One of my dearest friends said to me recently 'I believe you should always follow your heart - and you have'. At the time I thought 'Aw, what a lovely thing to say!' but upon mulling things over further I can categorically say that I am indeed a heart follower, if there is such a term. Sure, I may not always make the smartest or most logical decision but when it happens I can no more ignore it than the nose on my face and I can't imagine this will ever change.
One prime example of following my heart was running off to the other side of the world with the local barman when I was 19. That's me on the left, with one of my best mates Julie shortly before I left. Prior to meeting a real Kiwi bloke it was fair to say my knowledge of New Zealand was limited. I thought it was about as far away as France, that the entire population was Maori and wore grass skirts and lived predominantly on kiwi fruit. Such was my enormous life experience. I had no money, no qualifications, no real job prospects and my domestic skills were limited to say the least. I remember the first conversation I ever had with my prospective father-in-law, in which I was stuffed into a public phone box and handed the phone. It went something like this:
'Hello! Um - is it alright if I come and stay then?'
'Well that all depends! Can you clean?'
'Er yes, yes I can clean!'
'Oh that's good. Can you cook?'
'Well... I can cook scrambled eggs!'
'Ah. Well it should be alright then.'
Of course as soon as I met him in person a few weeks later I realised he was the biggest joker I had - and would - ever come across but after that I spent many a sleepless night worrying about my lack of domestic prowess. It didn't help that everyone said I wouldn't last five minutes over there. My friends, when I announced I was going to live in New Zealand in six weeks' time naturally thought I was mad. After all, I had never managed to hold down a relationship for longer than three weeks before, what in heaven's name was I thinking? 'You'll be back in six weeks', my best friend's mum said confidently, patting me on the shoulder. As for my elderly next door neighbours, they were utterly convinced I was being taken over there to join the white slave trade and that would be the last they saw of me. 'How can you let her go?!' they asked my parents in genuine horror. Granted, mum and dad had more than a few misgivings but were working on the theory that if they kept me on a long enough piece of elastic eventually I would bounce back.
Walking through the departure gate and leaving my parents and my friends behind, all of us in floods of tears, was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. They had given me letters and gifts, which I had strict instructions not to open until I was on the plane, but not being a patient type I opened them as soon as I sat down in the departure lounge. Upon reading them I swear the only reason I didn't run back out to join them was because I knew it was too late, they would already have left Heathrow and be on their way home. There were no mobile phones back in 1992 either, which was probably just as well!
I knew I had no choice but to stay put in the departure lounge and nervously await my fate. To say I hate flying is an understatement. Even just being in the airport is traumatic for me as I eye everyone up suspiciously, assessing whether they are likely terrorist material. So I was more than a little perturbed to spot a dodgy looking bloke across the other side of the lounge carrying nothing more than a guitar. Covered in tattoos and with dreadlocks Bob Marley himself would have envied, I hoped and prayed he wasn't on my plane. Not only was he on my plane, I was soon to discover he would be my constant companion all the way from England to Australia as we occupied the two seats next to each other at the very back of the plane.
'Hi, I'm Danny', he said with a huge grin and shook my hand. Appearances can of course be deceiving and apart from his overpowering body odour and a rather sort of - herbal scent, I soon decided Danny was alright. 'So where are you off to?' he asked. 'I'm going to stay with my boyfriend in New Zealand', I told him. 'Oh cool! Yeah, I'm going to visit my girlfriend. She's in Sydney'. However as we settled into deeper conversation I realised that Danny's situation was quite a lot different to mine. Instead of being met at the airport by his adoring girlfriend, she had no idea that he was coming. I mean, she knew he was coming one day, but just not exactly when. On top of that, he didn't know where she lived and had no way of getting in touch with her. Talk about a leap of faith! I was more than a little concerned at the prospect of my new friend being unceremoniously deposited on the other side of the world without knowing a soul and nothing but a guitar to his name but he didn't seem remotely worried. 'If it's meant to be, I'll find her', he said confidently. I still wonder what happened to Danny and hope everything worked out for him. At the time I thought he was mad - brave, but mad - but this morning I realised for the first time that he was simply following his heart. That's pretty cool!
I left Danny in Sydney and continued the final few hours to Auckland. As we began our descent I took one look at the new country I was flying in to and burst into tears. I was a long, long way from home. At this point I also got really scared. Noel and I had only been together four months - what if he had changed his mind? After all, our first date was going to London on the train to book his plane ticket back
home. Hardly the most reassuring start to a relationship! I came through the arrival gates in fear and trepidation - but he was there and hadn't changed his mind. I knew right then and there that things were going to be alright, although it showed how little we really knew about each other when he packed my cases into the car. 'Um - are you sure you know how to drive?' I asked him nervously. 'Of course I do! I got here didn't I?' he laughed. So off we went, to my new home where my new family was waiting for me. Turns out my father-in-law wasn't scary after all. And he never did make me cook him scrambled eggs!
The rest, as they say is history and it struck me today that, although the situation is somewhat different, once again I'm following my heart. And, like Danny I'm taking a huge leap of faith. I basically have six months to prove to myself and my family that I can really write and make my dreams of being a novelist come true. If not, to put it bluntly we're screwed. We could literally lose everything we have worked the last eight years for. Nothing like a bit of pressure to make life interesting! Oh - and Danny - if by some miracle you happen to be reading this, drop me a line :-)
TODAY I LEARNED: That if we all spent our lives saying 'what if?' we would never achieve anything at all.