“.., I have moved and I’ve kept on moving, proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing, found others on the way
I have kissed the girls and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes there’s no denying
I have travelled hard, sometimes with conscience flying somewhere with the wind
But let me tell you that I love you, that I think about you all the time
Caledonia you’re calling and now I’m going home..,”
Jogging along the debris strewn beach, under the swaying palms, passing locals wrapped up in down jackets, hoods tightly pulled in under chins, I feel so happy to be back here in my Mediterranean home, though the area has experienced some of the worst storms for 30 years and the coastline has taken a battering. Passer-by’s look at me strangely in my shorts and vest top as they are now firmly in winter gear but it still feels like summer to me. Having spent the last week home in Scotland, scrapping frost off my car windscreen and setting the fire at night, I am glad to be back in this temperate winter home.
It felt so ordinary to climb aboard the airplane that flew me home from Sicily to UK but so absolutely extra ordinary to be in the UK in three hours later, after we had spent the last 10 weeks travelling every inch of the way over the ocean to get here. I glanced out the airplane window and watched the ocean below and the memories flooded back, I know that ocean surface, I know the flow of waves and the roll of the swell. Sipping tasteless tea from the airline cup and browsing the in-flight magazine I read about Neptune’s Grotto and smile as I recall climbing the steps all the way down there in Sardinia. It feels slightly sad to be leaving my dreamworld and heading north to what feels like reality, however I am so excited to see family and friends.
Stravaigin is booked for the week, chartered by the university to run a field course for its Marine and Coastal Tourism students and it is full, so no room for me though it is a perfect chance to return home for a short time. I had spent the last few days before I left, with the skipper cleaning, doing laundry and restocking the boat for the charter. J would be fully focused on the charter and busy with the students, some of whom had been my students some years ago and their lecturer, also my colleague. It would be rewarding for him to sail them around southern Sicily and treat them to the cuisine and waters of this delightful place. He had a great trip planned for them and was looking forward to sharing this environment with them.
As the bus pulled into Catania Airport, the conical shape of Mount Etna dominated the town. Smiling I remembered a brief trip here with Mum some years ago when she had asked me to accompany her on a cruise to the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. What a time we had and the morning we visited Sicily was no exception to our independent, alternative day trips. I had hailed a taxi once we were off the boat and it took us into the small town where mother spent her time looking for Italian leather handbags . After a cappuccino and much discussion over whether every black van she saw contained the Mafia, she spied the perfect one, a classy citrus lime green tote bag with gleaming silver toggles, a Furla I believe and she was delighted. We left a good few Euro lighter but it is a favourite bag that she uses even today. As we cruised through the straits of Messina later that night, I leant on the guard rail and watched Stromboli pass by, its orange and yellow eruptions lighting up the night sky. I never thought for one moment I might return here on my own boat, though the cabin and dining room would be just slightly smaller! I also remembered spending a lot of time on that cruise dodging the attentions of the ship’s maitre d’, a huge, persistent Italian who tried hard to gain my favour with offers of making me crepes at midnight on the upper deck and special Prosecco only the captain was treated to! I was obviously a fair target being the only women under 50 (at the time) and travelling with an elderly mother, however any time he tried to strike up a conversation in his slightly scary de Niro accent, I would bring up all the trips of visiting Italy with my husband: him treating me to a weekend in Venice for my 40th, our early ski trips to Bormio as students, an impromptu visit to beautiful Rome where he had bought me a pair of vermilion Italian suede knee high boots, (after my kids and my engagement ring they would be next on the list to save if the house burnt down!). He walked off, his huge shape disappearing along the deck, muttering “Husband, husband” like it was a blasphemy. I was flattered but certainly not interested. It was rather sweet though towards the end of the cruise when he told me he had a villa in Sorrento and I plus – THE HUSBAND – would be most welcome to use it anytime. I didn’t take his number though.
Landing at Gatwick it was not as cold as I expected but felt strange being on my own having been 24/7 with the captain. The connecting flight up north to Glasgow seemed so fast, remembering the tough sail we had south, from Oban to Ireland. Once landed in more northerly latitudes, the cold did hit me and my tan looked out of place. I was met by my sister in law and once we’d caught up on the family news, I dropped her off in the city and headed north. Driving through the dark glens, the hills looming above, some with a dusting of early winter snow, I was glad to be amongst them again.
