For reasons best known only to the inner workings of my brain I found myself lying awake last night pondering why we are doing this trip and somehow linking it to the anniversary of my Dad’s death. He died thirteen years ago on November 11th. Maybe there was a logical explanation to link these two things or maybe it was just random synapses making connections. Either way, my thoughts turned to what is driving this desire to take off on an adventure and how it might be tenuously connected to how much like my Dad I am.
At his funeral all those years ago several distant relatives that I hadn’t seen for ages came up to me and declared with gaping mouths how I was the spitting image of him. I don’t see the likeness myself but I do recognise that I have many of his mannerisms and habits. I suppose it follows that I might also ape him in my thought processes and in what makes me hungry for this adventure of ours.
When people ask the all too obvious question of why are we doing this trip I find myself rattling off a whole gamut of reasons. I use words and phrases such as; adventure, life changing, challenging and memorable. I also want something special to look back on when I get older and I am taking stock of what I have done with my allotted time. I want something that stands out amongst the routine experiences of life. Something different, exciting and, well, memorable.
Sometimes I think it’s because I never did anything out of the ordinary when I was younger. Lots of friends did something special during a gap year in between school and university, travelling and working abroad but I didn’t do this. I wasted my first year at A levels doing the wrong subjects and then left school and went to college to start two more years of study before going to Polytechnic. (For anybody under thirty that’s a bit like a University) I’ve always regretted this and felt that I missed out, unlike my Dad.
Nobody can argue that he didn’t do anything special when he was younger.
You see he had the ultimate gap year(s). At the age of just nineteen he was called up to do his bit to defend his country. He joined the Border Regiment and after some basic training found himself on a ship travelling to the Far East to fight the much feared Japanese army in the jungles of Burma.
As a child I would have loved to have heard his stories of battles and guns but he never ever talked about it. Later, when I was much older, he directed me to a couple of books about the campaigns he was involved in. I have read both but one of them really hit a nerve in me.
“Quartered Safe Out Here” by George MacDonald Fraser (he of the Flashman novels) is a soldiers recollection of the last great land campaign of World War II. Like my Dad, he was just nineteen years old and a member of the Border Regiment and found himself in the very same jungles in 1943. It’s a story of courage, camaraderie, hardship, laughter, shocking suffering and gruesome horror. Once I had read it I understood why he would never talk about his time out there, including contracting typhoid and nearly dying in hospital before recovering and re-joining his colleagues to fight another day, as they say.
He came back to marry my Mum, produce his perfect family of one daughter and one son and live a wholly unremarkable life being nothing more nor less than a good, honest and reliable man. He brought back with him, honourable principles, a devout Catholic faith and a life-long hatred of curry. He certainly had an adventure to reflect upon in his later life, though one that might have made for uneasy contemplation. I suspect he had enough adventure to last a life time, quite literally.
His was an extreme way of experiencing life on the edge and while I am not comparing what he went through with our little jaunt I like to think he would have approved of our plans. I think, unlike so many of those who ask ‘why’, he would have just ‘got it’. We are so lucky that we can manufacture our adventure to our tastes.
His was totally out of his control. What they have in common though, is stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. We know a lot about what to expect on our journey but there is also a lot we don’t know, which is the whole point. I like to think of our trip as our chicken korma to his beef vindaloo.