Pessimism, post-travel blues and a PhD.

Tonight, I am wrapped up warm in bed (for it is a particularly chilly late February evening) with an overwhelming sense of longing for last year’s adventures. Perhaps, it’s a need to escape the embarrassment of having nervously stumbled through the first presentation of my PhD earlier today – my life so far removed from what it was only a couple of months ago. Maybe it’s the pinging of my phone, as friends make plans for climbing adventures, I know I am unlikely to be able to join. Whatever it is, tonight I feel haunted by past adventures that feel simultaneously like a lifetime ago and just yesterday. So, I have finally pried my eyes away from scrolling through photos of last Autumn in Remy (forgive me, aphantasia means I cannot visualise these memories) to put pen to paper once more and spill my thoughts. It is a meditative exercise these days (I miss writing the CUMC bulletin, lol).

Getting back from Spain in December was a shock to the system – a bombardment of people, noise and traffic which comes with the hustle and bustle of life. In fact, it was a literal shock to the system when the bombardment of germs led to a prolonged bout with flu, cold etc for both Sam and me. That’s not to say there was no joy in small home comforts or delight when catching up with friends and family, but rather that I found returning to the UK a challenge. I think these feelings were in large part a consequence of the strong juxtaposition between our time in Remy (where the trees far outweighed the number of people) and the business of a city during the festive season. My senses often became overwhelmed, heightened and on a few occasions, I had to leave the room due to rising panic levels caused by this overstimulation to find fresh air and some quiet. This was the first step of my post-travel grief – post-travel shock and I would have done anything to go back to Spain.

Back with the family, a perk of being home.

However, I was surprised to find how quickly I accepted that our adventures in Remy were over and adjusted back into homelife, eagerly/nervously awaiting the start of my PhD. Adventures were on hold for a while, and I was too preoccupied in the interim to miss them as intensely as when I first arrived home. There were home pleasures too – jigsaws with a fresh cup of coffee in the morning, long dog walks on the beach, scrabble with my Nan and warm showers (I have to admit that I don’t miss horizontal or cup showers). A particular highlight was a few trips to the bowling alley which led to a startling improvement in Sam’s bowling game (how is he so good at everything?). Between arriving home, Christmas celebrations and a trip to London December flew past in a happy flurry. I was hopeful going into the New Year that maybe this being an adult thing would be, alright? Optimistic? Maybe? I certainly wasn’t ready for some of the hurdles put in our path.  

Christmas celebrations.
Friends in London.

Sam’s exciting foray into the world of retail began in January but unfortunately before we had secured accommodation in Manchester. Here, I could follow with a thesis length rant on the rental market, estate agents and landlords but I will reign in my anger and save my readers the agony. Suffice to say we devoted a lot of time in December to finding accommodation but despite calling so many estate agents, viewing numerous properties and putting in many offers we had zero luck and were ultimately accommodation-less. For Sam, commuting in Remy everyday was not feasible and so he temporarily took up residence in Remy in a layby in Stockport. Mind you, this was during a cold snap and Remy recorded his coldest temperatures for many nights in a row. I will forever be profusely sorry to Sam that he ended up in this situation and he took it so well, much more than I or most people I suspect could have. That’s what you get for following your girlfriend to Manchester, eh? Living in a van in Stockport.

The cold snap.

Then it was my turn for a new beginning with the start of my PhD, still accommodation-less. Immediately, I met the struggle of commuting into Manchester via the M56. Having driven down it a million and one times I was completely naïve to the level of traffic that descends en masse at rush hour. There are many roads that may lay claim to the title of “Highway to Hell” but I secretly suspect ACDC once drove along the M56 at rush hour and were really singing about that in their hit song. I know a long commute is far from being the worst thing in life and a good proportion of people face a far worse commute than this January but four hours of driving each day through winter rush hour traffic rapidly sucked the life out of me. Rather than sympathising with those folks who have a nasty commute, I want to grab them by the shoulders, give them a shake and tell them it’s not worth it. Then again, the commute was still preferable to living in Remy in a layby… just! Poor Sam.

