This week has seen a 19th Birthday, an Engagement Party, a trip to see Godzilla with grandson and several visits to take people to pay their respects at J’s grave and her cottage, and then a visit to her neighbour who is mourning both the loss of J and also of a permanent neighbour because we all suspect the cottage will be bought as a Holiday Cottage. Also many hours on the phone as friends of J who were not made aware of her Memorial Service by the family need to learn about J’s last days and share their pain.
So today is a quiet day for me as I am shattered.
But not a lazy day as I am preparing to go away. I have a very dear friend P who lives in Ireland whom I have known since our schooldays. We agreed that when we reached a certain age we would have a trip away together: which we did. It was a great adventure to the Swiss Alps six years ago. As it happened I went away on that trip just a very few days after a friend I had been looking after died of terminal cancer.
We then agreed to have another trip abroad to celebrate our next landmark birthdays – which are coming faster and faster nowadays. Instead of just celebrating the decades now, we are celebrating the half-decades! Things did not work out when we had planned but we decided that this year we would have our trip away and it has been booked since January. And what happened? I am going away just a very few weeks after helping to care for another friend dying of terminal cancer. We are beginning to wonder whether it is safe for my other friends if P and I continue to book holidays together.
So this week I am travelling to London to meet P who is flying in from Ireland and the next day we get on Eurostar for a trip to Poland, via Brussels, Cologne and Berlin. We only change trains in Brussels and Cologne – no time to visit – but do have a stopover in Berlin for one day and two nights.
Then on to Wroclaw for one day and a night, then to Krakow for three days, then to Warsaw for two and a half days, and then to Hanover just for one evening and a night.
I think my family consider my journeys rather excessive just at the moment but suddenly I feel time snapping at my heels and am just trying to take every possible opportunity that comes my way. As it is I have had real trouble buying travel insurance and in another ten years it may be impossible. There is a travel saying over here for retired people: long-haul in your sixties, Europe in your seventies and UK in your eighties. I hope to do things in a different order, Europe in your sixties, long-haul as soon as possible, and then more Europe and UK in your eighties and nineties.
When I was 19 I went to stay with a student at Prague University. I had an extraordinary trip, the Communists were jumpy as the students were causing trouble and I was in their age group, and I was called in and questioned by the Security Police, an interview I will never forget. Anyway, one thing we did was take a motorbike ride to the mountains and climb the High Tatras, through the snow fields holding on to chains fastened to the rocks, and all in my ordinary walking shoes which fell to pieces at the end of the climb. We got to the point in the mountains where the Polish border was, but did not go over into Poland. The border was metaphorical in that there was nothing to see. But my companion was quite neurotic about what would happen to us if we strayed over the border. So I have never been to Poland.
Later, when working, one of my colleagues was a Polish girl whose parents, during the War, had been made to work on farms by the Germans, and starved. She had stories of them trying to steal newly laid eggs from the hens and eat them raw to keep themselves alive. After the War her parents had come to the UK. Later still another friend and her husband adopted a baby boy one of whose parents happened to be a Polish student. So Poland has kind of followed my around.
And now I am going to see for myself.
Naturally I have anxieties: will my migraines and ME prevent me from managing to keep up with the group we are going with? Will I spoil things for others? How will I cope? But I am swallowing them down and just crossing my fingers that a combination of luck and good management will see me through.
When we stay in Krakow we are offered a trip to see the World Famous Salt Mines of Wieliczka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am really looking forward to that. We are also offered the opportunity to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. For me this is more problematic. I have always felt that people who stop to stare at accidents or watch every last appalling detail of atrocities or disaster on the News are guilty of some kind of horror pornography. I have close Jewish friends. I was made to watch, at a very young age, long before I was 7, newsreels of the relief of Belsen. I have never forgotten them. Such ghastly events can surely not be a topic for tourism.
And yet, and yet . . . . . As I get older I have felt the strangest feeling that I want somehow to acknowledge and show some respect to the worst things I was made aware of in my young life.
I do not yet know what I will do. I cannot bear the thought of a group of tourists wandering around somewhere like that. Yet if there was an opportunity for a lone, quiet visit of reflection to ‘tip my hat’ it somehow feels something I would like to do before I too die. My parents spoke about it and emphasised it so much, insisting that I must never forget that such things can happen unless people are vigilant.
It has been a really hard few weeks and I am so looking forward to a change. It sounds horribly selfish but I need to not be available to so many people just for a while. So, some washing, ironing, gardening and packing, and then off I go on Wednesday. Kindle charged up and full of new books to read!! (Some recommended by Chlost who can be found over at Just My Life: Rambling Thoughts from the Backside of Middle Age)