Here I am, somewhere in Highgate in London on this quiet Sunday morning, listening to Zucchero, Bocelli, and Pavarotti sing Miserere ... as I attempt to write my storyhere. The one that began midday last Thursday.
Martin, a truly lovely New Zealand friend of mine who lives in Belgium, picked me up for the first leg of my long journey. I met Martin back in 2006 when I didn't quite have permission to work in Belgium. I was told that Martin could do with some voluntary help with projects he was organising out on Flanders Fields. Since then he's become like a much-loved family member and, even better, traveling with him always means I get to hear his stories of those days when he was a journalist back in NZ, or worked in a war zone for the Red Cross in Cambodia. Then there are those tales of his life lived in London and we also get to talk of the projects we're working on in Belgium.
It was through Martin that I discovered the Peace Village in Messines and that was where he dropped me off on Thursday. I wandered in and was so warmly greeted and later, cared for, by those people over in the west corner of Belgium. It was good to be back.
I was there to attend a 30,000th Last Post ceremony, one of two Kiwis at the New Zealand war memorial ceremony organised by the Peace Village. And I was photographer too. They introduced me to a local television crew and I was duly interviewed.
The time spent there was so pleasurable that it seemed slightly surreal. Then again ... that could be said of so many of the experiences that have led to me to sitting down here to write.
After the ceremony, Simon delivered me to Steven and Isabel's place in Ieper. They became friends of mine way back when ... Martin had introduced me to Steven, one of the brilliant historians out on Flanders Fields but more than that, Steven's a man of many talents, and does an incredible job in the city of Mesen. He is pure gold as a friend too.
It was 9.30pm and there we were, gathered round their kitchen table with a bottle of wine, or two. There was much conversation and laughter and I would have loved to have stayed longer but Howard and Martin arrived at 11pm, fresh from time spent in the presence of the Belgian Queen. They were invited guests at the actual 30,000th Last Post ceremony in Ieper.
Howard and I left almost immediately, as we were heading for the 2am ferry sailing in Dunkirk.
Howard is another really special person. He's also a friend of Martin's, one I've always enjoyed catching up with over the years. He's UK-based Kiwi who organises the most fantastic ski trips in the Austrian mountains. I need to get his website details for you one day soon.
We talked as we traveled and later, on the boat, slept sitting up in the most uncomfortable chairs. He told me how this was possible. I believed him and we woke up as the boat began docking in Dover. We traveled on through the dawning of the new day ... which was really impressive. The British landscape was revealed as the day filled with light.
I phoned ahead to Teresa when we were close to her place. She's another Kiwi, based here in London, one I met out on Flanders Fields. She was dressed in her Maori performance clothes that first time, part if the London New Zealand Maori group - Ngati Ranana. We became friends and, ohmygoodness, I feel so lucky to have this lovely soul in my world.
Note: I'm not exaggerating. I really do know all these good people and get to call them friends. I don't take it forgranted.
We arrived at Teresa's at 5.30am. She had made my bed. I fell into it and she went back to hers. I woke again just before 9am ... and honestly, it's been a bit of a magic carpet ride since.
I feel like I needed to write this all down because it has been a cascade of experiences, of sights seen, and good people. I've been out on two work visits with Teresa and have met some of her clients. That has been a privilege. I have admired beautiful tiny newborn babies and quietly watched as their parents displayed an incredible depth of love for these tiny people newly-arrived in their lives.
Friday night found us at the pub, out in the garden, eating fish and chips and sharing a bottle of Spanish red wine. Afterwards we wandered back to Teresa's to watch The Pa Boys - that New Zealand movie I love. It was a delicious way to end my first, very full day, in London.
Saturday and we had much to do. We were out the door early, stopping at a cafe for an espresso to drink on the run. That was me, top deck, front seat on one of the big red London buses ... passing Hampstead Heath and all kinds of other places I had only read of.
We worked hard all morning, then headed out on a client visit, meeting yet another lovely family. The kindness of people here ... it staggers me. Well really, the kindness of everyone involved in this journey of mine has truly stunned and humbled me.
So much kindness.
Last night found us at a 1920's garden party in the home of a lovely couple. She is a photographer and a doula, and he is a teacher. They're returning to her Spanish world and were giving a party, as were their neighbours. It was extraordinary. There was a great band, lots of Cava, divine food, and conversations that meant I was smiling when I woke up and remembered them this morning.
We danced. Everyone danced. I haven't danced like that since those 'disco days', back when I was a teenager. Mmmm, although I have to admit to being rather slow this morning. My knees ache. We were laughing as we walked up the hill ... groaning and laughing. I was off in search of coffee and Teresa has a day at work.
The double-decker red bus last night ... it was full of friendly people, as we traveled home well after midnight. I chatted with a woman whose son lives in Perth, Australia, and a rather drunk young woman who removed her bustier-like top as we drove along the road. Somehow it was all okay. There's a softness here that I'm enjoying.
And my remarkable friends ... I know good people all over the world and I think this might just make me incredibly rich in a way that matters. Many things are changing in my life in these days and they'll be unfolding in the weeks and months ahead. I'm in London for a little longer and will save tonight's plans for a blog post of their own.
Actually, I can't believe what's happening tonight and so I'll wait until it's all done before writing of it but really, it just might be magnificent.
The photograph was a 'selfie', taken on a big red double decker London bus as we traveled over to the party last night. 1920's ...