As a child, one of my most favourite books was “Travels With Charley”, the final work of John Steinbeck, an autobiographical record of a last tour around his homeland at a time of great change and uncertainty, made in a determined effort to stave off feebleness and debilitation.
Its opening page had me enraptured immediately, setting out a mandate that spoke of a yearning, an aching need, an atavistic impulse to explore and to wander.
It went like this.
“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch.
When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age, I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.
Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage.
In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear this disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself….A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
Wise and wonderful words. But I was too young and too sensible and too underfunded to more closely follow their direction.
In later years, one of my most favourite records was “The Lonesome Jubilee” by John Mellencamp, which included “The Real Life”, a splendid song that featured this verse:-
“Jackson Jackson was a good kid
He had four years of college
And a bachelor’s degree
Started workin when he was 21
Got fed up and quit
When he was forty three
He said, “My whole life
I’ve done what I supposed to do
Now I’d like to maybe do something
And just as soon, I figure out what that is
You can bet your life
I’m gonna give it hell”
I want to live the real life
I want to life my life close to the bone
Just because I´m middle-aged that
I want to sit around my house and watch TV
I want the real life
I want to live the real life”.
It wasn’t until I reached my forties that I truly began to understand the significance of these words, written by two very different Americans about their search for something larger, something beyond the mundane, something meaningful in their life.
Exploration, wanderlust, travel, tourism – call it what you will, but it became an inescapable priority and I began travelling much more frequently, both with friends and independently.
Then something happened.
On the first morning of a trip to Athens, I made my way to the Acropolis in time to be there as the site opened, coinciding with the arrival of a coach carrying a contingent of elderly Americans, who happily disembarked in expectation of the antiquities ahead.
Sadly for a good number of them, the steps up onto the Acropolis were just too steep and they simply couldn’t gain access to this wonder of the ancient world.
They’d left it too late.
A just life, lived appropriately, as they “were supposed to do”, but they had been robbed of this reward at the last moment.
It was an instructive moment.
If there is something you want to do, then do it.
Do it now.
So, a few years later than Jackson Jackson, but a few years sooner than Steinbeck, I’ve quit my job and I’m about to embark on my own journey, my own version of the “real life”, upping sticks and relocating to another country, with no job and just a couple of weeks of temporary accommodation lined up.
The Real Life. The step that isn’t too steep to take. The trip that is taking me.
Or something like that.
I’ll tell you what it’s like, every now and then, through these pages.
9 thoughts on “What’s next?”
Ah wonderful, John. You are on the road that you must follow. I am full of admiration (and, I’ll admit, a little bit of envy). I hope it takes you on a memorable journey. I can’t wait to read all about it.
Great stuff John. Will be sorry to see you go of course, but you’re clearly making the right decision for you. Hopefully catch up on Easter Monday, if not before.
Good for you my man, carpe that diem! I look forward to hearing about your exploits….
Beautifully written and inspirational John. I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures. And now I have a new Steinbeck novel to read!
Same – ordered an old copy from eBay last night!
Good luck and safe travels, John. I shall be visiting Iceland myself this July. My own wanderlust ended when I moved back to Plymouth in 1990 and found my Janner roots. To paraphrase Jack Kerouac ….’because you have no place you can stay in without getting tired of it and because there is nowhere to go but everywhere, just keep rolling under the stars.’ Have fun. Rick O’Shay
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’ve always believed it’s better to regret what you’ve done rather than regretting what you haven’t done. All the best, looking forward to following your blog! Kim x
Hafa frábæra ferð – have a wonderful journey John!
I’ve been thinking what to write, and there was so much in my head and heart, and then I thought it will be what it will, your mother’s tumbling thoughts of her only child’s next important steps on this Earth.
When I started reading the Futhark Runes in the 80s and it became my path to Druidry, I never thought you would visit the Land of Ice and Fire so many times and fall in love with it.
When I took you many long weekends from London to the continent following our friends’ jazz bands I watched your gleeful 8 year old face as you ran from one side of the road to another realising you could easily walk from Holland into France and then into Germany and Belgium and back again, the spark was lit in you to travel more. You also learned we lived on an island and you have to make quite an effort to leave it and enter and that was our fortress.
We had wonderful weeks on Crete together after watching Who Pays The Ferryman, and we both knew the ancient history well; love of history has served you well and you have been to many ancient civilization sites and countries now.
Countless foreign long weekends later of your own fascinating trips you are making that brave and exciting break away from safe routine and spending more time on your self learning, your spirit and your heartfelt dreams.
Travels With Charley I heard on the radio as a series, then I got the book, one of the few Ive ever bought after hearing it read. When you read it and also found the idea intriguing, I then thought you would do a similar trip on Amtrac after University: I then got alarmed you would find America so intriguing you would stay! You never went because work and a good salary immediately captured you, and I really wished it hadn’t, although I had misgivings, I really wanted you to go off and be yourself, not someone’s child, friend, grandchild and before you got stuck into routine – just be!
Now its happening and my first thought was thank goodness its not Greece as your first dearly loved grown up book was the Iliad! I saw your 9 yr old eyes shine with the excitement of it all but ten years is far too long!
Well you made it John and despite bed and cooker confusion your flat will have a new resident and you are in Iceland raring to go.
Dont forget to put photos up as you walk about training your legs and feet for the Camino pilgrimage later.
Im learning I can track your plane in the sky and know when you landed and you can pop into our living room on the phone showing us where you are via the Watsapp At 70 David and I are learning new IT and it’s brilliant seeing what you are looking at in real time.
The English Pub looks a lifesaver but the beer won’t be as good 🍺