The Cycle Repeats

Almost two years to the day, the British Council have given me the go-ahead for the second round of applications once again. I’ve more or less had it sorted up there in my head, but it’s refreshing to see some hard evidence at last. Everybody else has been scurrying about fishing up internships in London, grad schemes in Leeds and MA courses in Edinburgh whilst I’ve been kicking back in the knowledge that I’m returning to a job I know and love, even if it isn’t anywhere near as well-paid as those London-based affairs. Besides a niggling long-term concern for my pension plan (and I’m not entirely sure why I bother, with things as they are), that doesn’t really concern me – if I get to spend another year in Extremadura, I’ll be in seventh heaven.

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La Vera – what Paradise looks like

I’m really looking forward to next year for several reasons, and one of them is my return to regular blogging. I’ve not been out of things to report this year – quite the opposite, in fact – but for some reason I’ve been awful at recording it. I’ve had something on in one way, shape or form every single day, from rehearsals to meetings to deadlines. I’ve never known a year like it, and it’s been a welcome relief after last year’s relative quiet. I may not be working 8am-8pm shifts like I used to, but the few hours I have a day are always demanding and highly rewarding.

Or at least, they were until this term. I have two contact hours this week, as well as a mock Spanish oral on Thursday. Talk about open plan.

What that does mean is that I’ve finally had the time to do a little work on the Mega-Drawing, and consequently it’s very near to completion. That’s something to look forward to.

I mustn’t fall into the trap of making my last few months in Durham a series of looking forward to moments. Time is running out as it is; in less than two months I’ll be out of here, and that saddens me a lot. I’m losing the treasure trove that is the library, the stellar music scene at Durham and, of course, the host of wonderful friends I’ve made here. If I spend too much time looking forward, I’ll end up looking back for most of next year, and that’s no good thing. Better to live in the moment.

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Monasterio de Yuste

I’m making no promises, but now that my British Council go-ahead is in, I’ll try to keep you posted on some of the events coming my way. Coming up:

  • Recording a new single with the Northern Lights
  • A trip to the Farne Islands (finally)
  • A weekend in Dunkeld, Scotland
  • June Ball
  • Graduation
  • The 70th Edinburgh Fringe

If that’s not blog material, I’ll eat my hat. At least, I would, if I hadn’t left it on the ALSA bus to Seville last month. Goodbye, boina. We’ve had some wonderful memories. I can only hope your next owner finds as much joy in you as I did. Like me, it came all the way from County Durham to you, O Sevillano. Treasure it, please. BB x

My Most Treasured Possession

My first dissertation extract is complete, and after three somewhat hectic days I can finally relax in the library and read whatever the hell I want for a little while. My field of research and my area of interest are closer than I could ever have imagined, but the very fact that I have to focus on them makes them a little less attractive than they were before. That’s natural, and it’s primarily why I’d never make a career out of art or music. The minute something you like becomes something you have to do, it loses a lot of the magic it once held, I find.

Perhaps the greatest roadblock to making great strides with my dissertation is the fact that, wherever I go, I carry with me a battered little red notebook chock-full of notes, sketches and observations from the last year and a half. I’m almost never apart from it. If it’s a knee-jerk reaction to years of being warned against electronic addiction, it’s a damned healthy one. And whilst it might have got in the way of focused academic research from time to time, it’s actually been responsible for guiding me to some of the most useful books for my degree this year.

