AT some point towards the end of last week, something strange happened.
For the last however many months, my life has been ruled by lengthy lists of things to buy, arrange and stress over ahead of hitting the long and winding road around Africa for the next nine months.
The first few months saw more and more added with very few things crossed out – always one of the most satisfying feelings, to the extent that some things got added to the list just so they could be crossed out – and that list was taking on epic proportions.
But a couple of productive days and it was down to manageable levels when working my way through it became replaced the day job as my main occupation.
That final fortnight was pretty much sketched out before it even began with each day allocated a string of jobs sorted into some form of logical order, even if getting through each daily list usually entailed a certain amount of cutting and pasting onto the next day’s – mainly due to the constant issue of failing to emerge from under my quilt quite as early as planned.
Well, stupid not to make the most of a bed before it is replaced with what lies ahead (the Gatwick hotel bed to my left is looking particularly tempting, especially after spending two nights on a sofa with a large black Labrador stealing as much space as he could).
But at some point on Thursday, the list ran out of things to do for the trip.
My hair was cut, cash of various denominations sorted, vital paperwork collated, everything necessary (and otherwise) was bought and bags packed. Well, sort of. Everything – bar a last-ditch repeat prescription – was shoehorned in ahead of a final pack which, even with a reorganisation and a few pieces ditched, is likely to do much to harm my reputation as an over packer.
Actually don’t think it is too bad. Or too heavy, especially as the terminal is just over the road from the front door of the hotel (actually think it is further from my room to the door than it is from there to the terminal). Handy when the meet is just after 5am tomorrow.
In my defence, by the time you put in a bag of contact lenses and glasses, another of tablets (prescription, malaria and assorted others) and cables for all the electrics, there’s not that much room for clothes. To say nothing of all those little things which are suddenly so necessary to my life, despite them never being needed in the last 40-odd years.
That list had prompted wild fluctuating emotions. One moment, it all seemed in hand and on schedule. A bit later, the descent into panic was well underway and there was no way it was all going to be done.
There was never really a worry about being ready for the trip, it was much more of a concern about getting my flat emptied before my departure (although that was nothing compared to the concern of my sister and brother-in-law when they saw just how much stuff they had agreed to store for the next nine months).
The plan was simple – first week after leaving work was getting ready for the trip, second week packing up the flat ahead of one final day actually moving out. That is until the first week sort of spilled well into the second week – even with my decision to miss a trip to watch Gloucester play in France to keep things moving – and packing up the flat was squeezed into the final few days.
But squeezed in it was, both into the time left and into the space cleared in my sister’s garage. And hallway. And dining room. And anywhere else we could find (and retrieving my television from my nephew’s room may be more difficult).
In the midst of all that, there was a sad farewell to my car which has been a loyal servant over the past 12 or so years. Having clocked up 122,000 miles, a few speeding tickets, a couple of parking fines, duty carrying gear to band gigs, countless Severn Crossing tolls, use as a cat’s sunbathing platform, numerous scratches, far too few functioning locks, the odd bit of growing plant life and remarkably few problems, it finally reached the end of its road.
Despite the lack of TLC it has received over the years, it has been a fantastic servant and was still going strong right to the end.
But not only was asking for that to be stored on my sister’s drive (again) pushing things a bit too far, the chances of it getting it going again in nine months are slim in the extreme (given how it objected and spluttered after two weeks’ inactivity a few months ago).
Sheer economics was the final decider. It would have taken more to get it through its MoT than it would have made in a sale, so it bade its final farewell on the back of a recycling yard’s truck. It was quite a moving sight, as was the certificate of disposal which arrived via e-mail this afternoon.
But through all this, there has been a sense of calm.
The most common question over the past few weeks (once we have got past Ebola) has been “Are you excited?”, followed by “Aren’t you worried about anything?”.
The answer has largely been “not really”. It’s more been a relaxed feeling of calm since about halfway down the second pint after my final day of work.
Yes, there’s a sense of anticipation and, yes, there’s certain fears about what lies ahead.
The most common concern lies about my fitness – or lack of it. There seemed so much time to do something about it, but a string of stupidly long days at work, spare time being eaten up by those to-do lists and a bad back, dodgy shoulder, tendonitis of the knee, attacks of gout (hence all the tablets) and any other reason not to go to the gym has left that as the one big omission from the to-do list.
But even then, all is still calm.
When playing rugby (hence the injuries), the usual trick was to play myself fit rather than worry too much (if at all) about training and that is the plan – don’t overdo it early and, having tried to walk as often as possible over the last few months, build up the levels.
My main concern about that is holding back my fellow travellers, but sure they’ll not all be opting for route marches across whatever terrain Africa can throw at us.
We’ll start to find that out bright and early tomorrow – once we’ve got past this mounting concern that my alarm won’t go off.