My son was looking up information for his gap year in Australia. He knew the best times of year to travel. The best places to find casual work (but he intended not to have to work – all set to try to earn enough before he went).
I had given up trying to scare myself with Internet searches detailing adventures with horror story endings. I was now becoming overwhelmed with the practicalities involved in a trip to the other side of the world.
|The risks - a real notice.|
The cost of the flight.
The cost of the accommodation (£20 a night over a period of six months coming in at around £3,800).
The need for medical insurance, travel costs (he can’t drive).
God knows what else I’ve not even thought of!
How could he believe any of it were possible?
I tried to be positive. I managed not to come out with what I was thinking: you are deluded, my darling.
I deliberately played devil’s advocate with myself and ended up going back again to 1979 and Camping Sirene in Argeles sur mer. The Bev who stood looing up at the sign she had found after an ill-advised march in the midday sun along country lanes piled high with oranges and their sellers, thought only of the present.
She saw colour and light. She saw a place to pitch a tent. She saw the small notice that told her and Carol that the site was full.
I like to think that I still have a good measure of the optimism and joie de vivre that I had when I was twenty-one. I like to think that I would still board a train with my best pal with no thought of booking accommodation along the way.
I remembered that the camp site in Argeles had been our ultimate stop. We had spent time in Carcassonne along the way. We’d met two middle-aged men at the Camping Municipal and struck up an unlikely yet most delightful friendship. How did that kind of thing happen?
It only took a moment for the most cynical of answers to come.
Carol and I were young and pretty. The men were chancers. They couldn’t believe their luck.
But this, of course, was not the whole story.
With a little more probing of my twenty-one-year-old self, I knew that there was more to it. There must have been a kernel of something much more precious inside my firm body and beneath my smooth complexion.
Our gentlemen admirers told us that we made them feel young again. Of course, they were attracted to our relative physical perfection, but they were also captivated by our joyful approach to life, to our willingness to experience all that was new. We accompanied them to a restaurant, a chateau, a supermarket. We enjoyed outrageous and unfathomable conversations about food, love, politics and growing old.
When we left, they gave us money – not for services rendered (there was no physical gratification on offer), but because they genuinely wanted us to be happy and have fun.
And money for them had come to represent anything but fun.
They were sad to see us go.
They would revert to the routine of signing on at the Social Security Office (they were retired and vehemently believed that they were entitled to their paltry pensions, which unfortunately meant that they were unable to move far from the camp site).
They had their cats and they had each other.
Carol and I had enjoyed their company, but they were remote from our world and from lives that had only just begun. We left with no regrets and boarded the train for the next stage of our adventure.
My son wanted an adventure too.
That was all.
I knew that he should be free to choose – but I still longed for him to stay close. At least closer than the other side of the world.
I wanted him to follow in my footsteps. Perhaps taking in a slightly wider area.
To be continued...