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Fresh from the Libreria Talia back in October ’15

At twenty-two, a one year old notebook seems like a strange object to consider my most treasured possession. You’d never know it was that young, looking at it now. It’s battered and bruised and dog-eared on all sides, and the binding holding it together has been heavily reinforced with generous layers of sellotape. But it’s been with me almost everywhere I’ve gone since I first tracked it down in a bookshop in Villafranca last year and, to me at least, it’s more than just a notebook. Leaving for Spain without a sketchbook was one of the more stupid things I’ve ever done, but the result is this absolutely priceless little book of memories. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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The Red Book at the feet of Washington Irving, Granada

It’s been all over the place. It’s been carried over the holy ground of Moulay Abdessalam and watched the sunset over the Aegean Sea. It’s sat on the walls of the Alhambra, felt the sea breeze of the Atlantic from Cape Roca in Portugal and sampled tapas in Salamanca (with the olive oil stains to show). These days it contents itself with regular trips to and from the library, which is intellectually stimulating at the very least, but perhaps not what the Red Book was necessarily born for. I expect it’s just as hungry for another adventure as I am. The trouble is, there’s only thirty pages left until it’s all filled up, and with the rate at which I’m harvesting new ideas, Greece may have been my eternal companion’s last fling. When I stop to think about it, that’s more than a little bit saddening.

We’ve had some pretty special memories, the Red Book and I. But probably the most treasured of all was its first ever outing to the sanctuary mountain east of Cáceres where, as the sun set over the old city, I had an epiphany and decided to base my series of novels in Spain. And, suddenly, it all made sense. What had been for some fifteen years a mishmash of fantastical borrowings and cliché leapt out of the chrysalis into a vast historical saga. The moment was recorded with two simple words scrawled at the top of a heavily-smudged first page: it begins.

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Full-page sketches like this one are not helping on the page-saving front…

 

Of those who have commented on my faithful travelling companion, the general opinion seems to be that I could get ‘so much money if I ever sold it one day’. Sacrilege incarnate. This little book and I have been on so many adventures now that it’d be like pawning off a loyal pet. But I suppose it’s more than that, because what the Red Book is, beyond a well-travelled journal, is an extension of my very soul. My whole world, the one I don’t tend to share with anybody, is stored within its pages in scrawled notes and sketches. Most of it wouldn’t make a jolt of sense to anybody else, but to me it reads like a map. I’ve kept a working notebook on me in various formats for the last five years – since I could hold a pencil, if you count the sketchbooks as well – but the Red Book is the prince of them all.

The sister notebook is already waiting, an equally eye-catching blue-and-gold journal of identical dimensions. It’s also a Paperblanks notebook. I swear by the things. It’ll be tough, starting afresh with a new book after all this time, like starting up a new relationship. Quite literally: all the memories I’ve stored in the Red Book are ours to share. The Blue Book will need new memories of her own. One day, many years from now, I’d like to think there’ll be a whole shelf of these things, tattered, bandaged and well-thumbed, but loved, and I’ll be able to take them down to explore them with my children, taking them into the worlds I have spent so many years creating.

An ode to a notebook… Well, it was a strange post for Valentine’s Day, I’ll give you that, but with all the time, care and attention I’ve lavished on this little book over the last year and a half, perhaps today’s a fitting day for such a post after all. BB x

Change and Progress

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about growing up. A lot of people say that you do a heck of a lot of it when you’re made to stand on your own two feet for the first time. Gap years, years spent abroad, traveling solo… You develop fastest when left to your own devices, it seems. That makes sense. I remember walking out of Heathrow Airport one cold December morning to see my family again after nearly three months in Uganda, the longest I’d ever been away from home. One of the first things my mother told me was that I looked so much older. Well – what might a mother say? But it’s stuck with me.

I wonder how much I’ve changed over the course of this year alone. As years go, it’s been a colossal upheaval. When I set out, I was still reeling from a year of juggling too many things at once, not least of all my heart, and full of ideas of my own as to what the year was going to bring. I’m not sure how much I’ve changed since, but I know that I have. I find it hard to imagine exactly who I was back then, because something tells me that the Ben that left Durham last summer (with all sixty-three kilos of his possessions on his back) and the Ben returning there in September are two very different persons. These days I’m often the Ice Breaker, the one with all the games and ready to turn my hand to just about any conversation, and yet I don’t even blink at turning down invitations the way I used to. Where once I resorted to obscure ASMR and Guided Meditations of middling quality on YouTube, these days I read (reading has taken over my life somewhat). And politics – that ghastly, age old enemy of mine – no longer scares me off. Ben could always speak, but it looks like this year he learned to talk.

