When I was wee, I always used to have a fascination with Australia. All my school chums were obsessed with going to America, to find out if it really was just like all the crazy things we watched on TV. The American Dream and all it stood for at that time was pervasive (and persuasive I guess), but my dreams always took me a bit further away. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, taking a gap year prior to Uni was all the rage, yet it felt as though it was reserved for the few, not the many. It seemed that only public school posh twats (well, I did go to Uni in Edinburgh, and was surrounded by them…) had that privilege, and anyway, I was already in Uni and the gap year concept felt really far removed. Anyway, not one to be told what to do, or more importantly, what I couldn’t do, I decided that I too would have a share of this travel dream, even if I wasn’t posh (I am a bit of a twat though). I started to question why I couldn’t go off on my own to far-flung places and have an adventure? The only thing stopping me was a bit of cash, but also the guts to take the leap. So I got a job after Uni temping in an office. It was the most mind-numbing job I’ve ever done, but I worked with some awesome people and had a lot of laughs, mostly over a lot of booze after work in the bars around Edinburgh. I saved up some cash for a trip. The months went by and suddenly I was ready to start my round-the-world adventure.
Fast forward another month and a bit, and by that point I felt like an inveterate traveller, having conquered the South Pacific, New Zealand and the east coast of Australia without losing my passport, mind or liver to severe alcohol poisoning. A raging success. I finally made it to the centre of Australia, Alice Springs. My carefully crafted plan to get a bus out of there three days later was in tatters though – the two-day trip i’d booked to Uluru was overbooked. Godammit!! All they could offer me was a three-day trip and a bus leaving a few days later. At no extra cost. Well, I am Scottish, so accepted their offer with good grace and had an amazing three days camping in the bush beneath the Milky Way, under the shadow of Uluru, surviving mainly on freshly baked damper and tinnies from the cool box. Bonza.
The night before the Oz Bus was due to leave, I headed to the pub (just for a change of scenery) for a few drinks. When I got there, I remember seeing this girl right over the other side, clutching a drink in both hands, dancing on the table and having a great time. Falling off the table posed no threat to her enjoyment, and after being helped back up by a couple of strapping young lads, the merriment continued. This girl was the life and soul of the place, and the rest of us seemed pretty sedate in comparison. I do remember thinking she seemed a bit OTT and I may even have rolled my eyes a few times.
Cue the next day, and a few of us pile onto a mini-bus, heading south to Melbourne via Adelaide, and a few other stops along the way. Who should get on the bus but the table dancer, not looking too much the worse for wear, considering. I guess you could say that whole trip, but specifically that time and the people I met on that bus constituted a bit of a turning point in my life, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Of all the people I met during the rest of my three months away, that dancing girl and two others became fast friends that I’m privileged to say have been a part of my life ever since. We had a lot of fun times on that trip, and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks looking at old photos, laughing at all the stories I wrote in my travel journals, and reminiscing fondly about the past. We were just four girls, venturing out into a huge, scary, exciting world to find adventure, and learn a little bit more about ourselves. Unexpectedly, we found friendships to last a lifetime. I’m an atheist through and through, but I do think it was fate that my trip was overbooked and I was forced to get a later bus out of there; if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have these women in my life now. Tragically, that beautiful dancing girl isn’t with us anymore, a fact that only now is hitting home. It’s been a pretty hellish couple of weeks, truth be told. I can’t even begin to imagine what her family are going through. I started this post with a thought that I’d tell you about some of the crazy nights we had back then, and since, the hopes and dreams shared, the laughs and tears that life brings, but the detail isn’t really important, and quite frankly I’m not articulate enough to adequately express what it all means to me.
This year has been one of the best I’ve had for years. Not because those previous have failed to provide joy, challenges or opportunities, such as any good year of life has to offer, but because somehow it does feel like this year, more than any other, has brought with it a feeling of moving from the old into the new. I wouldn’t change a single circumstance of my past, good or bad, because the sum of all those experiences have brought me here. I wouldn’t dare change any of it, given such a chance, because who knows what I would lose? Not a risk worth taking. Now though, it feels as though it’s time to give myself the future I’ve always talked about going for, but never really risked achieving. Today I found a card my friend wrote me after she’d moved back to Australia, after that initial trip, as she was starting her new life on the other side of the world. It held such promise and excitement. I’m so happy she got to live out her dream, and boy did she make the most of it.
In that spirit I raise a glass to my dear friend, to love and friendship, and to new beginnings.