January was tough for the both of us, and I felt like I was spiralling out of control. I managed to get the total commute time down by getting up at 6am but accidents on the M56 in wintery conditions were still a frequent occurrence to deal with. I felt like an imposter at the PhD and in typical me-style believed I was a failure and should probably drop out immediately to save face. I had to have a good talking too from Jacquie to tell me I was being silly. This was further compounded by a lack of sleep or rest because days off/spare time were spent house hunting, calling estate agents, and attending viewings. I felt like a pirate teetering along the plank towards imminent doom. Sam, forever the trooper, was sacrificing his lunch breaks to attend viewings and still there was no luck. I hoped to be allowed to work from home a couple of days of the week whilst we dealt with our unprecedented issues so that I could have some space to breathe, reduce my stress levels and be more productive at work. Sadly, this wasn’t to be with the nature of my project (I understand why) and felt like an additional blow to take.

A classic Jacquie pep talk xoxo

I was overwhelmed, highly stressed and very seriously considering running away to the mountains for good! Things got worse when icy conditions derailed my commute and we narrowly lost out on several flats in a row. This all came to a head towards the end of January, and I shed many tears. Deciding that things were unsustainable at this point we decided to book a Travelodge in Stockport for the night to get some relief from the commute/living in Remy. Back in December, Sam’s family had joked about us living in the Stockport Travelodge – I never thought it would become reality!

Bad luck followed us here too and my car’s fuel cap decided it would stop opening despite my best efforts (and the best efforts of the additional manpower recruited from work). This left me with a dilemma – I had exactly enough fuel to get home according to the gauge if I didn’t pick Sam up from work. Sam had been living part time in the van for nearly a month at this point, the least I could do was pick him up. I could take it to a garage, but it was getting late on a Friday but if they couldn’t help, we’d be stuck there. We ultimately decided  that Sam would get the train to my work and we’d take the risk of driving home with family friends recruited along the route as escape options. This all went out of the window when the horrors of the M56 struck again and a huge collision meant a long diversion. In other words, we now didn’t have enough fuel to make it home and all the garages were shut. Sam (obviously, the pragmatic half of our relationship) didn’t see the dilemma and decisively broke the fuel cap off my car when we met up – “let’s just get home tonight, please”.

The following day, Sam was on a late shift when we received a call that a house share, we had previously lost out on was now available – we hastily said yes and finally thought our luck was changing. The fuel cap incident to be the last of our January foes. Sam drove Remy jubilantly that night to his layby in Stockport with the knowledge that this was to be his last night there. Oh, how foolish to think our luck had turned. The next morning disaster struck, and Remy’s immobiliser suddenly failed to recognise the key and so Remy sat stubbornly in the layby refusing to start. Since Sam was also stranded in the layby and unable to make it to work, I drove across to Manchester to rescue him, unfortunately abandoning Remy. A certifiably rubbish month can only be dealt with in one way, screaming from the top of a hill; we made a pitstop at Helsby Hill on the way home (honestly, screaming loudly = my favourite coping mechanism, try it sometime). With our screams echoing down into Helsby, we let our anguish go and hoped for better times ahead.

Remy was thankfully saved by the end of the week, but the bad luck lingered some more including an eye infection and a lack of sleep due to the couple above us who have loud screaming matches at all times of the night (and day for that matter). Whenever there is a hiccup in my life, I am prone to being melodramatic (prior blogs reflect this) and I like to tell Sam I was born under an unlucky star. Usually, Sam gives me a hug, disagrees, and then tells me it’s just the way of life – I think this month he may have started to believe the curse! I am sure moving to a new city and beginning a PhD is meant to feel a bit like you’ve been thrown in the deep end, but the past two months have felt more akin to being waterboarded by the Universe.

A new room, if only it was a place of our own.

It is now late February and things are settling – slowly finding a routine, making friends, and getting reacquainted with lab work (there was one occasion where I believed all my cells had died, only to learn I just couldn’t use the microscope – rusty scientist, indeed). Despite the challenging start, I am enjoying being back in the academic world and excited for what’s to come in the PhD. At the same time, this week has brought an intense desire to be back in Remy and I am feeling the post-travel blues, as if we were back in December and just crossed the English Channel. Big days out in the mountains occupy my dreams and when I finally wake up there is a fleeting moment where I believe I am in Remy, with a picturesque view and a day of possibilities before me. Then, disheartened, reality settles in, and the view is a rainy parking lot, and I am off to work. Of course, I am being melodramatic again and most of the time I am more than happy to be heading to work. I would just also very much like to be in Remy. I think living close to the Peak District and with Sam, will allow the best of both worlds. Hopefully, the weather will soon make a turn for the better and we can dust the cobwebs off Remy. Itch the adventure scratch, as they say. Lessen the post-travel blues. We will be good and happy and forever adventuring.

Off belay,

Bethan (& Sam).

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