the grasslands in Qinghai

This isn’t a story about regret. It’s recognising that there’s a big list of really great ideas that I’ve had at different points in my life that may have slipped into the world of fantasy. Take horses for instance. Maybe it was the years of growing up with early TV that was full of Westerns and people galloping off towards the horizon – the very wide horizon. I don’t think it was the galloping off bit that got me, it was the sense of freedom when you’re on a horse in wide open country. Actually, it’s quite hard to be in wide open country without a horse and it is wonderful to be carried around amazing places with no roads anywhere, for miles. But those cowboys had grown up on horses and so of course, there was no fear and they just trundled off to wherever they wanted with relaxed ease.

I had a friend in Ireland who lived in a gypsy caravan. It was a tiny space and a really neat place to live but a caravan needs something to pull it and she had two very sneaky and bad tempered horses. To be fair, only one of them was nasty but he was the biggest. To get to the caravan it was necessary to cross the farm yard and sometimes the horses wouldn’t let me in. I had to shout for my friend to rescue me. She was tiny but she just shouted at the horses and they ran away – they could obviously smell the fear. One stoned caravan conversation lead to another and pretty soon we had planned a trip to India – the two of us in the caravan – with the horses of course … it never happened.

I’m planning a trip to Mongolia right now and I had just decided to stay in a ger and learn how to make mare’s milk alcohol when I opened a web page with loads of pictures of people trekking across the wonderful Mongolian countryside. For about five minutes I fell into a fantasy about being on the horses and how wonderful it would be to go across that landscape. Then suddenly I reminded myself that I would hate it, probably after the first ten minutes, I’d hate it. But I thought about how much I wanted to do it.

I think I had a chink of a reality check – for the first time I almost admitted that I’m never going to have the kind of relationship with a horse that I have always dreamed of. I think the fear of falling off and breaking a bone has has made me too cautious. It’s not the actually breaking of the bone that’s the problem, it’s the hassle of being incapacitated and be stuck somewhere – I really don’t have time for broken bones these days. So it seems that riding out to the horizon with my trusty friend, the horse, is not going to happen.

horsesAn update on that – I went to Mongolia and right enough, everyone was galloping around on horses. In fact, I’ve never seen so many horses and I’ve never been in such endless open country. I only got to see a very small part of a huge place so naturally I made a plan to come back for 3 or 4 months and buy a horse and just wander about. I felt confident that at the end of that time I’d be a seasoned rider. This plan has come back onto the list.

However, to quote Baldrig, I have a cunning plan if it doesn’t happen. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be reincarnated again after I die, this time, and I choose to believe that I’ll have some kind of choice in the matter. So I’m going to be reborn as a Tibetan man. They all look really amazing and gorgeous – they give off an air of being completely confident in their environment. They wear the most complicated clothes with such panache and they can do anything on a horse – bareback. If I don’t have time to do it in this life, it’ll happen in the next.

I also haven’t been to Africa yet. It’s such a big word and we use it quite blithely but at this point I’m thinking about the main central bit of Africa, around the Equator, which is obviously an exotic place to hang out for a while. But thinking about why I haven’t been there, this is a case of not choosing to look for the opportunities because it wasn’t the right time – it just wasn’t high enough up on the list. …. but maybe it’s time is coming.

the Mongolian ger with two calves having a look around
the Mongolian ger with two calves having a look around

One thing that I have appreciated about working in China is that I’ve had to use my brain instead of my hands and I realise it’s one of those things that I have to do in large chunks. After a couple of years working with soil, flowers, vegetables and mud again, I might be ready for an another academic break but being a student this time. After a bit of nosing around, I discovered some Universities in Kenya. This is obviously the perfect opportunity to spend a couple of years exploring Africa, so that’s something has hasn’t happened but quite possibly will.

