There was a time, when I was very battered and very tired when I began, without much hope, to think of the possibility of a new relationship. Despite being in my late middle age I was naïve about adulthood and attraction and what was important to people.
In my arsenal of possibilities to prove my worth I thought maybe a humble dropping into conversation of adventures I have had might impress people, make me appear manly and whatever went with that; attractive I suppose.
I thought of times drifting with no engine and just the two of us for days on end in the Sargasso sea, of the pirates stealing from our yacht in Kota Kinabalu, or a whale swimming alongside our yacht in a storm, so close that you could almost touch it. Times in the desert on the Plage Blanche in a sandstorm when our tent ripped in two or walking drunk into a minefield on the far side of the sea of Galilee. Or even climbing up crags when I was a ten year old, being stared at by groups of adults who wanted to watch our surprising skill.
And then I met Wendy, who scoffed, asked me what pleasure I got from being close to death and said such boasts sounded like the silly dreams of a little boy. I confessed to her that when I set off up the cliffs, I always had an overwhelming need to go to the toilet as I was so scared. I admitted that I was lonely and frightened when we ran out of food at sea, and so on. I reflected on this need to show off; to be what I am not.
I am not dynamic. I am anxious. I often get flustered in a crisis. I do love being at sea but more for the motion; its beauty. I have no desire to ever risk getting blown up by a mine again because we can see firewood behind the rolls of barbed wire that stretch into the water.
I am gentle or hope I am. I like hugs and flowers and walking on a beach with the dog. I like to sleep for long periods enjoying the sound of the rooks outside. I like to see the bats jinking in the sky when I take the dog out in the evening.
My adventure? My biggest ever adventure has been falling in love with Wendy and learning that this does not have to be frightening: you do not have to fear you will get something wrong or say the wrong thing or just be in the wrong for no reason that will be explained to you.
It is about lying in bed in the morning while Wendy giggles and makes jokes and by and by the dog bounces onto the bed and we realise we need to get up because the children will arrive soon.
My adventures started many years ago when Wendy would tell the children about the tiny pink elephants that live in the cracks of the wall by the bus stop and carried on when I wrote letters from Eloise; the fairy who lived in the woods across the road, to wee Charlotte who never wondered how they ended up printed on paper. Nowadays it is about barking good night to James or delighting my very, very, sweary family when, once in a blue moon, I utter an expletive. I am at my most daring when I decide not to ask for a shopping list at the beginning of the week or when I sit out on our new decking with my glass of whisky while Dash the dog sniffs at the sky and the rabbits in their hutch show that they are looking forward to titbits of cabbage.
I thought adventures happened at work too: if I was published in a magazine, if I spoke at an International conference or produced a report or spoke at one of the United Nations committees or if I was given recognition or an award. To me that was validity and praise and the demonstration of success. But nowadays, I find that grand change and shifts in policy are pretty much illusory. That I make more of a difference when I walk with what we might call a “client” and together we share our stories, or listen at least. So if nothing else happens, someone has been heard in some small tiny way; someone has been given respect. And of course, work is laughter; sitting outside Starbucks and remembering dear people. Sitting in a community hall busy thinking we are changing the world while the ferry comes and goes and we leave saying how much we enjoyed ourselves, knowing the change is years in the making.
Adventure to me is knowing I will now at last phone my mum every night for year after year until it no longer becomes possible. Adventure is biting back my reply when she says I am lazy and then saying “F*** that”’ and telling her that, in contrast, as an 86 year old, she could learn to stop doing all the time and relax; loving that both of us have burst out laughing.
Adventure is also going to Jeans Bothy, the wellbeing hub I attend. Being free enough in myself that I can giggle and joke and make fun of myself in a way I don’t with all the “norma”’ people.
Adventure is beginning to think I no longer want to die despite having an illness that makes me think I must. It is hoping I am still alive when Wendy’s children first fall in love or dreaming one day my own son will reply to one of the messages I have sent him. Adventure for me, is logging off from my work laptop in the middle of the day and writing this down because I have done my week’s hours and don’t have to constantly prove my worth.