Carol Johnston: Homeward bound...I wish I was

Exiled Northumbrian Carol Johnston writes movingly from her home in New Zealand about missed opportunities and thoughts of home

Carol Johnston of Guide Post
Carol Johnston of Guide Post

This time last year I was sitting in New Zealand, tired, stressed and rather sad, writing reports for the kids in my school class.

I was also extremely excited about coming home to my beloved Northumberland, flights booked to arrive on Christmas Eve. The night I booked the tickets I cried for an hour with relief and excitement. I hadn’t been ‘home’ in almost four years. I needed the visit badly.

I wanted to see my parents, my brother and his family, my best friend and the friends I love, unconditionally.

Such memories: gazing at the departure gate at Dubai and seeing my flight number to Newcastle. . . the flight attendants’ familiar Geordie accents on the final leg of a very long journey. . . seeing the coastline and the new landmark (‘Northumberlandia’ it read and I thought “What the hell is THAT?”) as the plane approached Newcastle Airport.

My nose was pressed flat to the window as we touched down. First off the plane and miraculously straight through customs in Newcastle, I ran weeping through the Arrivals yelling: “I’m home!”

Hugs and kisses from family and friends, mam had a Gregg’s pasty waiting for me. I ate it before I even got in the car! It was as if I’d never been away at all.

Christmas Day was spent with with mam and dad and my brother; just the four of us, for the first time in almost 30 years. And what joy when I opened dad’s morning paper, The Journal a week or so later to read an article I had written about my love for Northumberland and its people’s (MY people’s!) humour which I’d forgotten about in the time I’d been away. And the look of pride on my parents faces when they read it.

I still get David Banks’ weekly columns sent out by my mam “to keep my spirits up” (they do!)

Returning to New Zealand I cried more than I ever cried before, I cried all the way to Dubai. Wretched with tiredness, I cried myself to sleep in the hotel before the brutal second leg of the long haul back.

Now, here we are, almost a year on. A number of poignant things happened today.

A lady from two doors away passed my window, walking on crutches. The last time I saw her was just before last year’s trip home when she agreed to ‘keep an eye on things’ while I was away. She has since had a knee replacement and was out exercising. Running out to say hello, we hugged on the street and wondered ‘where the time had gone’. The plans we had made to catch up and get to know each other better hadn’t happened. Why not? We simply hadn’t made the time.

Then a phone call to tell me a dear friend of mine had passed away a month ago. All my ideas about going to see him and his wife during the year hadn’t happened. Why not? That dreaded ‘time’ again.

Another message, this time from someone I met four years ago whom I’d adored. But who didn’t adore me back. It hurt at the time and it still stings a bit now if I’m honest! He is now experiencing those feelings; so why did our relationship not happen? The wrong time again: he wasn’t ready then, and now I’ve moved on.

My daughter, who has been staying with me, has gone to her father’s place for a few days and I am alone, only my dog for company.

And suddenly I DO have time. Time to reflect. And so I sit here and write.

Here in New Zealand it’s my father’s 79th birthday; in the UK he’ll still be 78 for another 12 hours. I sent red roses, the most I could afford, just to say ‘I love you dad.’ And to let him know how much I miss him. He used to grow them, you see, and he’s been ill for the last few weeks, a few days spent in hospital. Mam had an MRI scan last week, too.

And where am I when all of this is happening? Too far away to help. Again.

But today has also caused me to start thinking seriously about doing something I have been thinking about for a long time: going home to Tyneside for good.

I can’t get the idea out of my head. The thought of it scares me witless: packing up my home, selling my belongings and starting again in my early fifties is frightening, not to mention finding a job and supporting myself!

But I know in my heart I must do it, before my time is up. I have to go home, to feel like I belong again. I want to feel like I matter, that I am valued again. And most of all I want to feel loved again.

New Zealand is a beautiful country but for me there is no greater beauty than the hills of Northumberland, the bridges of the Tyne or the warmth of my people and our culture. I have a feeling that it is going to happen sooner than I expect. Because time is of the essence.

Happy Christmas, everyone. And my greatest love to you all for 2015. Maybe I’ll see some of you in late 2015 when I am home to see my brother marry the love of his life.

He found her. . . just in time!


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