A useful development for a budding linguist, don’t you think?

But these little details don’t necessarily constitute growing up. Growing up, in the strictest sense, is moving out, getting a job, having a family of your own. At least, that’s how I’ve always seen it. A better definition, perhaps, would be the stage in your life when you start thinking seriously about the future. Not just next week, or next year, but five, ten, maybe twenty years down the line. When you’re a kid you don’t have to worry too much about that. As an adult, you’re on your own. Over the course of the year I’ve seen the fog of war blown away and the next ten years of my life made clear to me. Spain is where I want to be, Spanish is what I want to be speaking and teaching is what I want to do with my life. The revelation wasn’t shocking; it’s as though the plan was always there, just waiting for me to find it. So growing up is all about thinking ahead, right?

Not exactly. As far as I’m concerned, that definition is only a half-truth. I’ve always been a thinker. I read a fair few blogs on the subject before penning my thoughts on this one, and one writer opined that being grown-up meant leaving the constant search for excitement of adolescence behind and looking instead for long-term relationships. Flawed logic: in that sense, I’ve been an adult since I was five years old. Somewhere down the line my development went a little awry and I’ve never been able to consider a relationship as anything but a long-term thing. The whole ‘bit of fun’, ‘casual’, ‘fling’ thing… It’s never made any sense to me, as distant and intangible as quantum physics or the Zodiac Killer. Oh, I know we’re supposed to go through all that in our teenage years (the casual attitude, that is, not the quantum physics). It prepares us for later life. But I couldn’t then, and I can’t now. It just doesn’t make sense. How do you even begin to describe something you physically can’t get your head around, no matter how hard you try?

This year I’ve met a lot of people who’ve changed my perspective on the world in little ways. Andreas, the old soldier with the big heart; Tasha, the fun-loving Texan; Victoria, the brave young polyglot; Alex, the forward-thinker. The Andalusian with such an honest passion for India, the Israeli in Plasencia who spoke of his love for Coelho, the New Zealander in Rabat who traded for a living. All of them made me think in one way or another; none of them will be forgotten.

Travel broadens the mind, that much is true. I might even call it steroids for the soul. I wonder how each and every one of these individuals remember me, if they remember me at all?

Growing up is more than just a birthday. It’s a series of chance encounters. It’s a sequence of experiences, good and bad, that mould you into a brand new shape. There are plenty of books about it. The genre even has its own name: Bildungsroman. One of these days I’ll look back and be able to tell you which was the younger me and which the adult, but as for the exact point of divergence, I think that will always be a little foggy. That’s completely normal. Twenty-first century Europe doesn’t exactly present us with the life-changing, coming-of-age scenarios that stories and histories regale us with. Growing up is in the everyday, tedious as it seems. What you do with that everyday, however, is another matter.

Adulthood is out there somewhere and you find it without looking for it. It’s only when you look back that you realize, I guess. Certainly, the Ben that stepped off the plane at Heathrow four years ago was no adult, just a happy, healthy individual, fresh from the happiest time of his life. The same Ben that walked out of Gatwick’s South Terminal in June, safe in the knowledge that he’d found heart and home and purpose at last and would be going back soon. Maybe all this time he was only sleeping.

As for me, I’m still very much in the works. Michelangelo’s put down his chisel and gone home for the night. I’m working on my Arabic homework with The Avener’s Fade Out Lines playing. Maybe I’m grown up or maybe I’m still just a kid. The truth is I don’t really care either way. I still spend most of time thinking, but I’m not so caught up in worries and anxieties anymore. The road ahead is clear enough and I’m on my way. Maybe it’ll turn off in directions I’d never imagined, and maybe I’ll find Her along the way, and maybe – at the end of it all – I’ll know for sure what it means to be grown up. For now, I’ll stick to this Arabic homework.

