Friday, 6 April 2012

A Revealing Journey: Without Permission

This piece was entered into the 2012 Guild Travel Writing Competition.  The max word allowance was 800, and the the title had to include the words "A Revealing Journey".  This is a summary of my journey to the UK in February 2008.

It all happened so fast!  I was listening to my travel-agent rhyme-off flight-rates and booking-dates when suddenly and inexplicably with no thought at all to any consequences, I spouted off my 16-digit credit card number and booked a return-flight.  My heart was racing.  This may have been the boldest, unabated, exhilarating, grown-up thing I had ever done.  I hadn’t asked my partner for his blessing… or dare I say ‘permission’.  I didn’t check the weather.  I didn’t request the time off work, and I didn’t get the usually-required thumbs-up from my folks, friends and co-workers.  I just did it.  And it felt incredibly liberating. 

Now before you get excited… this story isn’t about a Culinary-Tour of Tuscany or a Yoga-Zen-Retreat to Machu Picchu.  But to me, it was my chance for ten, glorious days to live my life out-loud in a world, place and time that I will never forget, that I will always cherish and most importantly, vow to return.  I went to my England.  I say “my” England because in many respects, she is mine.  Of course it was technically “my” trip and I went alone but most importantly, for once, and maybe the only time in my entire life, I did only what I wanted to do.  Have you ever felt that you were supposed to be somewhere else?  That another world or culture’s history was your own?  That’s how I think of “my” England.  On the heels of a milestone birthday, this self-professed anglophile told her employer she would not be at work the following week (note “told” versus “asked”).  I politely informed my partner that I would be away for two-weeks and then did what any sensible, UK-bound girl would do!  I bought a new rain jacket and rain boots to match!  I may have looked a tad like Paddington Bear but after all, I was headed to the UK and in February no less.

If I had been blind folded I could have told you the second I stepped off the plane by the smell of the crisp, fresh, yet damp air that I was in England.  It was exactly the way I had imaged, exactly the way every book had promised.  The one difference is that it was February and unseasonably mild.  The sun was glistening mid-day, the shadows long and not a cloud in the sky. I took it as an omen that my England did not want my travels hampered by foul weather.  The boots and rain jacket remained in my suitcase for the next ten days. From Hatfield Palace to Hampton Court, Whitehall to Windsor, the Jewel Tower to the Tower of London, I dutifully traversed the English countryside with a fever and fervor that I doubt she’s felt before.  I hazard to say that if England could feel, she never felt a more loyal or loving subject in all her years upon her soil.  And I whispered in every crevice of every castle, “I will be back”.

Ten days was tantamount to a slow torture for each day that passed was a reminder that my time here was not infinite.  Before I knew it, the sun was rising over Balham and my taxi rushing me to Gatwick.  I tried to find every joy possible in every remaining minute.  Like the driver on the wrong side of the road, and car for that matter.  The adorable roundabouts and funny street signs.  But I couldn’t shake that impeding sense of gloom.  My England was getting smaller and smaller in the distance.  I tried to focus on all the joy the trip had brought, the fact that I still had pounds in my wallet versus dollars.  The fact that my digital camera now housed over 4,000 original pieces of art that before this week had only danced before my eyes in the movies, in pictures, and my imagination.  This was all very well and good, but a very small comfort, just the same.  I was leaving… and aside from a few special treasures that now fit in a small wooden box on my dresser… I knew that my England wasn’t coming with me.

I want to end this personal story with these thoughts to you.  The only thing standing in the way of your travel dreams are your own preconceived notions of the “state of readiness” required to embark on travel.  We live only one life on this Earth and this is not a dress rehearsal!  I promise you that your backyard is much bigger than you realize and the playground more spectacular than you can image.  Whether your heart longs for mountains, rivers, oceans, adventure, serenity, history, rolling-hills or a hammock, you need only to take that first step for your journey to begin.  I invite you to go… without permission!

Kelly Mathews, Hampton Court Palace, February 2008

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