Belfast Telegraph

Saying goodbye to love of my life on my very own ashes tour ...

By Nuala McKeever

Money, tickets, passport. Money, tickets, passport. Welcome to my world of lists. In preparation for a six-week trip away, life round here has been reduced to vertical lines of short words and phrases on bits of paper.

Buy cat food; top-up gas; get currency; post car insurance; call X re Y; email Y re Z; get friends with proper names, not just initials ...

On the home straight now, the last 100 metres, the final furlong, the ... oh God, please, stop making lists!

I've become paralysed without a to-do scrap of paper in my hand. Come 11pm, I'm on the couch, motionless. What do I do now? Get up and make camomile tea or wash face first then do hot water bottle THEN tea? Or should I plan tomorrow's activities first and then get up? Or go to bed and write the new list there? What to do? Help!

Every half hour of this week has been micro-managed to within an inch of its life. There's so much to think about when you're going to be out of the country for a month and a half. You can't just abandon your life, you have to pack dozens of preparations into one week, so you can go and try to relax somewhere else for a week or two, before picking up the pieces again, somewhere else, for a month.

Wasn't it better in the old days when, if you went away, you actually went away? No one could get in touch and no one expected you to be contactable. Wow! What freedom and simplicity that would bring.

Now you go away but you still have to behave as if you're here. You just have to do it all via email from someone else's Wifi and in a different time zone.

And there's all the reactions to contend with as you prepare. From "Huh! It's well for some who can take six weeks off!", to "Six weeks away! Lucky you!", to "Wow, that's some trip, it'll be fantastic!"

All possibly reasonable enough except it's not really a holiday and it's not probably all going to be fantastic and the only reason I'm doing it is because the love of my life is now without his. It's The Ashes tour, without the cricket. Visiting places of importance to Mike, finally to his homeland to be there with his family and friends on his anniversary. So yes, it'll be lovely to be in sunshine and it'll be great to see them all. But if I had my druthers as they say in the States (as in "I'druther do this", as in "I'd rather") I'd be enjoying a fairly unremarkable six weeks right here, complaining about the weather and the politics and appreciating the brighter evenings and the wonderful people who make up for the awful politics and enjoying life with no lists apart from the usual: "Milk, bread, dental floss ..."

But it is what it is. And in the spirit of living this life, rather than any other life that I might think I'd prefer, I'm embracing the excitement with Zen-like calm and un-Zen-like "Holy smoke, what the heck am I DOING?!"

Don't even get me started on leaving my cat. At least she's got a friend sitting for her and the house. So if you're thinking of breaking in, don't bother. The sitter's bigger than I am!

So, one last look round the house – bed changed, toilet roll stacked in cupboard, gas topped up, money for the window cleaner on the hall stand, list completed.

See you in two weeks here, if not in person.

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