Friday, 17 February 2012

Facing My Fear of Farewells

One thing that really saddens me more than anything else, and a thing I handle particularly badly, is farewells. Not only from people, but from places too. Some places just don’t do it for me but there are others where I seriously believe I pick up a spirit, and I feel a strange, almost “goosebumpy” sensation when I am there and that spirit is around me.

There is no rhyme or reason where some of these places are concerned. Abingdon in Oxfordshire is a pretty town in places, but there are prettier ones all along the Thames. Ham in Surrey is fairly nondescript. Cliftonville near Margate in Kent, once a cheerful seaside town, is but an empty shell. And yet for me they all have an inexplicable gravitational pull. Some people believe in ghosts in the form of human spirits, but for me there seems to be an energy generated by some past event or period of time that seems to linger, and which I reconnect with when I set foot in these places.

There is more logic to the affection I have for my little bolthole in Portugal. It is a very pleasant place, both aesthetically and in terms of the life I enjoy when I am here. I visit Portugal for a week every year. In fact this time around I was fortunate enough to have been able to enjoy two weeks in very quick succession, but that was sadly a one-off. I can’t afford two weeks every year, and timeshares are frankly a rip-off anyway.

For my last five visits my wife Caroline and my son Joe have not come over with me, for various good reasons, although my daughter Rosie has been with me for the last two. Of course I think the world of them both, but they can look after themselves and being away from them for a week doesn’t tug at the heartstrings all that much.

Being away from here for 51 weeks is a different matter. All sorts of irrational fears invariably report present. Will I be healthy enough to travel, or for that matter alive, this time next year? Will they have knocked the place to the ground? Will all the friends I like to think I have made here have found better jobs and moved on?

Because, obviously, it is about people too. On most holidays we meet people casually and sometimes we become friends with them. Then we all go home and usually we never see nor hear from them again.

The worst example of this I can think of was a coach trip that Caroline and I took to Austria back in 1996. For ten long days the same coach party is together, long journeys from place to place, meals together at restaurants along the way, all in the same bar at the hotel in the evening, quiz nights and talent contests. Then the long, long journey home, a last evening as a group at a hotel in France, a few drinks on the ferry and then, at Medway service station, suddenly the realisation strikes that you will never have anything to do with any of these people again. For a soppy old romantic like me it can actually be quite a devastating experience.

This being a timeshare we do sometimes see the same faces from one year to the next year, and I take comfort from this. This year though the clientele was a little different, the week having a Country and Western theme and the usual karaoke folk and talent showers presumably having swapped their bookings for a different week or jetted off elsewhere. I hope they will be back next time.

I am reassured by the work that is going on around the pool, noisy though it is. They wouldn’t be doing all this, I guess, if they had plans to turn the site into a multi-storey car park or an international airport.

So for me it’s back to the grind tomorrow, hoping that I can raise the price of an “in-betweeny” for September or October, and hopefully also we can be here then as a family.

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