Recently I had a short visit to the USA during which I had the privilege of meeting with three blogging friends.
Home again, unpacked, washing done, jobs caught up with, almost.
Time for reflection. And a feeling of incompleteness.
We talked from the beginning to the end of our meetings but there was so much that didn’t get said. Any life, shortened to a brief autobiography naturally concentrates on the things that give life shape. But there has been so much more in my life, of pleasure, excitement and wonder that I did not mention.
So for them, and you, here are some of the bylines, mostly in chronological order .
1) The day that the handsomest boy from the local College saluted me in public by doffing his boater and bowing to me in front of a whole coach load of my peers – teenagers en route to school.
2) Meeting a student from Prague University when on holiday on a small island in Yugoslavia with my mother and sister: my mother then arranging for me to go off to stay with him and his mother on a one way ticket, with instructions to buy a return ticket when there, on the black market. The grilling by the Communist police, having guards lift up floors and take down ceilings on the train going through the border from West Germany, camping illegally in hayhouses in fields, sleeping in a vagrants’ hostel when we had no money, getting felt-up in a German cinema when sheltering from the cold, walking through snow fields in the High Tatras to the edge of Poland whilst hanging onto chains with shoes falling to pieces, etc etc.
3) Flying a kite on the North Cape.
4) Having a Japanese hitch hiker make Origami butterflies to distract me from a reindeer cull in Lapland as we drove past.
5) Marvelling at hot springs in a white-out in Yellowstone National Park.
6) Staying in a palm- leaved roofed hut on a beach in Turkey when C. S. Lewis’s great friend, Roger Lancelyn Green, came by, complete with silver-gilt traveling drink set, and we sat on the sand under the stars drinking brandy while the sea murmured and sighed softly.
7) Sitting on cushions on a platform in a tree, the outside dining room of a family in Turkey, eating fresh honeycomb, butter and warm rolls straight from the oven
8) Taking a trip to Petra with my mother where a camel driver offered my mother several camels to buy me as an extra wife: racing a camel round the pyramids going off into the sunset with a stranger as I bounced around unsteadily on the back of said camel, going I knew not where, with I knew not whom, but determined to make the most of the moment.
9) Being shown round the bowels of a cruise ship by a Jordanian security officer who was guarding the ship, complete with sub-machine gun, who cornered me in a cabin and offered to give me a Jordanian baby.
10) The Greek No. 2 Officer of said cruise ship who offered to show me the murkier night spots of Athens, much to my horror.
11) Doing the night time feeds for my nephews whilst my sister slept. Sitting in the stillness and quiet with a tiny baby who drank contentedly, looking up at me the whole time.
12) Being taken on a private tour of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings by an Archaeologist when I mentioned that my father had been there in the 1930s digging with Sir Flanders Petrie. She had special permission to visit a tomb closed to visitors because of the wonderful, fresh wall paintings, and she took me early one morning before the rest of the group were up.
13) Standing, at 2.0 a.m. one cold morning on a silent deck in the Dardanelles on the 60th anniversary of the Battle watching very old service men drop wreathes to their remembered comrades. Each alone, ranged round the deck, lost in his own thoughts. I kept very quiet.
14) Walking slowly alone through the room where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill signed the Yalta accord in a handsome villa on a mountain side by the Black Sea. Thinking – wondering – asking the floors and walls what was really said.
15) Standing in a queue in Paris not knowing what language I had been talking to strangers, but all understanding each other.
16) Sitting one New Year’s Eve in the Chapel in the Louvre as a Russian Choir sang soul-defyingly- beautiful folk songs and hymns, as outside the temperature dropped and the Seine rolled solemnly by to a New Year.
17) Cold praline ice cream in a soft, hot, sweet roll, sprinkled with icing sugar, walking through the Marais at night with the lights twinkling around me.
18) Sheltering from the heat in St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert beside the Burning Bush. Utter silence, stillness, and distance from civilization.
19) Astounded by the beauty, colour and shapes of rocks in Arizona and the waterfalls in Yosemite: where a friend and I raced to complete three water-colour paintings each in a day.
20) Lying, frozen with cold in a tent, under so many blankets that we could not move, listening to bears move in the forest.
21) Sitting in a box at the Bolshoi having walked earlier through a dimming Red Square with St. Basil’s dome burnished by a late sun.
22) Visiting the Russian White House when our Foreign Office said not to travel, seeing the tanks, barracades and flowers all over the roads, and being offered Vodka by drunken Museum Officials who wept at the fate of Mother Russia and had learned their English from listening to the BBC and refused to charge us an entry fee because we were English. Meeting in a dodgy back alley to exchange dollars for roubles at a better rate, whilst avoiding all the prostitutes who were soliciting my husband.
23) Standing pensively in Pasternak’s study in Peredelkino, looking through his window, by his desk where he wrote Dr. Zhiavago.
24) Visiting an artist I met in the street in Moscow, which entailed a long metro journey through brutalist tower blocks followed by an equally scary Trabant ride to an anonymous flat. Going back next year with a suitcase full of clothes and necessities for his and his shy wife’s baby.
25) Going to the Kirov in St. Petersburg with a Texan Air Force fella we had met on the plane, who had never been outside the USA before and marvelled at what he was doing and where he was.
26) Exchanging scarves with a Russian lady on the Metro who fancied mine: getting lost and hitching a ride in a car to catch a plane.
27) A terrifying helicopter trip over the Caucasus mountains in a machine whose seat belts not longer worked and where rain poured through the air vents in the ceiling: departing from an airport on which resided various crashed aircraft. But a trip with views which were out of this world.
28) Visiting a Caucasian public lavatory, where cubicle doors were unknown, and on entry one faced a line of anonymous bottoms hanging over holes in the floor.
29) Lying in a reindeer-drawn sleigh at night in northern Finland with my three year old grandson, who, as we looked up at the stars, said, “This is something I will never forget”.
Somehow, amongst all the basic autobiography, none of this got mentioned. Sorry ladies, that I never gave you the really interesting stuff;)
And now to this incomplete but illustrative list can be added, the magic of meeting friends made in the blogworld and a visit to the Met in New York to see Aida complete with live horses on the stage.
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