Sunday,15th October 2006, Exeter
It is over a month now since we returned home to Exeter. Gradually we are readapting but it has been difficult to settle after so many months of stimulation living our nomadic existence on the byways of Europe. Already our illustrated travel account is giving us so much pleasure as we remember what we were doing this time last year, vividly recalling amusing incidents, places visited and the people we have met.
Our route southwards after landing at Newcastle from Bergen proved what we already knew. Britain has as much to offer in its own way as the rest of Europe with a landscape as varied as the moorlands and bracken covered hillsides of Yorkshire and Cumbria, to the industrial towns of the Midlands, the rolling hills of Worcestershire , the level pastures of the Somerset wetlands and the early autumn hedgerows of Devon.
We found our home intact albeit with a rather overgrown garden and an excellent harvest of weeds. To begin with it felt strange living and sleeping in a house after so long cramped together in Modestine. Indeed, when we saw our cabin on the Fjordline ferry in Bergen, we must have been the first people ever to exclaim at how spacious it was! We are still losing things all over the house and for a couple of weeks Jill suffered from headaches and "burnout".
Almost immediately we have become reintegrated into our former lives but without the work element. There have been invitations to exhibitions, activities and civic events as well as opportunities to see friends and work colleagues who have been following our activities with such interest, perhaps sometimes tinged with a little envy. We have been quite overcome by the support and enthusiasm our travels have aroused in so many people. Already friends are asking "what now"? With us away, their working week has been lightened by our regular reports turning up on the computer screen. Indeed, it is a question we are asking ourselves. Soon we will want to be off again, though not in quite the same way and probably not for so long. Certainly we are keen to enjoy these few years of health to the full, though for the present we are happy to see friends and family and Ian is eager to take up the threads of earlier research to accompany us on our next travels. Meanwhile, Modestine stands on our drive, eager to be off with us again, whenever and wherever we decide to go.
Last week we returned suddenly, unexpectedly and briefly to France. It was not a happy occasion. Jill's friend Danielle in Brittany, frequently mentioned in our blog, finally succumbed to the breast cancer from which she has suffered over the past year. Last April when we visited her we had been naively optimistic that she was in remission, but it was not to be. When Jill first arrived in the Jura at the age of seventeen to work as an English assistant at Champagne-sur-Loue it was Danielle who, without a word of English, immediately befriended her and helped her to speak and understand French. Since then she has remained a close, loyal friend. Her death has left us with a sense of great loss. Our sympathy is with her husband Joël and sons Stephane and Emmanuel.
At Salies de Béarn Ruth too, despite fighting bravely to the very last, has lost her battle against the brain tumour which attacked her almost as soon as she and Ralph retired and moved to their house in the Basque region of France. Throughout her tragic illness she was wonderfully cared for by the French doctors and nursed at home by Ralph who received much support from his French neighbours. Such tragedies bring out so much kindness in people. For both Ruth and Danielle the struggle has ended, but for Joël and Ralph the future is still hard to contemplate. As Ralph has said, "Our dream did not last very long really, but at least we had it".
This week Modestine took us down to the far tip of Cornwall to see our friends Pam and John, now in their eighties. We had promised to see them to report in person on the places we visited on their behalf in the Dordogne and the lakes of Austria. It was saddening to discover John confined to a hospital bed in Penzance and Pam alone for the first time in fifty years, unwell and housebound. Life can be so cruel and unpredictable.
We hope it is not completely selfish to wish to enjoy the health and happiness we are blessed with at present, by exploiting to the full every opportunity while we are able to do so. We know how lucky we have been but for anyone approaching retirement and in good health, think about what you really want from life and go for it. It need not be travelling as we have chosen - everyone has their own dream. The important thing is to decide what you want and actively strive for it. Whatever you decide to do, live every day to the full.