Molly stretch her legs.

Then I remembered an App I’ve got for my phone called park4night which shows places where campervans and motorhomes can park. Ha-ha! There was one spot that had four parking spaces. It was a long-shot, but…success! It was just a five-minute walk to the sea, and so worth it.

Brightlingsea beach huts

The sky was misty and heavy. Oyster shells crunched underfoot. The tide was out and sailing boats sat listlessly in the calm water. I stood where the foot-ferry usually waits to take passengers across the water to Point Clear and Brightlingsea. I’m not sure if I was too early or if they’re not running at the moment but it wasn’t there. On the opposite side of the creek, the pretty beach huts of Brightlingsea lined the shore, their seaside colours muted by the mist.

Campervan James, as he’s saved in my phone – the lovely man at Keen Kampers, Oxon who partnered me with Jesamine – has kept in touch. He gently pushes me on and encourages me to embrace life with a campervan. He shares playlists and tips, and suggests things that seem to be way out of my comfort zone and yet makes me think I might give it a go (wild camping, traveling through France and Switzerland). I’ve joined a Facebook group called Connecting Campers: Solo adventures for women around 50+ (give or take a decade) and I’m in awe of the journeys some of these women make. I’m amazed by the friendliness of the campervan community and I hope, when I really hit the road next year, that I’ll meet up with some of these inspiring people.

It didn’t rain yesterday. And I had my cuppa in a tiny car park looking out at a footpath and hedgerows. I hadn’t planned the trip, and it didn’t end up quite how I’d thought but it forced me to visit a part of the island I haven’t been to before. This is what it’s all about isn’t it, this not planning? Grabbing what life throws at me and finding my own path. I’m not going to lie, it’s lonely and scary having only myself to rely on. The old me would’ve seen yesterday as a failure – unable to get into a car park, I probably would’ve just driven straight home. The new me sees yesterday as a success (a small one – I didn’t climb a mountain, or anything) but it’s giving me the confidence to make longer journeys next year. And I drove home happy and thankful.

Batcombe Vale, Somerset

Jesamine, Jilly and me

My travels are supposed to be about exploring the coastline of the British Isles but lockdown has put that on hold for a while. Lots of people are flocking to the coast and so Jilly (a friend I made in Shetland, who actually lives in Cornwall) and I decided to meet inland. As luck would have it, we found a small campsite nestled deep in the Somerset countryside.

Jesamine

So last week I took Jesamine on my longest journey yet – 175 miles to Batcombe Vale Campsite. I’d decided to leave Molly at home with Lovely Son as I had some visits to make on the way, and I’m glad I did as the temperature was sweltering. I melt in the heat, and Molly is far worse.

Jilly and I were both nervous – we’d never actually camped in our vans overnight before. As I drove in, I was afraid I’d feel like an imposter among all the serious equipment transported by very expensive cars. But I needn’t have worried, everyone was friendly and welcoming and on our first evening a lady opposite came over for a G&T.

Hello

I’d left my walking boots at home (it was a mistake, honestly!) and so any hikes were out of the question but with the weather so warm it was lovely to just mooch around the campsite and catch up on the things we’ve been doing since Shetland.

I still think about that time and know that I’m lucky. I hadn’t realised it then, but I was running away, allowing my brain to rest and my heart to find stillness. Being in Shetland gave me that, and more. I found confidence and the time to just be. We don’t often get that in life.

I’ve wondered, too, about Jesamine – am I running away? Am I simply finding another way to keep the grief at bay? I don’t think so. Buying a campervan and travelling around the UK and Europe was something Tim and I had planned to do and so I feel as if he’s there, with me. Only now I have to do all the planning, map reading, and driving. I’m not doing it in the way that he would (he was so good at all that stuff) but I’m finding my own path. It’s a bit rickety at times (I got lost on my way to the campsite) but I’m learning that it doesn’t matter. I can go at my own pace. I’m lucky. I have so many people who are helping me and looking out for me.

Almost bedtime

I’m itching to hit the road, to take a longer trip. But the pandemic is making me twitchy to go too far. I’ll stay in my homeland of East Anglia for now – there is so much I haven’t seen – and then next year (if all goes well) maybe I’ll be confident enough for a month or two away.

