Bit of a delay in reposting this one, but here goes:
Column posted in Observant, Maastricht
It is 1970s England. At least, I think it is – the timeline is a bit unclear. My parents, in their early twenties, get on a plane – or is it a boat? – and set out for the other side of the world. They are trading in the grim coal mines of northern England for a new life on the beaches of Australia.
They arrive in Perth, on the west coast. They are aiming for Sydney, in the east, but the tickets to Perth are cheaper, and how far can it be anyway? Far, as it turns out. Perth to Sydney is further than Maastricht to Moscow. The train conductor seems happy to have guests on board for the long journey across the desert. It’s a Monday. “I’ll wake you on Thursday”, he says. “We’re passing a tree then.”
From Sydney, they head south and pick out a quiet town by a river. They buy a caravan and pass the years happily, until one night the river floods and they wake up several kilometres downstream. They decide to splash out on a real house, one without wheels. Eventually, they get married – or do they? – and have kids.
In their old age, the details of the whole radical adventure have blurred. When did they move to Australia? my sister and I ask. “Oh, a long time ago”, they say. There are no wedding photos, no rings. When exactly did they get married? “Oh, some time in the seventies, I should think.”
I was the same age they had been when I followed in their footsteps, but in reverse: from Australia to Germany, the Netherlands and finally – all the way back to my roots – the UK. A few years ago I even went to see their old home town. I called them from the car to let them know. “Ooh, I wouldn’t recommend that”, they said.
Now, they will return to Europe for the first time since they left, over forty years ago: first to Amsterdam for my wedding, then Paris, Prague and Geneva, and finally my PhD graduation in Cambridge. Of this adventure, there will definitely be photos.