The future is a wonderful place, full of uncertainty and bright ideas, but for living, there’s no place like the present. BB x

No Going Back

Saying goodbye is never an easy thing to do. I’m certainly not particularly good at it. In fact, there are quite a few goodbyes I’d like the chance to go over again, given the opportunity. You know the kind: the ones where it was all too fleeting, or maybe you didn’t quite say everything you wanted to say, or maybe the real goodbye never came around and you were left with a last meeting that wasn’t really a send-off at all. Most likely you’ve encountered that oh-so-very British awkward goodbye at least once in your lifetime: the one where you say goodbye to somebody, only to bump into them a few minutes later. Don’t you find that situation crops up a lot? It certainly does in Durham, anyway…

For a chatty gossip like me (you’ll just have to imagine the deep sarcasm there), I don’t suppose there’s much point in an elaborate farewell. It’s only really an issue if you’re going to be out of contact for an extended period of time, like stepping off the plane into the abyss and severing all connections with the outside world. Which is essentially what I do every time I step off the train at Three Bridges. I have a phone, true, but I rarely use it. I think I sent a grand total of three texts over the last three months, and all three of them last Sunday. Radio silence on my part doesn’t necessarily mean I’m traveling – I’m probably a lot more talkative when I’m on the road – but it doesn’t mean I’m inactive, either. I simply enjoy going for long periods of radio silence. Anything that needs saying can surely be said best face-to-face, and anything that’s worth saying is always worth waiting for. That makes me quite a distant person, I guess – and not the easiest to track down. For somebody who spent almost all of two years on teenage texting tenterhooks, it’s a policy I’ve guarded jealously for some time now. So in that sense, setting off on another long adventure isn’t really all that different from any other end of term break, as far as contact is concerned.

I’m going off topic. I suppose I’d better come out with it. I’m heading off to Spain in two days’ time – less – to spend nine months working in a secondary school… and I’m not coming back in between.

The idea first came to me when I had a look at the Spanish school calendar for the coming year. That projected end of term date on the twenty-second of December shocked me at first, despite having been schooled in Spain at Christmastime before. It’s all about the reyes magos out there, and that’s not until January. I must have got it into my head early on, but it wasn’t until saying farewell (successfully, mind!) to Andrew at Gatwick Airport that it hit me: I want to be out there for the long haul. Taking a year abroad isn’t just about honing your language skills to fluency, it’s about growing up – and Lord knows I’ve still so much more of that to do. What better way than to strike out on your own for an entire year? Because that’s what it’s set to be, with my second Arabic stint in Morocco striking up almost as soon as I’m done in Extremadura at the end of May, meaning I won’t see the green hills of England again until August 2016, at the very earliest. That doesn’t trouble me as much as it should.

I'm going to miss autumn in England. No, I'm really, really, really going to miss it

I’m going to miss autumn in England. No, I’m really, really, really going to miss it

The last few days have been wonderful for a last taste of England. I consider myself extremely lucky to live in one of the most charming spots in West Sussex, overlooking a dream-sequence of rolling hills as far as the eye can see, right up to the point when they tumble into the sea to the south. Autumn’s in the air, the forest is full of mushrooms and the buzzards that nest deep in the woods are cartwheeling noisily through the skies as usual. Morpurgo described them ‘mewing’ in one of his books and I can’t think of a better way of putting it. This is England, and I’m going to miss it. But there’s something in the air, telling me it’s time I should be moving on. Maybe that’s autumn. The signs are everywhere. The leaves on the oak trees are going a gorgeous golden colour. Out on the school rugby pitches the odd wheatear sits taking a breather, whilst flycatchers and warblers hurry on through the hedgerows snatching a quick meal on their way home. But most telling of all are the great flocks of swallows and the martins streaming on southwards overhead, and in a couple of days I’ll be following them. Maybe I’ll even see some of the same individuals swooping by from Villafranca. Who knows?

