Saturday, December 29, 2001

Hey guys. Can you guess where I am now? Israel? Nope.

I’m in Scotland. In Dingwall. Back home.

Yes, that’s right. I’m home. A fairly last minute change of plan and instead of going to work on a kibbutz for a few months, I reckoned on going home for Christmas instead. Yeah, sure, not the decision of a hardcore traveller I know but hey, what can I say? I’m a lightweight obviously.

Ok, you might want some details. Here you go then.

So ok, the decision was fairly last minute but I won’t pretend one foot was in the bus to the kibbutz and I suddenly thought "Heck" and jumped on an aeroplane instead. No, the first inkling I had of not kibbutzing it was last week, the day before the desert trek. I just woke up one morning and thought about a few things. Still, I hadn’t decided then, but I had time to think during the trek (when not singing a variety of foreign language songs) and I talked about it with a few of the trekking group. And by the time I’d finished I’d decided that home it was to be.

So the morning after the trek I went to a travel agents and got the first cheap ticket home, which happened to be late Sunday 23rd December. I was home by 4pm on Christmas Eve.

So why did I decide to go home? I’ll tell you the truth. Something I should have told you all a long time ago.

I have multiple sclerosis and I don’t know how much longer I have left. I’ve decided to spend my final moments home where I grew up, beneath the torrent of tears of my beloved friends and family.

No, of course not you bunch of retards. No, there were a number of reasons. The simple fact is that I’d only ever planned to go away for about three and a half months. I was away about four and a half. And this had consequences.

I have a house back in Aberdeen, which ever since I left in August has been rented out. I tried to sort out as much as I could in advance but inevtibably had to leave a good deal for my brother and mother to sort out. Which they appear to have done very well. But it’s unfair to ask them to continue sorting stuff out indefinitely. Especially as I delayed a number of bills till December/January before I left. I want to deal with all the paperwork myself.

Aside from house finances, my personal finances are a bit messy. I haven’t yet seen the exact state of my credit card’s health, but I’m expecting to be doing some serious weeping quite soon. According to my brother the bank are wanting to see me on a "non-urgent" matter. Somehow, a "non-urgent" matter seems more ominous than an urgent one. I think some financial recouperation is in order.

But for all this, I don’t deny I could still have worked on a kibbutz and have sorted all this out from a distance. I could have got mail sent to me and I’d be able to deal with
my Scottish finances in Israel. A bit of a hassle but hardly insurmountable.

No, I’m home because now, quite simply, is the best time to return. Talking with a few of the group I was hiking with - Bala especially - I realised that going home now, for Christmas, was far better timing than going home in about March. Christmas is definitely a good time of year for me to head home. Plenty of free food and drink. All the relatives are converged. I can just wind down for the remaining week of the year, not having to worry about real life for a little longer.

And you see, Israel can wait. By not going now doesn’t exclude the possibility of ever working on a kibbutz. Or travelling again. In fact, in the few days I’ve been home I’ve realised the prospect of travelling again has become an absolute certainty. And this maybe is the clincher as to why I decided to come home now. I was prepared - financially and psychologically - only for three and a half months of travel. But this time I can gear myself up for a greater period of time. I’m home now and so have a few months to sort out my finances and life in Aberdeen. And gear everything up. Gear everything up for being away for a greater time than four months. This first adventure has merely been a taster.

So I’m home now because, paradoxically, I want to travel more. 2002 is not going to be spent entirely in Scotland. Give me three, maybe six, maybe nine, months - and I’ll be away again, and ready for it. To where I don’t know, though I do intend to be seeing Croatia and Israel again. I might do Africa. Not India though, definitely not India. Too many damn hippies.

I’m going to do a big final sum-up entry in the next week or two so I’ll save all other details for then. For now I’ll just cover the final days of my travelling.

Saturday and Sunday the 22nd and 23rd December were my final two days abroad, although it wasn’t until afternoon on Christmas Eve that I actually entered that fine land of Scotland. These days weren’t spent doing anything terribly exciting or interesting aside from walk about Tel Aviv or hang about in the hostel talking to someone, or listening to David the crazy Australian Jew’s CD player - which was a total Godsend. On Saturday afternoon I did meet up with Bala though, to see "Lord of the Rings" at the cinema. Her grandmother had died just a few days before so she wasn’t exactly buzzing with joy, but she seemed in fairly good form. I think she was glad to get out of the house with someone and to somewhere completely removed from the sad family events. We were joined by a friend of hers, a guy with some impossible name that I think began with "S", but was really too complex for any native English speaker.

Myself and S---- enjoyed Lord of the Rings, but unlike us Bala wasn’t familiar with the book and found it rather long. I think she’s more of a Harry Potter person. And apparently Saruman looked very like some Arab singer which got an amused murmur from the audience. At the end there was a small but significant round of applause. I’ll definitely see the film again.

Anyway, this is a travel diary and not a film review section so I’ll shut up. After the film we went round to S-----‘s house. His father was from South Africa but had studied in Scotland for a few years and English was his first language, so I got the opportunity to talk about Scotland to a fellow English speaker. I think he was glad of the chance to be able to speak English to someone and he gave me a variety of stories. The house also hosted a pair of very enthusiastic dogs.

