6 am. Alarm goes off. An hour earlier than normal. I lie half awake but nowhere close to falling back to sleep. Busy day ahead. I do the normal routine; coffee, poached eggs on toast, and heading out the door. This week doesn’t hold five days of research, writing, lectures and seminars though. I’m going home.
Work flies by. I have four hours to get things tidied away. 12 noon comes around so very quickly, and I find myself heading out of to get lunch, but instead of taking my normal hour by the river with a sandwich and a mountain view, I’m off to the train station. The 12:45 to Munich calls my name.
The Innsbruck hauptbahnhof is a organised and efficient hub of movement, with people bee-lining to and fro. I get aboard and fall deep into the seat. Its rigid frame rejects my body though, and I sit awkwardly, wishing to be more comfortable. Within 10 minutes I’ve fallen from an uncomfortable daze into a sleep. The train sleep that rocks you slowly until you’re dreaming without even knowing you left consciousness. I wake to see the huge towering cliffs of the Inn river valley gradually begin to taper. The packed towns that fill the Austrian portion begin to diminish and are replaced by farms spreading over the pancake flat and fertile valley bottom. The mountains get rounder and softer and we exit the mouth of the valley into the expanse of Bavaria; Germany. The train shoots a straight line north towards the metropolis of Munich. Its a city not bounded geographically like most European places; it spreads more like an American city, with industrial villages now engulfed by the outer tentacles of the suburban railway system. München Ost train station feels like an anonymous interchange, too far removed from the city centre to have any true identity of where it serves. The signs are in English, the language being spoken is no longer the rough but friendly Tyrolean German my ears have gotten used to, but clipped and unidentifiable German, spoken by those with no interest in representing their origins. I buy a coffee and get onto the tram to the airport. The attendant is unfazed by my German accent; unlike Innsbruck where a non native speaker is still rare, here anything goes. My timing of Monday afternoon flights means the airport is deserted. I walk in to find that Lufthansa aren’t flying today; union action forcing planes to the ground as employees demonstrate for more in a world of ever increasing decreases.
The Easyjet counter has a line long enough to think they must be giving something away, but closer inspection reveals a gaggle of goggle-tanned Brits wrestling their skis into the oversize luggage bins. The last of the skiers departing the Alps for another season. I stroll through the hallways of the airport, avoiding the empty moving walkways; I don’t need the time advantage and I’d rather walk than wait at the gate. I get through security without alerting the personnel to my Englishness; a small personal challenge fulfilled towards my goal of speaking real German. The plane boarding gets underway, with those gullible enough to have bought speedy boarding asked to stand and wait first. As 80% of the crowd rises, you can see delayed comprehension on the faces of a few who realise their €4 bought them very little in the time advantage stakes.
I finally make my way to the small chunk of space my fare qualified me to occupy. The plane hops up and into the sky with barely a rumble; the irony that nowadays the low cost airlines have the newest planes, as they can afford to invest in the fuel saving technology. The cabin crew hustle the trolley down the aisle, toting generic canned fizzy alcohol and double extra-salted food type products.
The Alps are hazy on the left, and soon disappear as we cruise across northern Europe: the boundaries we call countries seeming even more abstract than normal when I look out at the continuity of habitation. I see a grey hue on the horizon that the pilot happily informs me is Paris. I believe him. The clouds break as we jump the small moat that the British call the English channel. The sun reflects silvery rays off the sea, and huge boats look tiny in the expanse of water.
The greenery of England is instantly striking, but soon enough the clouds return, and the plane dives through them and onto the tarmac at Gatwick; the southern most of London’s encircling airports, and the one I have visited the least. Grounded, I rush through the corridors to customs, where I lament the electronic machines who fail to read my passport. The lack of a big bag means I can stroll out the exit with no extra wait, and head to the ‘integrated transport hub’ also known as a train station. I avoid the over priced express train, that costs twice the price for the privilege of saving 5 minutes on the journey into London. I sit in the train, next to a friendly cyclist making his normal commute home. We talk about Strava and I’m briefly back in a friendly place, not surrounded by strangers, but a bike rider; someone who understands. Soon enough, I’m spat into London Victoria; a magnificent cavern of movement. I cross the concourse, head up and looking around in a sea of LCD screens and people texting their way to wherever they’re going.
