I’m on the train

Yes, we’ve all heard it said, but I really am ‘on the train’. I’m London bound today with pilgrimage on my mind. This time last year I was setting out for a solo pilgrimage starting in Assisi and walking round Umbria in Italy. My husband was in Afghanistan for seven months and I decided to use his absence to set off on my own long walk partly inspired by watching a Martin Sheen film called The Way. One year on it feels like that walk was the start of significant changes, not least that I’m now leaving my job. My mission today is to prepare a talk for colleagues on that pilgrimage experience. I do have the bones of one I prepared earlier, in good Blue Peter style, but it’s probably a bit too ‘holy’ for the crew of communicators I’ll be with tomorrow. How to spice it up a little?…I’m thinking – mysterious encounter with stranger? Fictitious espionage element or invent a scandal – that’s one they will all be able to relate to.

What I need is tea. Tea trolley is rattling down the carriage reading my thoughts. I’m feeling shocked about tea today. Instead of preparing the talk earlier, I was reading an article on UK tea drinking stats and habits. Apparently, only 1 in 5 people use a tea pot now. Average consumption is 3.5 cups a day and people prefer strong over weak, according to The Times article, that makes a total of 166million cups of tea consumed a day in this country….seems Osborne has missed a trick not coming up with a tea tax. But that would cause even more of a revolt than the poll tax, especially in our family. I’m beginning to wonder now if tea is really a cold country drink and that I won’t want so much of it in a hot climate like Cyprus. Problem. I have packed 3 teapots and masses of tea, was that a bit excessive?

Back to pilgrimages. They seem to be increasingly popular and people are getting fascinated by the idea of them. Perhaps it’s the fact that modern life has become so fast tracked and work pretty relentless for many, that there’s no space and time to reflect or stop and enjoy the scenery. Even on the train the countryside flashes by and most of us are glued to screens or phones, keeping ourselves busy for the journey. But on pilgrimage the journey is the thing. It’s the whole experience of travelling and making a journey that can be enjoyed and it’s also the people you meet along the way. When the volcanic ash cloud stopped flights a while back, I read about people making very long journeys and having major adventures as they tried to get back home overland. For some it was just a pain for others they realised what richness they had missed out on always flying over places, it had made them miss out on all those countries and places they had never been through and people they encountered en route. One thing I did value about my small pilgrimage was space to think and be without deadlines and pressures and phone calls….although at first it was almost like withdrawal from a drug I hadn’t realised I was hooked on. Now back in the world of tweets, facebook, iPads and emails, I wonder if I’m still hooked on constant communication, even on the train.

packing boxes

Yesterday I squeezed the last woolly jumper into a ‘pack lll’ cardboard box to be shipped out to Cyprus. Yes, jumper! because it gets really cold in the winter apparently, there’s a hot water bottle in there somewhere too. Our bedroom was a cardboard city with stacks of boxes filling the room. It’s been so long since we moved house I’d forgotten boxes have names (l, ll, lll) according to size. The weird thing with packing boxes is that as soon as you have taped up the box you have just packed, your memory is instantly wiped of what was in it…however much you stare at it thinking, I just put my stuff in there, it’s impossible to remember whether they were shoes, scarves, knickers or whatever else was lying round in your drawers a minute earlier. So inevitably you must rip off the sellotape and look inside, just to be sure, before sealing it up again and reaching for the sharpie, that’s now sealed inside….

Packing up what I’ll need for two years has been a stressful experience – in the early hours of the morning I’ve found myself composing ‘to do’ lists – not unusual perhaps – but in columns? One for home, one for work, one for potential work, one for ‘remind the children’. After 15 years in this house where our children climbed trees, hosted sleepovers, celebrated birthdays and eventually clattered in at 3am to make tea & toast, there’s a poignant finality about moving on. But it’s definitely happening and since the removal van drove off, all my shoes are on their way to Cyprus, and where they go I must follow!

Today was the start of many farewells, as I attended another work meeting for the last time. Tweeting comments from the debates and discussions, felt a little bit lighter, even if it was Saturday. I couldn’t help smiling as I packed down the ‘most complicated and hard to erect’ pull-up banners – a newly purchased legacy for my colleagues to remember me by. Like Mary Poppins, I may be ‘practically perfect in every way’ – but the new banners say otherwise. Although I’m thinking…this may just make it easier for whoever follows on. “Of course, she was a disaster when it came to pull-up banners, you know.”

I’ve decided to record this new chapter of my life in a blog. Why? Because life’s about sharing the journey….so here goes.

mf