32 || The Home Coming
Updated: Feb 24
July 2020 (Jax)
I returned to England in July 2020 to conclude my mother’s estate. At this point we assumed the borders to the USA would open within a few weeks aiding my return to the boat.
The business was completed and my feelings were mixed, tinged with deep sadness, but content I was able to fulfil my mother’s wish. I had finally settled my soul. My family are locked together in our place. The place which moulded my three brothers and I. We are bound together because of it and how we grew up nestled within its walls. I feel it is this bond my mother was keen for us to maintain.
The summer unfolded. I spent the months travelling between Palma and Norwich visiting Sophia. On occasion, Dugald, Katherine, Gemma and Fenella came too. We made some memories, including celebrating Gemma’s birthday while Iain was locked in the USA ticking off the never decreasing list and waiting.
Iain achieved many great firsts and has every reason to feel proud. His greatest achievement being his single handed return from Hampton, Virginia, to Antigua with The Salty Dogs Rally in November.
Months passed. There were lockdowns, quarantines, isolation, and of course the virus. All the same factors which have affected the world. But from every adversity comes an opportunity.
I was very fortunate to have most of our nieces visit me, a delight to have each to myself, to catch up and reacquaint myself with the grown up version of our girls. Some stayed for the day, others the night, but however long they stayed, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to spend time with them. I adore each of them for their individuality and determination to make the very best of their lives through every adversity they face.
I bought and arranged flowers, I foraged in the hedgerow and delighted in expressing my joy in a creativity which was all mine own. The house was permanently filled with my creations.
Dugald and Fenella contracted COVID while I was in Palma. I could not return to the house in Norwich to be with them, but also, at this point, we still had holiday bookings for our home in Ringland. I was facing the sorry prospect of two weeks in a studio flat above a pub to comply with my quarantine rules. I could do it! I have crossed an ocean. What’s two weeks with Netflix and chocolate? As fate would have it, hours before my return, the rules changed banning groups of 15 people from meeting which meant all our holiday bookings in our home were cancelled. I could go home! The first of my opportunities.
By mid summer, I had become quite the seasoned traveller. I have a selection of all that is needed to function in three different places, on the boat, in Palma and in Norwich. I carry my passport and a bank card at all times. Travel is simple.
I arrived in Norwich. Dugald would not open the door, neither would he put some clothes or essentials in a bag on the door step. Dugald banished me to Ringland with only the clothes I stood in.
Another opportunity arose. An Internet shop from Sainsbury’s sorted my sustenance and my attire. So with only my chickens for company I settled into two weeks of solitude at the end of which Dugald and Fenella would be clear to leave Norwich and we could all take up residence in our family home until lockdown was lifted or Christmas arrived when we had a very large family reunion planned.
How did any of us survive before online shopping? A marvellous development in technology which has flourished in these times of adversity. I was happy to be in our home where so many memories are steeped in the brickwork of every room. I did not miss anyone, they were all with me where ever I went. I had missed the soil, however, the smell of growth and the promise of new beginnings spurned me on to create life.
Again, an opportunity arose, I hit the internet, I bought bulbs by the hundreds. In the midst of this frenzy of bulb purchasing, it was my birthday. Katherine came to stay and we had a very pleasant day planting up pots. We made great plans for the many pots and beds to produce a riot of colour and texture for spring. It will be spectacular. Digging commenced and continued for some time. I was happy.
Most things computer based are a struggle. I have astounded myself at how quickly I have mastered this form of technology. I infuriate all the younger members of our family, starting with the terminology, phrasing and all the way through to application. But moving items to a basket from a selection of many, seems logical and necessary.
In one of my weaker moments I ordered nine pairs of designer shoes which arrived within 24 hours, all beautifully packaged, with individual shoe bags in the correct size and colours. What a triumph over these adverse times facing us all. I had mastered the iCloud (I think).