When I first bought Jesamine, the lovely owner said I should explore France and Switzerland. That seemed like such a huge, scary thing to do. But now, just nine weeks later, I’m thinking about it. The idea is churning away in the back of my mind.

I have a new-found confidence. I have a sense of humour. But more importantly, I have breakdown cover. What more could I need?

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Summer Solstice

Although I’m not a fan of summer, the summer solstice – the turning from spring to summer – has always awakened something akin to spiritual within me.

Ten years ago, Lovely Hubby and I went to Stonehenge. The weather was cloudy and the sun was not expected to show; we didn’t see a sunset, but we caught a glimpse of the sunrise. The crowd cheered, the drummers drummed, and songs and chants filled the air. It gives me goosebumps just remembering it.

Obviously Stonehenge was closed this year to visitors, but English Heritage did a livestream on Facebook. But I still wouldn’t have gone. I’m walking a tightrope of doing things I love but being aware that memories (no matter how wonderful) can knock me off. And so, I decided to spend the summer solstice on the Essex coast.

Beach huts at Walton on the Naize

I spent Saturday afternoon at Frinton-on-Sea. Memories of sunny days with the children made me smile as I watched families picnic and splash in the water. Frinton is a beautiful, old fashioned, genteel sort of town. Years ago someone wanted to open a fish and chip shop and the residents complained so mightily (they wanted day trippers to go home at teatime) that the application was refused.

Clare Mackintosh did a book event at the Lawn Tennis Club several years ago. Lovely Mum and Lovely Daughter came with me and we had a marvellous time. Clare is so entertaining and we laughed until tears ran down our faces. We still talk about her tale of how she wanted to inject a bit of excitement into some of the statements she took when she was in the police force (‘Are you sure you only walked down the street? Would you consider it to have been more of a sashay, perhaps?’).

Lovely Hubby and I visited Frinton one summer’s evening after work and swam in the sea. We were the only people there – which was probably because there was a freezing wind and the sea wasn’t much warmer. It was bracing – and we were grateful for the car’s heater all the way home.

The sun sets

On Saturday evening I drove inland to find a high spot to watch the sun set. It was a bit of a non-event as there were too many clouds. But the sky was beautiful and the peace was soothing.

The next morning I was back in Frinton. I thought the view of the sunrise would be best from the cliff top but I couldn’t resist the call of the sea; I could hear it’s waves brushing against the sandy shore. Molly went crazy, running round and round in circles and then splashed into the waves. I couldn’t resist. Shoes and socks off, jeans rolled up, I followed her in. The water was like a bath, beautifully warm from all the hot weather we’ve been having. I wished I brought my swimming costume but made do with getting my jeans soaking wet.

The sky was cloudy; rain was forecast for 5am and I hoped I might just get a glimpse of the sun. Red lights shining from the windfarm on the horizon gradually dulled as the sky became lighter. A streak of blue amongst the clouds lifted my spirits and urged the sun on.

Here comes the sun

A concentrated orange glow began to appear from the sea behind the pier just along the beach at Walton on the Naize. I could see the struts of the pier and as I watched, the glow thickened into a fiery ball. Steadily it rose above the pier. The sky was on fire and the waves surged against my legs. The sun held for a moment before it was shrouded by white, whispery clouds. And it was gone.

I walked back to Jesamine, bare-footed and high. As we reached the top of the path the sun had moved quickly through the cloud and was shining again. Now sparkling and yellow it had lost its magic and I turned my back on it to drive home.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Manningtree, Essex

A couple of weeks ago I ventured out. It was just Jesamine, Molly and me. I’d done a bit of research (as I’m a perennial planner) and found a car park on the banks of the river Stour in Dedham – Constable country. I haven’t been to Dedham for a long, long time and there’s a lovely walk you can take along the river and across the fields to Flatford Mill where Constable painted his famous work. I painted a picture in my mind of parking up, reeling out the awning, putting the kettle on and soaking up the atmosphere before heading out on my walk.