Two journeys that haven’t happened are both on the Pacific coast – at opposite ends. I really don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to go to Patagonia. Maybe it’s the name? I know that it rains – a lot! There’s impenetrable rain forest and mountains, nobody lives there and the sea is never ever flat and calm. If the opportunity came up, I know I’d go and I don’t mind that I don’t know why.

If you travel from there just north and further north you’ll come to Alaska – another cold and inhospitable place but I just want to see this from the sea. I’d like to go in and out of the fiords and look at glaciers. This had the potential to happen once. I came across a volunteer’s name on Helpx and it was so remarkable that I had to contact him and say so. His name was Genghis Muskox – just one of the best names ever. It turned out that he lived in Alaska and had a boat. Great opportunity and totally no money or even an income. The connection was always there though but sadly, before I even got to meet him, Genghis was killed in bar fight somewhere in Alaska. He seemed to be the kind of guy who lived up to his name and I’m sorry I never met him.

Talking of boats……this is something that never really goes off the list – it just slips out of the top 3 things sometimes and it takes very little for it to surge back up.

Although I grew up very near to the sea and it’s always been a part of my life, I had never really considered having a boat until I went to live in Ireland. The image right now might be a pretty little whitewashed cottage near a windswept Atlantic beach but no…. I lived in County Leitrim, very near to the Shannon Erne Canal.

The River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland, which doesn’t really make it very long but its all relative. You can go to the Shannon Pot in West Cavan and see the source of the river. It comes from an underground spring and bubbles up in the centre of deep dark pool in the middle of a boggy field. It would usually be raining in that part of Ireland so there’s something very intriguing about walking through a wet muddy field, in the rain to watch a slight movement of water a few metres out in a large pond – a very pleasant Irish afternoon. So then the Shannon meanders south through Ireland and hits the sea south of Limerick. It goes in and out of a few lakes on the way and the Canal was build to make the lake area navigable right up to Loch Erne in Co Fermanagh. A most enjoyable way to visit Ireland, I guess and besides the flashy white cruisers, there are a number of narrow boats and other interesting vessels, for want of a better phrase.

I had never lived near a lake or an active canal before and as there are paths around and along them, it’s a pleasant occupation to sit and watch these boats, especially around the locks. One thing I did notice was that the vast majority of the people doing the steering on these boats were men – often wearing some kind of Captain’s hat and shouting a lot.

It was probably the very first afternoon that I sat watching these boats that the idea sprung into my head that it would be fun to live on a canal boat. I found the white fibreglass cruisers very bland but it was a maroon coloured wooden boat with lots of plants and a cat that grabbed my attention. I got talking to someone and found out that there are no mooring charges in Ireland and there’s quite an extensive network of canals going right down to Wexford. Lots of potential for fantasy conversations with myself here!

Things moved onto another level some weeks later when I discovered a magazine called ‘Buy a boat for under £10,000’. Not that I had that amount of money but the magazine was full of pictures and small ads and I started to get the vocabulary to go with boat life. Then I saw it! ‘The African Queen of the Shannon’ – that was it – the perfect boat – just what I was looking for. Wooden, old and full of character and I imagined myself as Humphrey Bogart at the tiller. Actually it had a wheel but lets not be pedantic. I didn’t have the money of course, but I couldn’t stop myself contacting the seller. Too my dismay, it had already been sold but that image of the ideal boat stuck around in my head.

I realised that some of these boats for sale were in the UK so that would involve sailing across the Irish Sea – hmm – this openedpirates2 up a whole new world. Why was I limiting myself to canals and lakes? Why didn’t I think about a proper boat and actually sail around real seas to different countries….in the sun. And I have thought about that – often. It hasn’t happened yet but it’s got the most potential. I can really see myself as a female Jack Sparrow at the wheel of the Black and White Pearl…..

It doesn’t really matter how it takes for something to happen – take the Trans Siberian Railway for example. Steph and I first started talking about that when we lived in London in the early 70s and I did it in 2016 – it only took me 43 years but it happened.