After the initial thrill of opening these perfectly packaged delights, I realised I had spent the last 18 months in the same pair of plastic flip flops and these perfectly formed beauties would never see the light of day….. All except one pair of killer, hand made, leather; as soft as gossamer, kitten-heeled sling backs in a very bold tiger print. These will be returning to the Caribbean to grace the romantic evenings ashore. Picture the scene. A 1950’s Hollywood film set. Strolling hand in hand along the white warm soft sand to a perfectly placed beach fronted hotel to sip cocktails and watch the sun setting over the horizon of an aqua marine sea. With one click, the other eight pairs were sent back. Donna, our DPD driver came to collect them the next morning.
As we all know, lockdown continued, our home could not be let, so I stayed. Christmas was fast approaching and the excitement was building within me at the prospect of having my family around me once more. Over the years, I have watched my chickens scurry around the garden keeping a check on their chicks, collecting them up at the threat of danger. I felt an affinity to them. I began fluffing.
Christmas was being organised. I could not sleep for ideas running through my head. It had to be the best home coming for everyone. We had planned a large family gathering of both sides of our clan in Norwich and Ringland. It was going to be just what we all needed. Catching up after 18 months apart and meeting the new members of the next generation.
However, restrictions tightened and we consoled ourselves with six of us staying in the school, and being joined by Iain’s sister, Christine, Mark and Hamish for Christmas Day.
Dugald came home earlier than expected and we began the Christmas Campaign. First on the list was the Christmas tree. This was not an online purchase. Dugald and I were going lumber jacking for the perfect tree. We had instructions from Matt, the largest we could accommodate in the trailer was 14ft, but smaller would be ideal. So armed with an industrial length tape measure, plenty of rope, builders gloves and the now familiar regulation face mask, we set off in Matt’s work van pulling the trailer. It’s fair to say, Matt’s look of terror, and Jenny’s giggling were unfounded. Whilst it was true, it was 14 years since I towed the horse trailer for one of the many events for Sophia and her pony, Reo, I hadn’t lost it! I missed the gate post and the bank on the other side of the drive as we sped onward in search of our quest.
It was only the fourth of December. The choice was going to be endless and it was. As we drove in, we saw a fine specimen, Blue Spruce, bushy, branches evenly spaced down the trunk (Iain would appreciate the symmetry), smelling of pine forests and gluhwein, conjuring thoughts of skiing slops and apres ski. This was the one. The first tree we saw. It looked about the right size. It wasn’t as large as some on the site, yes about 14ft and the fork lift lorry transported it onto the trailer with ease.
Using our best sailor’s knots we secured the tree and drove back, unscathed.
Matt was not impressed, Jenny was still giggling. We were sure the tree was within the measurements. It definitely was not the largest one in the farmer’s yard. Dugald found the tape measure in the glove box and we measured. So fine, it was a little larger at 17ft, but hey! In true Berlie fashion, I was not going to be defeated by a few feet! I’ve survived waves bigger than that tree!
It’s going up and it’s going up in one hit. Which it did. Of course, there is a system for getting our Christmas trees erected. We all know the drill, we’ve followed it for 20 years, however, this was a little larger and heavier than its predecessors. I think, I had a point to prove. I had survived for six months, juggling the many elements to our changing lives, trying to hold my family together while we were scattered around the world, waiting. We could get this tree up. We would make it worth the wait.
It took four of us and many scratches to a very shiny, waxed and buffed wooden floor. Matt’s pride and joy, was being devastated to prove a point. I think he knew this, and kindly said he could renovate the floor again. We scrambled and pushed, we heaved and hauled, Matt and Dugald got trapped in the branches between the wall and the floor while Jenny extracted branches, pulled and pushed while I tried to keep the bucket over the end of the trunk. Eventually, up it went. Another triumph to add to our list!
We secured the tree to the wall, filled the bucket with water and spent days decorating the tree and house.
For the first time ever, I bought some outside lights. Not being familiar with how this works, Matt took charge while Jenny and I changed our minds several times on the position as Matt went up and down the ladder obliging our whims on trees, hedges and bushes. Matt was very amused, thinking of what Iain would say, should he hear he had spent the day “playing” with fairy lights and the girls. We decided to leave that bit out when Iain got home.
