Yesterday I was urged to count my blessings, by a Londoner I bumped into while walking the dog. He was born in our county (Northamptonshire) but hadn’t returned for many years.
Walking across the fields, with the dotted rocks, natural ponds and long grasses (and too many cows for my liking), on a hot summer’s day, he said it was one of the most beautiful places in the country.
With my recent trip to Scotland in mind, and my various excursions to The Lakes or the Peak District, I struggled to agree. The land is too flat and domesticated for my liking.
But the particular walk we were on is lovely (I would go more often if it weren’t for the cows). There is a lovely brook I used to swim in as a child, where the dog will chase sticks for hours.
I could see my mum’s chimney from where we stood, and I pointed it out, to loud exclamations of envy. Then, when he asked if I was taking the dog to the river for a swim, I mentioned that I was, to be followed for a dip by me in my mum’s pool. He laughed, with more obvious jealousy, and said he hoped I appreciated how much I was truly blessed to live such a life. In the three days of his visit he hadn’t seen a policeman or heard a siren.
Needless to say, he was not one of the people you meet who think London is the centre of the universe!
Now, I love London, although I’ve never lived there. My various trips for work and pleasure have always been amazing. I have friends who live in beautiful parts of the suburbs, with glorious parklands close by.
But the city is wasted on me. I’m not bothered about going to bars, I hate shopping and I rarely have time or energy for theatres and museums. Walking the dog, though, enjoying silence, breathing clean air: these are things I am regularly thankful for. Having lived in Manchester for several years, and Leeds before that, I tasted enough of city life to know it isn’t for me.
Nor am I someone who needs to be told to count their blessings. I’ve lived in enough places, have played sufficiently different roles, to appreciate who and where I am. (I do occasionally miss my little terrace house, where I lived alone while dating my husband, but I think that’s natural as a parent of two!)
Yesterday I took the children to a vintage bus rally at the farm, including a free trip on a 50-year-old double-decker bus. We wandered around, saying hello to people we knew, visiting the new ducklings and playing hide and seek in the barn.
Then we stopped off for a swim on the way home, where both my little babies can now jump unaided into the pool and swim a little bit before sinking. Then we went home to tuck the children in bed, before going up oursevles without worrying about locking the front door (although I always do if hubbie is away!)
This morning I am writing this in a coffee shop in town, nodding to people I know, while hubbie takes our daughter for her last school taster session before the real thing (in her school uniform, too, so adorable!)
For all the trials and sleepless nights, the work worries and the endless toddler chatter, I count my blessings and they are many.
Life is good.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire heard a familiar voice as she entered the bar, and her heart skipped more than a beat. Her eyes raked across the room, even as she knew it couldn’t be him. Locating the source of the voice, Claire exhaled in relief and disappointment. Now she could see the speaker, she realised the voice didn’t even sound like his. Similar, but with more inflection at the end of the sentences.
The man lounged in the corner of the room, chatting to two young women, both of whom were clearly hanging off his every word. She judged him to be older than Josh, although with the same tan and laughter lines that suggested a life lived largely under the sun.
I guess there must be hundreds of Aussies backpacking round the UK, particularly as it’s winter over there.
Putting the man, and the memories he dredged up, from her mind, she went to the bar.
Claire sensed eyes on her and looked up. The man from earlier stood inches from her shoulder, looking down at the screen of her iPad. Claire bristled and flipped the case closed.
“Thinking of a trip to New Zealand?” The man’s accent added several extra vowels to the words.
“No, just researching a piece I’m writing.”
“Really? I could help ya, whatcha wanna know?”
He pulled up a stool without asking and sat next to her at the bar. Claire was torn between amusement and irritation. She glanced over her shoulder to where the man had been chatting up the girls, but they were gone.
Picking up on her glance, the man laughed. “S’alright, they weren’t with me. Just being friendly.”
Claire stared at him, unsure how to react. On closer inspection she decided he wasn’t all that attractive. On the shady side of thirty-five at least, although his skin was so weathered he could be anywhere between twenty and fifty. His relaxed air and easy confidence set up her British hackles, and her first thought was to tell him to get lost.
But he reminded her of Josh and, with Kim still refusing her calls, her parents getting more action than she’d seen in six months, and the memory of Michael red-hot in her mind, she decided what the hell.
With a glint in her eye she asked, “What part of Australia are you from?” She laughed at his disgruntled expression. “I’m kidding. You’re a Kiwi, right?”
“Ha Bloody Ha. If you’re planning a trip down under you’ll learn not to make that mistake.” His brow furrowed and she was surprised to see he really was put out by her joke.
“Oh come on, it must happen all the time. Could you tell what part of the UK I’m from?”
“Maybe not, but I don’t think you’re Scottish or Welsh and I wouldn’t ask you if you were a yank.”
“Australian is much closer to the Kiwi accent than English to American.” Claire was bored of the discussion but couldn’t think of a way to end it.
“Not to me, chook.”
“Fair enough. Sorry. What part of New Zealand are you from, then?” She wasn’t really interested, but politeness stopped her from turning back to her daydreaming.
“Dunedin. It’s in the south,” he added, “don’t suppose you’ve heard of it.”
“Between Christchurch and the Catlins?” Claire threw out the comment, before taking a drink of her gin.
The man grinned. “You have done your research. What are you working on? I’m Mitch, by the way.”
“Claire.” She nearly held out her hand but thought better of it. “I’ve been offered a writing job over there.” It felt good to finally tell someone. Mitch’s eyebrows lifted in interest and Claire found herself pouring out the whole story.
“But I’ve decided not to go,” she said at the end. “My sister’s recovering from cancer, I need to somehow mend bridges with my best friend before she has her baby, and I don’t want to give my boss the satisfaction of not having to sack me.” She took another gulp of her gin and tonic and wondered why she had spilled her guts to a stranger and, more to the point, why he hadn’t legged it.
He didn’t even look bored. Instead he had a thoughtful frown on his face.
“I see your dilemma. Crappy time to visit New Zealand anyway, unless you like skiing?”
Claire laughed at his response. “Well, I do like to ski, but I hardly think I could afford it on what they’ll be paying me.”
“There’s always work for those that need it. I can see you pulling pints in a backpackers bar.” He winked and Claire wasn’t sure if it was an insult or a compliment.
“What are you in the UK for, holiday?” She didn’t want to dwell on the potential of going to New Zealand, not now she had decided to stay.
“Yeah, not much work in the winter. Thought I’d come see what all the fuss is about.”
“What do you do, in New Zealand?”
“I’m a bus driver for Magic.” Claire raised an eyebrow in enquiry. “Thought you’d done your research? It’s one of the tour companies that take backpackers round to all the sights. Kiwi Experience is the other one, although we have a different name for it.” He told her and she blushed, much to his amusement.
“That’d be the way to do your writing dead easy. Two or three weeks, everything booked and sorted for you. What do you Brits say, A doddle?”
She laughed at his attempt at an English accent. A yawn caught her unawares, and she covered her mouth with both hands.
“Sorry, I think I’m going to have to say good night. It was fun talking to you, Mitch. Enjoy your travels.” With another yawn, she picked up her iPad and headed to her room.