IT isn’t as if I wasn’t flooded with offers of hospitality upon my return to Northumberland after twenty years away in New Zealand.
My best friend, my oldest friend (and my son’s godfather), his family and my old next-door-neighbour – along with my extended family – have all welcomed me home with open arms and assistance galore.
My cousin offered me the use of his home. My oldest friend in Bedlington offered me a similar arrangement (much to the delight of his 11-year-old son), and I now have both of their front door keys on my keyring to add to a number of others.
Since my return I’ve been ‘house sitting for a couple of new friends I met online the last time I was home (I even recruited, one of them, Brenda Dinsdale, to write for Voice of The North!). Back in New Zealand I visited her son who, lived near me in Wellington. Such a small place, this world!
But after two months back in Northumberland I realise I have forgotten the wonderful generosity of us northern folk. Kiwis (generally) are a friendly breed, but Geordies are a WHOLE class of kindness unto themselves.
Life, admittedly, is easier with a ready-made support network. With no income for four months (despite my best efforts and three unsuccessful interviews) I am reliant on my parents to feed me, so I add little things into our online supermarket shopping list as a small treat for myself.
This week? An avocado, a staple of my diet in New Zealand, yet something my dear mam and dad have never in their lives seen before, let alone tasted. So there I was, enjoying my lunchtime ham and pease pudding salad (no bread, as the diet demands!), and I went to cut open my avocado.
Dad: “How long have you been eating those?”
Me: “Years and years, dad.”
Dad: “What the heck is it?”
Me: “It’s an avocado dad – would you like a taste?” I pass him some on my fork.
Dad (tasting avocado for the first time in almost 81 years): “It’s okay, eh? Maybe a bit bitter for my liking.”
Hmmm. An interesting reaction from a man whom, that morning, I had caught eating pickled onions straight out of the jar: in other words, a veritable connoisseur of the finer things in his life.
And that got me thinking. Regardless of the generosity which surrounded me, I needed a space of my own. Somewhere I could simply call ‘mine’ where I could close the door and slob around in my pj’s all day, eating baked beans out of the tin washed down with a cheeky £3.99 vintage if I wished. But how to go about it?
Renting a place was out of the question with no income. Buying a place an even greater impossibility. And so I asked my dear friend Helen (the aforementioned ‘previous neighbour’), who is now the caravanning queen of Belford in darkest Northumberland, if she knew of anyone selling a tourer. And, lo and behold, she did! Friends of hers had just bought a flash new one and were about to put their trusty old caravan up for sale at a bargain price. A viewing was arranged; I bought it on the spot.
My new pad! A place to call my own, it was immediately christened ‘The Carolvan’ and generously towed to my mam and dad’s place where it was manhandled through the narrow gates onto their driveway in the pitch dark.
Well, the excitement I could barely contain was unfortunately short-lived: mam and dad came out in the darkness to have a little peep inside and when dad turned to zimmer-frame himself back indoors he caught his foot in a drain and all fifteen stone of a man considerably taller than my five-for-two went crashing down.
Somehow, an adrenaline rush helped me to get my hands under his armpits, and heave him, back on his feet, then walk him safely inside. No signs of blood, but I was concerned that he had gone down with all his weight on his shoulder.
He said he was fine, refused a cup of strong, sweet tea but couldn’t bring himself to decline the glass of Glenlivet I offered him! I didn’t turn down the rest of the bottle either: took it back to my cuzzie’s place and had three large straight ones to calm my nerves!
At this stage, the Carolvan is only used during the daytime as a writing den while I await delivery of its mislaid power lead. Writing in there without heat is a ridiculously cold exercise, even with a beautifully soft, aunty-donated blanket wrapped around my legs and wearing my new “70% Off” Per Uno coat. And with the evenings now drawing in so quickly, the light fades around 6pm.
But for now, it is my perfect wee escape, a place where I can breathe and call home when I need a bit of ‘me time’. And once it is up and running and warm I’ll be up for visitors. Any time.
Though visits from elderly parents will be STRICTLY managed in future!