Spreading My Wings

I have just returned from one of the most relaxing and enjoyable holidays ever. And I very nearly decided not to go. Why? Because the journey involved two flights, one of thirteen hours, and I would be travelling alone from the moment I left my home in a taxi to the airport. This trip had been on the cards for ages, and I came close to booking it last year, but dreadful circumstances conspired to make it impossible. Which was why this year it felt somewhat ‘now or never’.


The prospect of joining some friends, an Irish couple who escape the cold and damp of Dublin for three months every winter in the warmth of Thailand, was very enticing, but could I overcome my dread of the journey to get there?


When you are one part of a couple, holidays pose few problems, assuming that you actually enjoy each other's company (!) As such I have had some great trips in the past to Mauritius, Kenya, Jamaica and Florida. When I was first divorced (in my early 40s), I found Club Med holidays in Europe the perfect solution to providing a couple of weeks in the sun with two very happy teenage daughters occupied with fun activities all day, every day whilst leaving me to read and relax on the beach. Meal times were communal, often sharing tables with very nice other holiday makers from Europe, so being a single mum posed no problem. 


During those early years of being divorced when I found myself alone at Christmas because the girls were with their dad, I solved the problem by going long-haul to warm destinations like South Africa. I had relatives in Durban, so I’d visit them and maybe include a trip to Cape Town where I discovered a perfect spot in Camps Bay called Lemon Tree Cottage. I also had a gay male friend who was often at a loose end at Christmas and a couple of times we went to Key West in Florida which worked well for both of us. When you are somewhere warm and sunny on December 25th it’s possible to ignore the festivities that might be happening on the other side of the world.


However, as the girls got older and started to spend holidays with their friends and boyfriends, I realised that it was time for a major rethink. My solution was to use an inheritance from my parents to buy a ruined cottage with amazing views in southern France and have it rebuilt to become the perfect bolt-hole for summer holidays. I was eventually able to move into it in the summer of 1999, and it instantly solved the problem of where to go in the summer months when I needed a break from work. I also intended to spend the occasional Christmas holiday there too, but after one disastrous occasion, too painful to recount, I abandoned that idea for good.


For the next twenty-odd years, until I sold it in 2021, all my summer holidays were spent in that glorious spot in the Drome Provence. Friends and family would come and go, including all five of my grandchildren as they gradually came into the world between 2008 and 2016. Sometimes I would spend two or three weeks alone in the house, but I have always enjoyed my own company and, as long as my head was immersed in a really good book, the days would slip by until it was time to pack up and drive home.


So why did I decide to sell such a heavenly place, filled with all those wonderful memories? For so many reasons, but the main one was to go through the tortuous process whilst I was still feeling strong and capable, rather than leaving it to a time when I would find it just too physically demanding and overwhelming. To be honest I think that Covid in 2020 was the main catalyst, although Brexit played a part too. Because of all the travel restrictions due to the pandemic, I managed just 2 weeks alone in the house in August 2020. The whole place had a somewhat sad and abandoned air having been unoccupied for over a year. The journey was hedged about by rules and restrictions with Covid tests being needed before and after my journey.


Just at that point, Rick, the Dutchman who had looked after the house, pool and garden in my absence, dropped the bombshell that he was retiring. I also knew that, after 22 years, the water system of pumps and reservoirs was in need of extensive and expensive work, as was the swimming pool. I had no idea how long the pandemic would affect my ability to visit, so I called an estate agent and asked them to put the house on the market. It took a year to sell, but eventually a delightful German couple made me a good offer in the summer of 2021, and, as my daughter and son-in-law were with me, I was able to face the monumental task of dismantling my home of 22 years and saying goodbye to that part of my life.


Which means that, once again, as far as holidays are concerned, I am back at square one. I am still a single person, now in her mid-70s, and still interested in enjoyable and relaxing ways to have a break, preferably in the sunshine.  In June 2022 the solution came in the form of a week-long watercolour painting holiday in Tuscany. Painting was a new hobby for me, but one which I was keen to pursue. What better way than to learn in a beautiful villa with a great tutor and a group of like-minded (mostly) women of a similar age? This proved to be such a success that last year I booked myself on two such trips to Sicily in July and Andalusia in October.


In 2022 I also toyed with the idea of a much more adventurous trip of 2 weeks in Thailand towards the end of the year or the early part of January 2023. One of my best friends, Siobhan, lives in Dublin with her husband, Kevin. Both have had serious health challenges, so for the past eight years they have escaped the inclement weather in Ireland for the warmth and sunshine of Asia from November to February. My plan was to fly out and join them in late January but, fortunately as it turned out, I had not booked any flights or accommodation when, just before Christmas, I had a devastating email from Siobhan saying that Kevin was in intensive care in a hospital in Phuket after suffering a ruptured colon. It was touch and go whether he would survive having undergone a long, gruelling and dangerous operation.


Happily, Kevin eventually made a near miraculous recovery, and in November he and Siobhan left Dublin as usual for their three month sojourn in Thailand, so a two week trip for me was back on the cards. Then the doubts started to creep in. I hadn’t flown long-haul for a holiday for more than twenty years and Thailand is a journey of around 17 hours with two flights to reach Phuket from Heathrow. How well would I cope with a complicated trip all alone? Temperatures in January are in the low 30º C and may reach 37º or 38º. How well would I tolerate the heat? I could feel myself becoming trepidatious and I came close to deciding not to risk it.


And then I reminded myself that one of the things I’d said when I sold my French house was that the money would allow me to spread my wings a little bit, and so far I’d only managed to fly as far as Italy! So I gave myself a good talking to, asked my son-in-law to sort out some flights on Thai Airways, and booked myself accommodation at the Dewa Resort in Naiyang Beach which Siobhan recommended as being close and convenient for their small and fully booked hotel. I was absolutely elated when I walked into the arrivals hall in Phuket to be welcomed by my delightful friends. I’d finally made it! 


This trip has been the perfect wake-up call for me. I can’t tell you how close I came to deciding to play it safe and (I can barely believe I am writing this) to use my age as the excuse for playing it safe. And, had I done so, I would have missed out on one of the most blissful holidays ever.  


I have returned from Thailand rested, energised and determined to stay open to any and all opportunities as they arise. What other adventures may I have if I keep saying ‘yes please’ rather than ‘better not’?


Tricia x

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