Ten points if you can see the buzzard in this one

Ten points if you can see the buzzard in this one

The hardest thing for me to leave behind – besides the monstrous tapestry, which is never going to be finished anytime soon – will be the growing mountain of books in my bedroom.

A year and a half, five metres in and still slaving away

A year and a half and still slaving away…

It’s pretty daft, but for an aspiring writer, I’m late into the fold as regards actually reading. I got it into my head once that if I never read any books that contained ideas similar to my own, I couldn’t get done for plagiarism, because I’d never have noticed the similarity. How very typically overcomplicated of me. The end result is that I haven’t read a decent book – besides Pavilions – in nigh on ten years. At least, one that hasn’t been prescribed by my course. Now I’m motoring through them at lightning speed, assisted by all the iBooks freebies, an immense library at home (courtesy of my equally bookish mother) that I never truly appreciated, and an all-too brief visit to a real bookshop over the weekend.

So many books, so little time...

So many books, so little time…

I say real to distinguish it from your average WHSmith or Waterstones. Seriously, this place had everything. All the historical fiction you could shake a stick at. The entire Hornblower saga. Flashman in abundance. Sharpe, Iggulden and even the master of the art herself, M.M. Kaye. All beautifully spined, deliciously musty and lovingly second-hand. A new gadget may be a good thing, but there’s nothing better than an old book. Mum found a particularly beautiful pair of illustrated Arabic dictionaries – formerly the property of a military attaché, as stamped. Oh, I could have died and gone to heaven. I was in kid-at-Christmas mode. If I’d had this newfound book obsession just two years earlier, I might have given languages the boot and applied for an English degree. The only thing holding me back at the time was a general reading apathy…

Today’s been the downer of the month for no other reason than that every so often I have a lonely spell where it takes a lot to lift me up. Fortunately I’m in the best place for it: start of term or not, the grounds of Worth Abbey are no less than the finest place I’ve ever encountered for soul-healing. Alright, so the stone-pine copse along the Raya Real with its attendant black kites just comes up trumps, but that’s not on my doorstep every morning. Not yet, anyway. Besides, when the loneliness birds come flying in, the open world is always there. Nature’s an unpredictable lady at the best of times, but she’s never let me down. I’ve said that before, and I’ll say it as often as it takes to drive this funk of mine away. Everything will look better in the light of a new morning. It always does.

Waldeinsamkeit - the feeling of being alone in the woods!

Waldeinsamkeit – the feeling of being alone in the woods!

These are curious things to dwell on when home will be so very far away for the next eleven months. But home is where the heart is, and mine has been in Spain for as long as I can remember, and that’s got to count for something. Maybe she’s out there, and maybe she’s not. That’s not for me to decide. If fate decides to cut me a break and give me a good turn, I’m ready to run with it. But one thing’s certain: I will leave Spain fluent. If I can leave the country at the end of the year as bilingual as the grandfather I never knew, I’ll have accomplished a dream two generations in the making. Being a quarter Spanish will mean so much more.

I will be fluent. And that’s a promise. BB x

Tick Tock

Blimey, we’re on our fifty-fifth day already. Another two weeks and it’ll be almost time to head for home. In some ways it’s felt like every day of fifty-five, in others it’s flown by. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all ready to pack up and head for home, though. It’s been fun, but it’s been hard work too, and factoring in all of those post-exam rehearsals, I haven’t really had a decent respite since… Well, come to think of it, since the Christmas holidays. Ouch!

We had a lot of fun in class this morning acting out two or three of Nasreddin’s tales. You might also know him as Juha (جحا او نصر الدين). Plenty of opportunities to lark about. For counterpoint, we spent the second hour discussing the wonderfully British tradition of the stiff upper lip; that is, suffering in silence rather than causing anybody problems. Quite a world apart from the very hands-on Arab approach! Even though I’m not planning on returning to the Middle East in the near future, the 3amia classes (the local Arabic dialect) have been useful, if just for learning all the expressions and idioms which I adore. Here’s to the vain hope that some carry across into the Moroccan darija dialect, or even Egyptian.

