It's my sixty-first birthday today. Not a 'significant' birthday of course, not like the one last year. I shan't feel obliged to 'do' anything to mark this year's annual event. It's an anniversary to be enjoyed without fuss, without fanfare, quietly, almost in private. I already have a few interesting-looking envelopes addressed to 'Miss Lucy Melford' or 'Lucy Melford' (or if personally given to me just 'Lucy') - mostly pink as it happens - to slit open and see what may be within. As if I didn't know! But the hard work of being a Birthday Person for a day will end there.
Not that I want to hide away: I'm hoping that one or two people will text me experimentally to suggest an afternoon or evening meetup, and if that happens a glass or two of wine, and a pizza somewhere in Brighton, will do nicely. And if they think I'm still on holiday, because I'm home before I'm supposed to be, I may stir them up with a few texts myself. Or alternatively suggest to my next door neighbours that we visit the pub when it cools down, because the weather here in Sussex has taken a hot turn, and really you don't want to be energetic (in the sense of lifting a heavy wine glass to the lips) before five in the evening! There are no refreshing sea breezes in my inland village.
Yes, I'm back sooner than expected. And it has a direct bearing on why there have been no blog posts for several days.
I left Scotland nearly a week ago, and moved southwards into England again, to the mountainous Lake District in the north-west. For some reason, I've only rarely come to north-west England. Usually, when travelling north or south, I've stayed east of the Pennines: Yorkshire, Northumberland. It's not that the scenery is any finer in the east. Although scenery (meaning hills and views) does matter: that's why I don't stray into Essex or Suffolk or Norfolk or Lincolnshire very much, even though all these counties have plenty of other things to offer. Ease of travel may have something to do with it: the fast A1 road on the east side of the country largely stays away from big cities and the heavy traffic associated with them, and from my Sussex perspective seems like a simpler, more direct way to get north in a hurry, at least once I've got past London (which stands in the way of all travel, except to the west). I think however that it's mainly a psychological thing: the east is sheltered by the mountains to the west, and I feel more snug, less exposed to strong winds, wet weather, and damp-loving summer midges! No small considerations on a caravan holiday, believe me.
Well, on the second night in the Lake District - this would be very early on last Tuesday morning in fact, I'd woken up at 4.30am, put the electric kettle on, and it cut out (without drama) just at the point of boiling, as if a fuse had blown. But it wasn't a fuse. And nothing had tripped. Nor was it a general power cut.
The caravan electrics had defaulted automatically to battery power, and I could continue using bottled gas, so cooking wasn't affected, but from that moment I was without mains electricity. Which meant a certain amount of inconvenience where keeping warm, and charging up phone and tablet, were concerned. Immediately it became inadvisable to drain the tablet and phone batteries with an ongoing spate of blogging. 'Lucy Melford' had to shut down.
The reason for this power cut-off wasn't obvious. The very supportive staff at the Troutbeck Head Caravan Club site made a couple of simple tests for me. It seemed that mains electricity was going into the caravan, but the circuit had been broken somewhere, and none of the light fittings or appliances that used a 230v current would now work. In dry, sunny and warm conditions, it wouldn't have mattered much, but the Lake District weather last Tuesday was wet and cool and likely to stay that way for some days ahead. I felt shivery. I could still have hot showers and dry my hair at the toilet/shower block, but the midges ate me up every time I ventured outside the caravan, and I had some ugly-looking bites all over my legs, arms and neck. They itched, they looked bad, and I wanted to get away from what caused them.
Suddenly my mood changed: I wanted to be home. Even if a mobile electrical man could come and fix the electrical fault. Indeed, my local caravanning friends Dennis and Barbara phoned me to suggest just the man. But I wanted to go. It was a driving force that no repair man, no change in the weather, no inducement whatever, could stop. I felt lone and vulnerable, my caravan was not well, and I was a long way from home. It was an emotional reaction.
I went to the site office and explained to Sue, one of the team there. I was wobbly-voiced, on the edge of tears. She reached out and touched my hand in instant concern. She lifted the hard work off my shoulders. She sorted my bookings out, not just at Troutbeck Head but at Stamford, my next pre-booked stay on the journey south. I even had a pitch fee refund. Next morning, I set off. I was fine now: whatever was wrong with the caravan could be fixed so much more easily at home. And by Thursday I'd be back. Fiona would pull her heart out to get me there.
At Stamford, Sue and Pete the site wardens were delightfully supportive. Pete helped me reverse onto the pitch, and Sue was as chatty and obliging as any lone traveller could desire. (Why are people so extra-nice, when really they don't have to be? I had been so lucky on this holiday, with site wardens, friends and casual acquaintainces all going the extra mile. My battered faith in Human Nature was rapidly being restored) Sue let me charge my phone and tablet in the site office, quite enough to get me home. Another caravanner, a man, came over and helped me hitch up. I did not refuse his help. I never do. I have so much switched into 'let the man help if he wants to' mode for almost everything.
And I got back on Thursday afternoon. The garden was looking good, the lawns were mown for me, and my house windows were cleaned for me and sparkling. A cup of tea, and I felt safe and sound, and ready to face any difficulty.
But really all I needed to do was bung things in the washing machine, and speak to the caravan dealer during the next few days. And of course get back to blogging before the rumour spread that Lucy had been abducted by aliens from the planet Malevolor.
I'd cut my holiday short, but I'd still had seventeen days away. Seventeen packed days. An awful lot of memories. An awful lot of photos. The first batch will be appearing on Flickr today. But I'll be photo-processing for days to come. It's no chore to me. It's like sniffing the bottled scent of many wonderful people and places, and it unlocks the remembrance - otherwise so soon forgotten - of those countless lovely things that one can't photograph.
Another washload has finished and must be hung up to dry. Plenty to iron already. But I like doing these mundane things. Even on my birthday. Three texts and one email have come through, and I expect the postman before midday. Time for another cup of tea!