The tube pulls up as I step onto the platform, and the journey continues under the Thames, under Hyde park, to Paddington. With little hope of making an earlier train, I’m not concerned of the time, and I find some passable food at a supermarket to stop my stomach from complaining. I know I haven’t done any exercise, but somehow my body fails to take heed, and demands the same amount of sustenance regardless.
I inform my brother of my diesel-express arrival time, and get on the train to Bristol. Capital to The West. The train pulls out of Isambard kingdom Brunel’s most famous of railway stations, and into the London evening. The last of the light fades from the grey sky; not so much a sunset as a removal of lighting. By the time London has relinquished its grasp of the carriages, the sky is black, and the increasing greenery goes unnoticed. Reading, Didcot, Swindon. The stations pass anonymously. The memories of each place are not requested in my mind, as my subconscious knows that each town holds no bearing on my destination this evening.
Finally, we chug into Bristol parkway station, into the greeting arms of my brother, who furnishes me with food and refreshment. We jump onto the empty motorway and jet south and west, into the reaches of home. The whole journey, save for central London, has been devoid of crowds, and the lonely roads are a pleasure for Frank who has had a long day in wait for me to arrive, on top of working and running more than is sane.
We catch up, the standard questions, the routine investigation into the life of my brother, who I live so close to even though in distance we’re a long way apart.
The roads constrict, pushing the car ever tighter between hedgerows: Frank drives confidently and smoothly, my trust in his driving means the time goes fast. Each of our bodies pre-empt the corners of the familiar roads.
We dive down the rabbit hole that our parents call a driveway, and navigate through banks of flowering wild garlic and lush grass. The glow of home comes into view, and both of us sigh a big relaxed sigh as the the engine is switched off.
My grandmother passed away. My Dads mother was an ever present part of our childhood, with their proximity to home meaning child herding duties were often passed to them. It has been abstract since my dad called me on Saturday morning, and informed me bravely and steadily that his mum is no longer with us. Coming home is the validation of her passing, and the celebration of her living happens on Wednesday. My Mum had asked whether I intended to travel back home for it, but really none of us questioned whether I would. The sometimes cold efficiency of Austrian rules said that my grandmother was not a close enough connection to warrant compassionate leave, so I filled in my holiday form, happy to come home and be with my family.
We awake on Tuesday morning. Although a little sombre, our spirits just slightly dampened by the recent events, we have a happy breakfast of fresh Crackalands Farm eggs, tender bacon, good pork sausages, black pudding and delicately fried mushrooms. Tea aplenty, home is a contrast to the exhaustion it took yesterday to get here.
With things to be done, we get going and head out into the bright but cloudy day. Its warm, and I quickly overheat in the spring sunshine as we walk up through the dandelions and clover starting to flower amidst the grass. The tame lambs come dashing towards us; their enthusiasm not for us, but the bottles of milk we bring like clockwork everyday. They’re at the cute and fluffy stage; small enough to handle, they bounce around with disregard for the sheepdogs who are doing their best to contain themselves on the other side of the gate. With sheep fed and horses happy, lunch is a chance to reconvene before a more exciting afternoon.
The weather is agreeing that the rain needs a rest, and we kit up for a short and playful paddle along the coast in the kayaks. Its a rare opportunity to play in the sea, and we embrace the frigid water to make our way out of Combe Martin bay into the Bristol channel. The water is quiet; no tourists around and only a few fishermen line the shore. We can see a couple large boats chugging up the channel, poking their heads just above the Welsh coast in the distance. The vegetation extends as far down the rocky cliffs as it can, holding onto the last inches of soil. The trees; Ash, sycamore and oak woodland looks wintry, with a lack of foliage that would normally be expected this time of year. Primroses instead provide the colour on the banks, and their yellow flowers contrast first against the deep greeny grey of the lichen covered slate rocks, and secondly against the brilliant white of the nesting kittiwakes whose colonies adorn the smallest nooks and crannies facing the sea. These loud and shouty birds hide here from all the predators further inland. They investigate us with low sweeping flights; jumping off the cliffs and gliding across the surface of the choppy water before circling back to their young. They shout at each other in short sharp bursts. These aren’t tuneful birds.