We stayed there a while until myself and Bala left. It was time for our sad farewell too, as it was her grandmother’s funeral the next day so obviously she wouldn’t be able to see me before I left on my flight home. So with a final goodbye hug we departed.

There was news about David the crazy Australian Jew when I got back. Apparently his "wife-to-be", that he’d only ever met once and we all presumed was trying desperately to shrug him off, had phoned him and invited him round for a meal with her parents. This was shock news, coming just days after his previous excitement of nearly fighting some manager of a bar because he’d been working in the kitchen of the restaurant and the manager had refused to give him a whisky. This had apparently led to much shouting and breaking of glasses until the manager had conceded the whisky. David was pessimistic about the chances of his job remaining.

Anyway, I saw him the next day and his meeting the parents evening had gone very well indeed. His girl’s mother was a doctor and had given him medicine for his (ahem) bronchitis. David was now dead set on proposing to the girl by the end of December. As I left him and the hostel for the airport, he was in the process of wondering whether to go to the zoo with his girl, or to go to Egypt to make himself seem exciting to her. My advice was valued, albeit ignored. I did quite like the guy strangely enough and I was utterly fascinated how such an obvious mess of an individual to everyone that met him actually appeared to be succeeding in life.

I had flights from Tel Aviv to London and from London to Inverness, the time from start to finish altogether being almost 24 hours. I was at Tel Aviv airport in plenty of time and so sat about for a while waiting, giving Bala a phonecall with the remainder of my phonecard credits. I also bought some deoderant as I was stinking. Although the duty-free deoderant is a load of bollocks. It’s just this really expensive poncy stuff for gays. Eventually I found a packet of two roll-on deoderants for $6 which I was forced to buy, but roll-on isn’t exactly the same as proper spray stuff. I mean, you can’t make a flamethrower with roll-on deoderant. Anyway, the flight was ineventful, with not a single passenger trying to a light a fuse on his exploding shoe and I landed in Gatwick airport about midnight, UK time.

My flight to Inverness was 14 hours later, but from Luton airport. Here I rediscovered the joy of British prices. A taxi quoted me 110 pounds to take me there. When my mouth dropped he added helpfully, "We take Mastercard." To be fair, the airport was an hour and a half away, but the price was still more than either of my flights. I got a train, eventually, costing almost 17 pounds - which is still a comfortable day’s existence anywhere else.

But the cost - who cares? All around me was the sound of English being spoken, with lovely British accents. All around were signs written in English. I paid for things with British money actually worth something. The train conductor was a lovely old man with a flat cap and a crinkled train timetable in his shirt pocket. I got a rare glimpse of seeing Britain through the eyes of a foreigner. And it was lovely.

I can’t say the wait for my flight was as lovely, with time passing slower as the flight grew nearer and my anticipation increased. But it came and soon - and with great joy - we were in the airport of Inverness, my place of birth (as my passport will confirm). Scottish accents all around. I got a lift from Justin’s mother (Justin, you will recall, joined me and Simon in Cairo for a short while) back home.

I should say now that I hadn’t told anyone about my arrival home. Those reading now who weren’t aware of my plans certainly aren’t in the minority. I deliberately left everyone in the dark. Only those in Israel and a couple of friends in Aberdeen knew as I’d contacted them with regards to transport from Inverness back home to Dingwall. So my family were completely unaware that I would be home for Christmas.

And so I think they were all a little surprised when I strode jauntily down the driveway. I actually reduced my usually cold, harsh and perhaps even evil, mother and sister to tears. They even hugged me. Better still was the reaction from my aunt when we all went round to her house. She fainted. Yes, she actually fainted when I walked in the room. I admit this is the first time I have ever made someone faint just by being in their presence. Though, of course, many women swoon when Big Nev is about. She also told me something really rather excellent. I’m apparently the reason for the existence of her kids, my cousins. She didn’t want to have children but then I was born and I’d been such a delightful and beautiful baby that she was inspired and voila - two grotesque children were born to her that could never begin to even hope to compete with me. Bad luck Malcolm and Esme but hey, I think I probably deserve a few pints. After all, you do owe me your existence.

So I’m home. It’s not travel so I won’t go into detail, but it has involved the eating of a great quantity of chocolate, and the consumption of a variety of alcohols. Often together (which we all know should never happen with chocolate and beer) which has made me feel somewhat ill. I drank until I passed out last night, at a friend’s house. It snowed not long after I got home, and currently there’s a ton of snow outside, which has disrupted a heap of roads but does look rather pretty. My clothes were all washed too. The washing machine water was turned brown as the clothes got their first wash in many weeks. And joy of joys - my music. I’ve listened to my music for the first time in four months and what a delight it is. For me anyway. The rest of the family aren’t yet convinced.

That’s it then. I’m home. Tomorrow I go to Aberdeen and plans beyond that are vague. This isn’t my final entry - there should be one final one in a week or so. Be patient. But then that’ll be it. Until…

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