Bernard and I had contemplated a round-the-world trip, to see family and friends, but he became too frail to undertake such a journey. After his death, in January 2004, all I wanted to do at first was to stay at home, but, after much vacillation, I finally resolved to do this “once-in-a-lifetime” trip. I set out in August 2006, spending five weeks in Britain, five weeks in the US, and two weeks in Australia. During this time, I stayed in 23 homes and met with a further 29 friends. It proved to be a wonderful experience, thanks to the overwhelming kindness and welcoming hospitality of my hosts; they not only accommodated me, they met me at airports and bus stations, wined and dined me, arranged for me to meet their friends, organised outings, did my laundry and allowed me access to their computers so that I could check e-mail.
I decided to be self-indulgent and to travel Business Class, another factor which made my journey so pleasant. I was fortunate with the weather, encountering only a few light drizzles - although in many places heavier downpours would have been welcome.
Planning the trip was difficult because I simply could not fit in everybody whom I would have liked to have seen. I realised that it was better to arrange two or three day stopovers, because a series of one-night stays would have been too exhausting. Being accustomed to starting the day with an hour's walk on Fish Hoek beach, I tried, whenever possible, to fit in a daily walk, which provided me both with good exercise and also with an opportunity to reflect on my experiences and my conversations.
Fish Hoek Beach – my dawn constitutional…
Several friends, both during my travels and afterwards, asked me a complicated question: had I “missed” Bernard? During my travels, I noticed that some of my friends had moderate to severe physical or mental failings, since I had last seen them. Once again I realised how fortunate both Bernard and I had been, in that his mind was sharp right up to the end, and he had an easy death. Also, I often felt that Bernard was with me : on my fourteen flights, for example, whenever I had a drink, I could hear Bernard seriously wishing us , “Happy Landings”, as we raised our glasses. During my travels, several people addressed me as “Bernard”: I always insisted that there was no need for embarrassment or apology, because I saw this as a recognition that Bernard was still a part of me. With only very few exceptions, all the people whom I met on my travels had known - and loved - Bernard; this also facilitated my journey.
What follows then is a Testament of friendship - or the details of a sentimental journey – or, I confess, of a wine-lover’s explorations - or a description of one dense social network, and an analysis of what this means to me.
NEXT - Stage 1 - England