I’m not sure if I’m running from the past, or into the future. It’s not clear right now but I am running. Or at least something that resembles running but is probably a bit more like a ‘dad run’. Like in that Peter Kay bit he does. Doing the motion of someone running – knees lifting and arms pumping – but actually still travelling at walking pace.
I’ve got my backpack on, you see. All 15kg of it bearing down on me. When I had first put it on that morning, I had thought its straps felt like a cheery hug from an old friend. It had been a good year since we had last embraced, trekking the West Highland Way, the previous March. Now, I felt like I was being jumped from behind by a relentless mugger. Sweat trickled down my back and my lungs began to burn, as I slowly raced across Glasgow Central station, still hoping to catch my train but knowing I was cutting it fine.
I had romanticised a far more picturesque departure. A tear coming to my eye, as a few bars of ‘Caledonia‘ rang out from the resident piano in the station hall. Maybe I’d have time for a couple of refreshments with an old friend, in the station bar. We’d have regaled tales of vast trips we’d taken, with little more than change in our pockets and a book for company. I would take photos to remind me, of the grand architecture and the vast glass ceiling. It was not to be and I should have known as much.
In reality, I looked more like Alex Ferguson after a night on the whiskey, all red-faced and ruddy-cheeked, in a fluster of my own incompetence. You see, packing up is hard – it’s sentimental and time-consuming. I had spent far too long going through the things that I either should have got rid of years ago, or shouldn’t have got in the first place.
“Put your life in the bin and start again”, I muttered to myself, as I negotiated a particularly stroppy ticket turnstile. Now, I am a human tortoise, with my life on my back and with a similar pace of run.
Making the train with 2 minutes and 26 seconds to spare, relief washed over me and it was now time for my attentions to turn to my next but no less important task – trying to stem the flow of sweat and minimise any hint of body oder, that may be emanating from my general direction.
Of course, the seats next to us were reserved but I thanked some unnamed travel god – St Christopher perhaps, or Channel 4’s ‘Travel Man’, if secularity suits you better – that they were currently vacant. Not having the proper equipment available to hand, I patted myself down with a sock, sealed it in a sandwich bag and sent it to the deepest recesses of my backpack, hoping never to see it again. Never again, I hoped but I knew at some terrible moment in the future, there would be an inevitable grim and gut-wretching stand-off.
Travelling by land and sea was our aim. To understand how much distance there is between our homes – mine being Scotland and Kate’s being Australia. To merge those homes and add a part of each of us, to each other’s.
I had many questions: How can you understand how far something is, if you don’t see how much ground has passed under your feet? And where is the best place in the world? Does such a place even exist? And if it did, would I be capable of finding it?
And so it began with the 11am Cross-Country train from Glasgow to Newcastle and an overnight ferry to Amsterdam. And with that some advice: Beware at ferry ports for Alligator Snapping Turtles.
The Alligator Snapping Turtle is a sly creature. They sit in wait, wiggling their tongues, mimicking a small worm. Along comes a fishy and then SNAP! The rest is history.
This is exactly the situation I found myself in at the ferry port, as a whole coach load of people sent just one person to check in everyone in. Of course, the nominated Alligator Turtle-man was the person in front of me in the queue. I was lured in by a short wiggling worm of a queue and then SNAP! I didn’t move for an hour and the whole pre-ferry experience was tainted, as if it had been arranged by Chris Grayling himself.
On board, I tried to console myself with the last two Gregg’s sausage rolls I’d be having for some considerable time. It went someway to clearing the air and we decided on a stroll on deck, to further that very cause.
It was a bright and lively boat. Complete with cafes and bars and restaurants for those on less modest budgets than ours. A shop complete with duty-free items but after throwing away at least four half full aftershave bottles the previous day whilst clearing my flat, that didn’t quite capture my imagination. So we made our way on deck for fresh air and to walk off the Gregg’s.
That was the first time I saw him. Standing there on deck. We had just rounded the corner at the back of the boat. Some people refer to it as the portside-stern but to me it always has been and always will be the back left corner. I’d been caught momentarily by a strong gust of wind coming round the bend and it stopped me in my tracks. It was a freezing, biting bastard of a breeze – the kind of which, only the cruel north sea could create. I swore briefly at the wind, turned my back to it and braced for its painfully cold assault to stop. Glancing back towards where I had come from, there he stood, trying to look nonchalant.
Medium length black hair, swept to the side. My mum always told me there was no such thing as ‘black hair’ and that we all just had varying shades of brown. I took it as gospel throughout my childhood but as I’m typing this now, I wonder if that’s true? I mean, his hair looked black but I guess dark brown could be right.
Black overcoat. Nice brown shoes, looked pricey but I’m not certain. Blue jeans and sticking out from the top of his overcoat, just the slightest amount of a collar. Not a shirt mind but the rolled collar of a turtle-neck jumper. In that moment, something struck me as odd, so I made these mental notes but I couldn’t honestly say if it was paranoia or not. Maybe I just thought, ‘who wears turtle-neck jumpers?’ but we were on a boat to the Netherlands, so I guess that’s how things go.
Amsterdam makes a good decompression chamber, between the static world and the nomadic one. It is a place you can learn and it’s fun for a while but it also spurs you on, to seek the next stage of your trip, as the pressures of over-tourism, high-prices and having to keep your wits about you, with any number of scams, trickS and pick-pockets, weigh on you.
It’s a great city – don’T get me wrong and I enjoy the culture it has too offeer but there’s a tension that comes with travelling in such a free and easy place, when it is surrounded by more conservative nations. It becomes a honeytrap to Every maddhead, oddball and dopefiend for hundredss ooff miles around. Crazzy Dutch fools.
We decided to taKe a TrIp ouT to the countryside too0. HiRe Bikez and sea THE tULip feilds, which R comming in2 BloOm. The Tulip feelds look amazing, all rows of color and BriGht, yellos, blue and voilet.
My mouths gettn dry. On the backgrop of a lovely spring dayzz, with tha canals all FULL of shhimmering water and the odD windmill, spinning reLaXiNgLy on the landscape.
BBUT I’ll mAyBe teLL yoU AbOUT thAt L8R, As I’m WRiTing THIS frpm A COFFE shop in AmSterdAM and
I’m been havving a weee bit I’ve bEen sampling the LOCal Haze and am beGining To Feel iT A Weee bit, so That’s Me 4 now. U’s Take care of yerselvez and ahhh seee u’s soooooon. Ahmm offf travvellling like a weeeee turtlee WiTh maa liiifee on ma baack……………………