My route took me through a town called Wickham, which has one of those big market squares at its central point. I smiled when I saw the sign as Julie used to love it when she saw a name that she recognised from Jane Austen novels (as many of you will know, George Wickham was a character in Pride and Prejudice); “So this is where she got the Wickham’s name from then!” Julie would have commented as we went past the sign.
Thankfully, I avoided the punctures of previous days and made good time to Portsmouth, passing near to the ferry terminal at around 12:30 PM. Another wonderful member of the Widowed & Young charity, Neil Duncan, had offered to meet up with me and duly did so, just near to where he works. Neil treated me to a lovely veggie pizza for lunch, insisting that he was going to load me up with calories for my ride and also insisting that he was going to pay. We agreed that I would put the £20 that I would have paid – if Neil had let me – into the fundraising total for my bike ride; another extremely kind donation by another extremely kind person. Thank you Neil, for taking time out of your day to meet me, for your wonderful company, and for your generosity; I hope to catch up with you again very soon.
I wish that I could have spent more time with Neil - the couple of hours that we did spend together today absolutely flew by - but it was time to leave the restaurant and to head for my ferry, at 2:40 PM. As we stood up, I asked a group of women sitting at the next table if they would kindly take a photograph of Neil and I. “I will, if you'll take one of us,” said one of the women, and the deal was done. “What is the occasion?” one of the women then asked. “You don't really want to know,” I replied. But they did. And so we told them how Neil and I know each other through the Widowed & Young charity, how I am doing a bike ride (and why), and how Neil had kindly arranged to meet up with me, etc. etc. “Where have you ridden from?” the woman then asked. “The Wirral, on Merseyside,” I said. “Oh; she's from Liverpool”, came the reply, as photographer woman pointed to one of her friends. We didn't find out why the Liverpudlian was actually in Portsmouth, but we did learn that it was her birthday … and also, that 2 of the women have been to the Benicassim music festival (my eventual bike ride destination) and loved it; the festival, and the town. So 20 minutes after first standing up and getting ready to leave, Neil and I eventually made it out of the restaurant, and headed off in our separate directions; Neil towards his weekend and a walk around the Isle of Wight; me towards the ferry terminal and an emotional, but hopefully successful, Spanish leg of my ride back to Julie’s beach, and the Benicassim music festival.
This is the first time I have boarded a ferry since Julie and I boarded the Hull ferry, from Rotterdam, on 2nd November 2014. We had undertaken the outward crossing to Rotterdam at the end of September, when there had been no suggestion or fear, that Julie would be dead within five months. I was more concerned about her health on the return journey, but still, the thought that we had entered the beginning of the end of Julie’s life, was far from my mind. I still find it unbearable and unbelievable to think of what was to happen to her during the next few months; incomprehensible, even though my head knows that it did happen. I always knew that boarding the ferry yesterday would be emotional. But I'm not in the motor home; I sold that in December last year (the one and only ‘big’ decision that I have made since Julie died, and most definitely a correct one; I was never ever going to go away in Julie’s motor home on my own). “At least I'm only a foot passenger”, I thought, as I arrived at the ferry terminal; “it will be desperately sad without Julie but at least it will feel a little bit different, not being in the motor home”. But no; when I went to the check-in desk, I learned that I was to be treated as a vehicle for the purposes of boarding … So I had to queue with the cars, and be guided through the lanes toward the boarding ramp, in the way that Julie and I had been, when we boarded in the motor home.
When I did finally board the ferry and walked up to my cabin, I was reminded of our cabin on the Hull/Rotterdam ferry, but it was actually the cruise that we did in 2013 that came more strongly to mind. The cabin on the Santander ferry is not as luxurious as that on the cruise; but that’s where I was, transported back to February 2013 – two years before Julie died, and when she was at her most settled and relaxed during the five years that she spent living with cancer. And as I unpacked my bags, I could see Julie unpacking them; organising us; being so particular about where our toiletries would be put and how our clothes would be hung. Julie always had a particular way that she liked to do things; a beautiful way. She did what she needed to do and it was always simple; with no fuss. And when I picture Julie performing a task like this, it is almost as if she hasn’t died; she is living on in my memory and therefore, in some parallel world. A world in which she is physically dead runs parallel with the one in which she remains alive, though only in my mind; in my memory tapes. That can be quite confusing and bewildering; and, of course, is always devastatingly sad.