A warm welcome and long awaited hug from Mum later that evening settled me, she was just fine, well looked after and cared for, thanks to family and friends. I slipped into the spare bed at her cosy house and felt a hot water bottle at my feet that she had popped in and smiled, once a Mum always a Mum.
“Och I thought you’d be cold pet” she said as she got into her own bed, sound asleep within minutes, glad her daughter was home. I glanced over to her room and smiled as I noticed a lime green tote bag sitting on her dressing table, she’s still got style. I lay for a while, feeling still in bed, after weeks of a moving bed it felt odd and hearing the neighbour’s dog barking and the local bus trundle by, such different noises from the sea bed I had become used to.
The next few days were a blur of visiting, catching up, chatting, hair cuts, bank business and sorting out mail. It was so great to see and touch my boys again, ruffle their hair and hear of their news. My eldest proudly told me of his big promotion at work and was now a senior project geologist, the middle had been accepted into the mountain rescue team and the youngest was enjoying his university course at Stirling and had moved in with his girlfriend. And the girls were in great form too, the bride-to-be had chosen her dress, was busy making table decorations and planning the day, my daughter-in-law had also been given a much deserved promotion at work and the little one had started at a law firm in the city only weeks after graduating. A great bunch in all.
I was looking forward to being in my home again, my sister-in-law proudly told me she’d cleaned it all ready for me, though when I heard my youngest was home with student friends and using it as base to do some hillwalking, I knew the tidy and clean house would maybe not be quite as I was hoping. With the typical late autumn/early winter weather, the lounge was festooned with wet jackets and trousers draped over furniture to dry by the fire, boots on the hearth, maps covering the tables and rucksacks spilling out half eaten sandwiches and spare socks. Ah well it was still good to be back and situation normal for the Ormies! My lodger who is also a friend and colleague, was deep into her PhD and we chatted into the night about adventure, anthropology, travel and family. It was nice to have a different topic of conversation and to hear all the news from my department at college.
The cat glanced at me when I arrived with a cat type raise of an eyebrow and expression that said “Hmm you’re back?” but once I settled in my usual chair by the wood burner, he strolled over and climbed on my knee like old times.
After three days of rushing around helping sort out various dilemmas, like getting into a car that the youngest had inadvertently locked his keys in while parked at the foot of a mountain and looking after an abandoned student while his mother drove from the middle of nowhere to collect him, her phone forgotten at home and a month’s worth of guest house food left at our house by mistake, it felt like I never been away.
Once Mum was sorted with a fresh hair do, shopping, prescriptions and lunch dates, I headed up to Fort William to stay with my middle and fiancé. A lovely time going for lunches, nights in with a takeaway and walking my delightful little grand-dog, who gave me a warmer welcome than my cat! Then it was off to Glasgow to catch up with family there, including seeing the new flat my youngest and his girlfriend were renting and we headed out for veggie burgers. It was definitely strange having him drive me out to the airport as I had not been in the car with him since he had passed his test. It was an odd situation for him, as soon as he had gained his licence he headed out first to Guyana where he had ridden a beat up motorcycle over the savannah, then to Iceland to work and had driven huge ice trucks for the summer so down sizing to a VW Polo and driving on the central belt motorways, was a big change but he did fine and I arrived in one piece.
Waiting for my flight back down south I was tired but happy that I’d seen everyone and everyone was doing just fine. I was flying with a group of kick boxers, one a feisty wee lad with a hair cut and glint in his eye that was pure attitude and I giggled when we landed, his wee voice piped up over the heads of the passengers,
“Thanks Driver!” got to love the weegies.
I was so excited to be going back and the day of travelling felt endless as I flew to London then Catania and waited for the bus to Marina di Ragusa. I sat on the bus watching the Sicilian countryside go by in the dark and though I had only three hours sleep the night before, I felt stoked. Finally we pulled up at my stop at the end of the line, the only passenger left on the bus and there he was standing under the tree, my captain.
It was wonderful to be in his arms again, feel the temperate air, smell the aroma of fig and warm earth. We headed straight to the soul bar for a Martini Spritzer and bite sized morsels of Sicilian cuisine, I felt back in the dream world.
Lying in my bunk again later that night, with the waves lapping round the boat, it felt good to be home.