Proof that I’ve been here too long is that I found myself slipping in and out of Arabic whilst trying to talk to my mum in Spanish over FaceTime. I’ve never had that problem before, not even with French. That’s probably a good thing for my Arabic, which has definitely improved since being here, but it’s doing no wonders for my mental state vis-a-vis my Spanish. Now that I’ve booked my flight it all feels a lot closer, a month and more away though it may yet be. A couple of days with my mega-drawing and it’ll all be over in an instant. I don’t know whether I’ll ever catch up at this rate; I’m already two years in arrears, so to speak. I’m going to have bite my lip pretty damn hard to stop myself from taking it out with me. But a promise is a promise: I’ll give it unti Christmas to get a feel for my new home in Villafranca de los Barros, wherever that may be, before I lug the monster out to Spain with me.

No, I haven’t started house-hunting yet. I’m kind of hoping to do that on foot when I get there. At the very least, I’m not making the same mistake I made out here in settling for a ridiculously expensive option for speed and safety’s sake. And no, I haven’t given up on my dreams of running into Lady Luck with flowing dark hair when I get there either. Or should that be Señora Suerte? Whatever. Miracles can happen. I’m not banking on it, knowing my luck, but it’d sure be a deal sweetener.

Ach, would you look at that, I’m setting myself up for a fall already! I’ve been rambling for a little longer than I intended to. I’ll love you and leave you for now. I need my afternoon nap as much as anybody. Andrew, in his wisdom, went straight home after class to take his. I think it’s time I followed suit. BB x

Blood, Tears and Broken Glass

It’s a Friday night in down-town Amman, the streets are buzzing and Andrew and Mac are exploring an abandoned hospital. Yours truly chickened out of this particular venture. I guess that means I’m on lookout? Jeez, how lame does that make me sound…

It’s kind of creepy, sitting outside this tumbledown hospital with the sounds of breaking glass and echoed footsteps breaking the half-silence. Not to mention the dim light from Andrew’s phone flickering off the walls between the windows from time to time. Am I missing out? Very possibly. Will I regret it? Almost certainly. I’m not about to abandon my post, though. Call it a brush with foreign police once too often, but I’m calling shy this time. In the countryside, maybe, but not in the middle of the city on a Friday night. And especially not after watching As Above So Below last night. Not on my life.

We’re into our sixth week in Jordan. Three school weeks remain, and after that – who knows? I took out another two hundred and fifty dinars this morning. The goal is to make that last until the end. With any luck, that should just cut it, travel funds and all, although I have been known to be a little over-optimistic about this kind of thing. Jordan’s bus service may be criminally cheap, but the Amman taxi system is draining my resources at a ridiculous speed. And there’s no avoiding them either, and believe me, we’ve tried. Google Maps gave us an estimate of two and a half hours. We scoffed at that and called it one and a half. Turns out it was a three-hour job. We won’t be walking to down-town again any time soon – not when there’s shopping to be done. And I thought that living twenty minutes’ walk from any shops in Durham was problematic! Something to think about if you plan on staying in Amman. It wouldn’t be a problem if you lived down-town, of course, but up here in Tla al-Ali, it’s a different story. Please don’t buy my fervent dislike for the place, that’s just me and my city angst, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the cost of all these taxi rides – two dinars a throw – racks up fast. I’m looking forward to living in a town where everything is within walking distance.

