In 1988 I decided to travel, to leave my job and flat and go. I’d broken up with my girlfriend of six years a year before, and although I’d known for some time that it was a dead end it had still taken some adjustment.
I was exhausted and bored by a string of subsequent brief relationships in search of something right. There’d been a holiday romance that promised more when played out in azure water but which had failed to re-ignite in back home drizzle.
I’d been doing my job as a designer/illustrator for two years after leaving college and felt increasingly dissatisfied with the limited talents required in designing fruit machines.
Then, one cold, grey Swansea Thursday evening, I sat watching Top of the Pops as Enya sang ‘Orinoco Flow’. It’s simple exhortation to dare to sail away followed by a list of exotic locations cemented a romantic idea I’d had for some time. To travel, explore, discover.
From Bissau to Palau in the shade of Avalon.
From Fiji to Tiree and the isles of Ebony.
From Peru to Cebu, feel the power of Babylon.
From Bali to Cali, far beneath the Coral Sea.
Planning involved bookshops, libraries, visiting travel agents and ringing specialist companies. I researched the inoculation requirements and visas needed and formed a schedule. You really had to work at those things in pre-digital days.
With my itinerary done, I gave notice at work and to my landlord that I would be off three months hence. My landlord countered the news with some of his own, I would have to move out sooner than thought. He’d had a survey confirming dry rot and would be starting work sooner now, rather than later.
I was at a loss to find accommodation for just a few weeks before going but he assured me he knew someone on the same street who had a room. He would let her know that I was looking for something short term.
I lived at the top of a four storey house on Cwmdonkin Terrace near Dylan Thomas’ childhood home, my flat overlooking his ugly, lovely Swansea. When the doorbell rang, and the house was empty, I had to run to catch the caller.
The little breath I had left when I reached the bottom was taken from me in an instant as I opened the door onto the rest of my life.
A young woman balancing on a plank across a hole in the threshold, a start of the work to come. A Dennis the Menace t-shirt, hands in pockets accentuated the hips of her beautifully filled jeans gone through at the knee. Long dark hair and a winsome smile etched themselves forever on my memory. It was the moment I met the love of my life.
She had a figure that could ignite a man at a hundred paces that left me with no hope at such close range. Smitten, and I hadn’t even heard her speak.
When she did, I imagined a tremble of nervousness in this sizzling creature that graced my doorway.
I hear you’re looking for a room?
Well, come and have a look this evening. I’ve got some lamb for dinner if you’d like to join me?
Of course there was more to it than that but I was troubled, dazzled, flummoxed. I reeled away, forever singed by the encounter.
The lamb was good, I even ate the parsnips. We hit it off at once, I moved in soon after and a week later Sarah came to London with me to get my work visa for Australia, we had a great day, I met her sister. When I dropped her off for her shift back in Swansea the same day there was a palpable tension as she stepped out of the car.
The next day I went to work in a blur. I knew I couldn’t stand to be in the same house as her much longer without declaring my interest. I popped back to the house at lunchtime and found her in the kitchen.
We chatted awkwardly for a few minutes before I took the greatest leap I’d ever made, propelled by the sure hand of fate I crossed the kitchen and kissed her. The best kiss of my life. She says it was hers too, she reports she got the collywobbles, whatever they are. I have no idea how I went back to work.
Three weeks later I postponed my plans so she could sell her house and join me on my travels. A blissful, energetic year later to the day, we were married, everyone thought a shotgun was involved but the only pressure on us to marry was the urgent need to catch up on what we’d missed by not meeting sooner.
For a while after it caused me some regret that I’d been walking past her house to work for two years and never seen her. She’d been with her ex then anyway, and me with mine so it wouldn’t have mattered, or been the same. The timing was right and always had been, I just didn’t know it then.
Soon after, watching the news, I saw a man stand in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Had I stuck to my plans I would have been there that day.
Thirty years later I still haven’t been to China.