As we dip into successive bays, we count the changes from the year before, taking stock of what the harsh weather has done to shape the face of our land. Some of the coves are named, a few have steps carving a precarious path towards the waters edge. We hug the rocks close, buying up and down with the 5 foot swell; not waves, just lumps of water heaving backwards and forwards into the coast; smoothing and sculpting the rocks with each push. We paddle into broad sands beach – a perfect and exotic cove of trees and empty sand. Its paradise, Devonshire style. Its hundreds of steps that wind down the cliff from above are a filter, ensuring only those who really want to will enjoy its pearly green waters that are sheltered from the waves.
We turn tail as the light begins to fade into silver. Like good seafarers, we had paddled into the incoming tide, taking the extra resistance on the way out and flowing with the tide back towards Combe Martin. Its not feel rest apparent, as we hit some choppy water, that the current is helping us, but a momentary break from effort reveals a slow but steady drift in the right direction.
Tired shoulders accompany me home to the smell of roasting pork drifting under the kitchen door. A family of chefs has no problem in pitching in, and soon a huge roast dinner is assembled and we sit down to own home grown, home loved feast. A feast by normal standards, a weekday meal at Crackalands farm.
Funerals aren’t as horrible as your pre-emptive emotions make them out to be. Its the opening of hearts that allow us to come to terms with what has gone to pass, and understand the new future without the one we loved. For Grandmother had 80 happy years, and I learnt a great amount about who she was before my father gave her a new identity as a mother. My cousins are all doing the same as I – getting out and taking hold of opportunities that probably didn’t exist when my Nan was our age. Talk has progressed the last five years from Uni life to jobs and cars to the speed of life, and the enjoyment of finding something that persists for longer than an academic calendar. Houses and dogs and tax bands are now conversed over with no resentment of moving on from the fast life.
A Baddick family gathering is dominated by food. We’re a group that doesn’t determine tasks by gender, but skill and enthusiasm. With not a person in the room who couldn’t craft an excellent dish, the table ends up packed with more food than necessary, and the diners endeavour to sample as much as possible without endangering themselves or others around.
We head to bed weary from many words spoken and embraces shared. To call today a success might at first seem strange, but I don’t think there would have been a better way to celebrate the life of a Devonshire lady, who grew up before world war two, who had seen so much that is not around to be seen again.
A cacophonous alarm clock rings outside my window much earlier than I would have set it, if I had control. the birds seem to be screeching from every bough, and I open my eyes to a misty morning, with the sun fighting its way through. I head downstairs; Frank is again running, my mum heading up to care for her other child, the horse called Georgie. Dad and I walk up and sate the lambs’ thirst, and then I release the dogs from their beds to take a stroll on the beach.
The tide is fully in. We throw some sticks into the gently lapping morning tide and wandering home. We get home to a brewed pot of tea and sausages sizzling, awaiting a bread wrapping and imminent consumption.
With breakfast over, the whirlwind home time comes to a close, and I hastily pack my bag before jumping in Frank’s car. We make a caffeine stop with Grandma Parkhouse, always marvelling at the dexterity of her slender fingers as she knits nonstop in front of us, never a break for conversation, only small pauses for a slurp of coffee.
Finally its time to break the grasp of Devon and get on the snaking road towards everyone else’s England. Driving with Frank makes the first chunk of the travel fly by, and we get into Bristol traffic just a couple of minutes too late for the train. It gives us time for a proper goodbye though, before Frank carries on up the country to Loughborough and the arms of his lovely lady.
I get on the train and watch the Cotswolds rush past the window, enjoying a slice of homemade fruitcake. The approach to London gives me a last glimpse of the countryside before the city swallows it whole. The sun shining through the huge glass roof of Paddington station is a complete change from three days prior. Running late, I don’t have time to dawdle, and jump for the first circle line train back under the big smoke, before emerging just in time to walk onto the packed plane for the return journey.
What a whirlwind. What a week.