Now that the end is in sight, though, it’s a lot easier to stay positive. I’ve got it into my head that I’m not coming back next year and that thought alone is keeping me going, no matter how hard I’m going to have to fight to make it so. Hence a slightly less bitchy, more reserved tone this time around. It’s a lot easier with the midterm depression out of the way. Any and all lingering ill tempers were successfully vented this afternoon with The Green Mile. Tears all round, as it should be. There’s no better way to get it all out than with the greatest tearjerker of them all. Next stop, 12 Years a Slave! (There’s a bit of a theme going on here…) Films aside, I’ve plenty of books to keep me going between now and then, thanks to the wonder that is iBooks and all the free material on offer. Best of all, I even stumbled across a book of Arabic short stories penned by none other than our very own Dr. Daniel Newman, which I simply have to get my hands on the next time I swing by Books@Cafe. For the time being, I’ve at least another twenty Henry Rider Haggard books to wade through, including the full Quatermain saga. Excellent stuff. Perfect travel fuel, too.

Although I’m swung to thinking that perhaps Ethiopia might be wiser than South Africa for potential backpacking. It’s just a hunch. Further research needed. BB x

Zulu Dreams

We’re into the third day of recording this wedding present for Grace’s friend and that means the bedroom’s been turned into a makeshift recording studio once again. If that doesn’t raise a few eyebrows, try to picture it: we’ve opened the cupboard and rested the two mattresses against it, draping a duvet over the top as a mock-up boom and shut all the windows and doors. The result is actually pretty decent – as far as mattress-fort recording studios go. Grace is in the cupboard recording hers now so I’m in the next room with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade in my ears, trying to quell my recurring bouts of city angst. Replacing one noise with another can only do so much good, but I think I found a better solution.

Bit by bit I’m building a clearer idea of where I want to make my next adventure, and funnily enough it’s not a remake of Archie’s enviously-exciting Central American backpacking adventure. That ship has sailed. If the chance arises again one day, I’ll take it of course, but somehow I doubt it will. Lightning never strikes twice. As for me, I have my eyes on somewhere else, a place I’ve been orbiting, as it were, for the last seven years: South Africa.

Did that come out of left field? Probably not. The more you know me, the more rational a conclusion it is. For starters, this Cairo to Cape Town jaunt I’m so obsessed with was always going to end there. The only stage I’ve ever really been able to envisage is the last leg, cresting the veld and staring, at last, at the crystal waters of the Indian Ocean after a year or so on the road. I see myself throwing off my rucksack and racing into the water to fall, knees first, in the sand. That would be worth all the mileage, border bullies and nightmarish bureaucrats that’ll plague me along the way. It’s a scene that’s been playing on-and-off in my mind’s eye for years. That’s one reason.

I’d like to say Haggard started this. I’ve been reading one book of his after the other and I’m hooked. But it goes further back than that. My first girlfriend was half-Afrikaner. That’s where it really all began, I guess. Yes, it must have been; I remember talking to her aunt about her time as a game driver and falling in love with the place through words alone. Sure, that didn’t all pan out so well in the end, but like a flower in the ashes, I stumbled upon Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One (the film) a week after the breakup. No other film has ever affected me so strongly. It could have been the music, it could have been the red-haired heroine, or just as easily the people and the places. More likely than not, a combination of the lot – but especially the music. There’s something otherworldly about it. Amazulu – from the Heavens. How about Ukuthula, the Zulu spiritual that never fails to move me to tears? Or Miriam Makeba’s African Sunset, which is playing in my ears right now? Don’t forget the Circle of Life. I put so much of my heart and soul into the Zulu solo with the Northern Lights that I go weak at the knees whenever I hear that one, too. Fun fact: I was born just four days before The Lion King came out. It’s a sign, baby! At least, I’d like to think so.

I could point the finger at so many other reasons: a family connection to Steve Bloom; the film, Zulu; the Drakensberg; the Zulu language itself. Yeah, by this point I’m pretty damn-near decided. The main question is when and how. I reckon I should have saved up enough after next year’s teaching. If only I were going to Morocco and not Jordan next summer; I could save so much money towards it (quit complaining about Jordan and just deal with it, kid). It also means I can dedicate myself to learning Zulu on the side next year. I’ve always wanted to learn an African language. Arabic is just a means to an end. Zulu – now we’re talking. We’re talking Africa and talking Africa is the surest way to my heart. And it always will be. BB x