Matt and Jenny helped enormously and I am forever grateful to them both for looking after our home and us while we are away but mostly for looking after me when I have been home.
By the middle of December I was an absolute demon on the computer. I could
sniff out a next day delivery within two clicks. I sourced and wrapped from every corner of the country. Everyone was thought of and my relationships with the delivery drivers has gone from strength to strength.
Finally, the day arrived. Within 48 hours everyone was home. Iain from Antigua, Sophia from Palma, Gemma from Bristol, and Grandma from Norfolk. We were set for a week of togetherness.
It was the Christmas we all needed. We had three weeks of relaxing and regrouping. I had forgotten how tranquil home life could be. We exhaled and fell into a rhythm which nurtured us back to health in the knowledge we could weather whatever the new year will bring. Thankfully tranquillity reigned for the three weeks everyone was home. That was good enough for me.
(Slide show below)
New Year was another quiet celebration, but Iain and Dugald made it very memorable. Iain built a shelter and cooking station while Dugald helped with a roaring fire. The girls prepared the food. Great fun was had by all.
(Slide show below)
By the first week of January 2021, it was time for our family to disband. Gemma and Grandma returned to their lives and Iain and Sophia left for Antigua and the boat. The plan was for Iain and Sophia to have a few weeks together tackling some of the larger boat jobs while Dugald and I organised our student homes and holiday rentals in Norfolk. Within a week, restrictions were tightening again, with fears we may not be able to get to Antigua if the rumours of closing their boarders came to fruition. The prospect of another six months apart, in different places seemed daunting. We decided to weather this lockdown together. Dugald and I moved our flights forward to join the boat and become a proper water gypsy family.
This had thrown my plans of spending the next winter month and lockdown in front of my log fire knitting for all the new members of our families with a warming glass of something. But, with great haste we packed bags with the essentials, organised COVID tests and three days later we were leaving. As I didn’t need any clothes, by baggage allowance was taken up by coffee pods, art supplies, some computer accessories, numerous spare parts for the boat, all the knitting projects and of course my killer heels.
In the six months apart, I think Iain and I settled into a routine, or perhaps we just decided not to miss each other as it was a futile waste of emotions which could not be changed. When we united at Christmas, we fell into our dance which felt reassuring and familiar for all around us. I was keen to keep this feeling alive, I wanted my husband to see me standing on the pontoon and remember us. I was keen for him to feel warm and fuzzy.
The flight was as expected from British Airways. Very efficient and relaxing. Everyone had space and followed the requests of the airline staff. A very British experience.
Within eight hours we were in the sun. All the criteria had been met for us to join the boat.
The boat was at anchor in Jolly Harbour, we were to phone when we were on the pontoon. Iain would collect us in the rib. We were going to spend some time together sailing just the four of us. Life was finally working in our favour.
We could see Iain approaching in the dinghy, intent on arriving efficiently and dry, keen for us to admire our brand new tender. I quickly took my heels out of my bag, I slipped my feet into them and stepped forward towards Iain. He was beaming at us, definitely thrilled by something. The first sole touched the wooden pontoon, with the second step, the heel disappeared between the gaps in the boarding taking all the leather off the back of the shaft. I realised the error of my choice of footwear, and just like that my dream evaporated.
I retreated to the bench and sat down, hoping my husband would get out of the dinghy and come to me. But he didn’t. I had a cross look on my face, and he didn’t understand why I was sitting on a bench looking disgruntled expecting to be waited on. Since when was I incapable of carrying a bag? And to make matters worse we were in the wrong dinghy dock. He had to make an extra journey to find us.
Personally, I thought we had achieved great things with just the instruction to meet in Jolly Harbour Marina, Antigua. However, it is true, I had failed to research the marina to ascertain how many docks were in the marina.
My shoes are damaged, they are in the cupboard taking up valuable space, never to see the light of day again. My Hollywood moment failed me, but reinforced my knowledge that it is only I who dream of romance and happy endings. Shoes are definitely for Cinderella.