And that’s where I went wrong. The planning. It’s difficult to break the habit of a lifetime but I had no choice. I rocked up to the car park but there was nowhere for me to set up on the riverbank so I hit the road and followed my instinct…on to Manningtree. It’s been on my list of places to visit partly due to the fact that it was home to Matthew Hopkins, self-titled Witchfinder General. My imagination had painted a picture of spooky barns and creepy cottages but, as usual, I was wrong. Manningtree is beautiful – lots of old buildings and a hugely wide estuary. I hadn’t known that it’s famous for its swans and also the title of the smallest market town in England.

During this strange time of lockdown I was blessed with an almost empty landscape to explore. We weren’t able to find a spot to put the awning out but I still had my cuppa before heading out with Molly to explore the waterfront and town. I peered through the windows of closed galleries and stood in awe outside the library. Molly wanted to meet the swans (oh yes, she had fowl on her mind for dinner and was kept on a tight lead), and we walked on the small beach where we found some sea-glass and watched children building sandcastles.

Back with Jesamine I made more tea (somehow it tastes so much better when out in the open), I spent a little time working on my book, and I had a doze. I briefly considered following the coast road to Harwich but feeling windswept and fuzzy I headed back.

I stopped for petrol when I was just fifteen miles from home so I’d be all set for my next trip. I filled her up and climbed back in, sad that the day was nearly at an end. I turned the key, and…..nothing. Nothing happened at all.

I tried to look in the boot where the engine is, which was a ridiculous thing to do as I wouldn’t have a clue what I was looking for. But I was feeling confident. Well, I couldn’t even open it; I couldn’t get the lock to turn. Nothing else for it but to phone the AA. Molly was going crazy, trying to get out (I’m sure she thought we’d arrived somewhere exciting) and I calmed her down and got my book out. After all, there was nothing else I could do.

Just twenty minutes later the AA chap arrived. He opened the boot in a jiffy (it wasn’t the lock but user error – the story of my life) and Molly stood on the sofa inside, staring at this strange man who was messing with Jesamine. The lovely man jumped back, he was clearly alarmed at the big scar-faced, scary dog looking at him. She can’t help looking like that, she’s got a wonky eye that really makes her look a bit mad, but she’s completely harmless. I managed to convince the lovely man that she wouldn’t jump over and maul him and together we pulled everything out that I’d stored in the boot.

Within two minutes he’d worked out the problem. The wire to the starter motor had become detached. He kindly showed me what to do if it happens again, and that was it, we were back on the road, singing along to Joni Mitchell about big yellow taxis and clouds and realising that for once I wasn’t letting clouds get in my way and that I don’t mind spots on my apples.

As I locked Jesamine up for the night I smiled. I remembered what the lovely man, James, told me at Keen Kampers. To own one of these old things you shouldn’t plan too much but just go with the flow. And you definitely need a sense of humour. Oh yes, and a breakdown membership.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Dipping a toe in the water

What to do when you’re restless and don’t know where you belong?

What to do when you know the ache in the very deepest part of your heart will never heal?

What to do when you don’t fit in your old life – you’ve changed and people don’t know what to say to you?

What to do when you don’t know how you’re supposed to act? Too much frivolity and you never cared. Too much sadness and you’re wallowing in it.

What to do when you feel like a stranger at home? The bed is too big, the sofa is huge, and you no longer sit outside to eat and enjoy the twilight?

I’ve bought chickens.

I’ve dug a vegetable patch.

I’ve decorated the lounge.

I got a job in a coffee shop.

I took up a volunteering role.

Still empty. Still lost. Still treading water, unable to swim.

You need to move, keep moving. Don’t stagnate or else the pain will be overwhelming, you’ll go under and drown.

Movement soothes, like rocking a baby or slow dancing with your love.

Make plans to keep moving. Buy an old campervan, a map, and a notebook (as if you don’t have enough).

Still treading water. Just little forays for now. Jesamine (the van), Molly (the dog) and me (the dowager).

Starting to swim with the tide. Beginning to get the hang of it. Forgetting the rules. Making your own.

Once lockdown ends – dive in, embrace the tide. And swim.