Trip Number One (of Twelve): Balmaha, Scotland

Visit to Balmaha Scotland, Trip One of Twelve

Trip Number One (of Twelve) Balmaha ScotlandTrip Number One of Twelve: Balmaha, Scotland

We are now into the fourth week of January 2019, and it is my intention to take a trip every month this year. My self-imposed rules are that it could be a night away in a B&B, a hotel or at friends, a weekend break, or even a proper holiday lasting a week or two (or more).

So really the rule is, I can travel near or far, just as long as I am away from my own place in Glasgow.

Why am I Taking a Break Every Month?

Well in case you have missed the memo, it’s been a month since my best friend, biggest fan and hero, my father, passed on. Transitioned. Croaked. Popped his clogs. Died. Whatever you want to call it. I personally seem to be partial the term transitioned. (Well, you know, because we all start as non-form, become form, and then go back to being non-form again – hence transition).

Anyway, for over twenty-five years now, every free chance I got, my trips were out to California. The trips usually lasted between three and four weeks. I went two or even three times a year – every year since 1992 when I moved here.

Every decision with regards to travel, just about, was made with him in mind. Now that visiting him is no longer a consideration, it opens up my opportunities to see the world and besides, it’s…

What He’d Have Wanted

In going through our belongs I found several letters that he wrote to me on my first ever trip abroad. I spent a semester (or more like a quarter) in London in 1987.

At that point, we had never ever been apart longer than about a night.

It was hard on both of us.

In those days, it wasn’t so easy to keep in touch. It was phone calls, usually from those quaint red phone boxes, or it was letters.

Believe it or not, while I was away in London, he actually wrote me letters and sent me a cute Easter card too.

One of the Letters from Dad

Lovely letters from my father Ralph, while I was in London in 1987
In clearing up after his passing I found a box with old cards and letters. I was delighted to discover several letters that my father wrote to me during my semester abroad in London in 1987.

Hi –

See I do write. Just not very fast or much. But you’re the one with all the new stuff. Everything is the same here. I did catch Kimmy sneaking over on breaks to use the pool.

Your mom said she heard from you and you were “starving” and she was sending you a care package. I would send you one too but I don’t know how well a peanut butter sandwich would ship.

I guess I should warn you, I know it will disturb you – but I threw away your Christmas tree today. Don’t worry we’ll get another one next January.

(page 2)
Business has been slow but that’s O.K. I’ve got – getting – of rest. I’ve kept putting off writing because I kept thinking you would call. Now that I am writing you’ll mostly call over the week-end.

I did call your sister for her birthday for you. I am supposed to call and go up to their house sometime, maybe this week-end – maybe.

I hope you got your radio working. Oh did you know U-2 made it to the cover of Newsweek?

Hope you are having a great time. I miss you but I am glad you are getting the chance to take this trip. I love you – take care of yourself.

Love, Dad

Living Life to the Full

Whenever something big (bad) happens we often say, “I’m not going to waste one more minute” or “we really need to live life to the full” – and other similar platitudes.

But after some days, weeks or months, we often revert to our previous personality (or happiness) “set point”.

In other words, those changes don’t “stick”.

But from the moment that he passed, I had a sense of liberation or freedom or something akin to relief.

I truly can go anywhere and do anything now.

The point is that I’m living as though he’s with me on these adventures.

Though I’ve lived in Scotland for the better part of thirty years, he  never visited me once. Now he can see my world – every single day (or whenever he so chooses!)

So as I sit here on a tartan duvet covered, twin bed and type words in this dated, tired room at a B&B in Balmaha, I like to imagine that Ralph’s on this journey with me. He’s sharing the experience and he’s got the tiny bed next to mine.

His #JSSAMO travel mug sits next to me on the wooden dresser.

I can only imagine what he’d say about this place…

Loch Lomond, East Side Rowardenna looking north toward Ben Lomond

Pictures and Videos of Dad Help Me So Much

I’ve got a lot photos of dad, selfies with him and videos too. I wish I did more videos, but I have quite a few, and it’s given me a lot of comfort to just be able to hear his voice. Amazing what that voice recognition can do for us as it’s often one of the things we miss most. Just being able to call the person up and hear their voice.

I have spent most of my FREE time over the past two weeks, since my return from California, scanning photos and trying to consolidate my Ralph assets (pictures, documents and videos) into one repository (an external hard drive).

Decided to bring one of my pen drives up with me and just now watched a two-minute clip where he talked about death, his own,…

It was eerily prophetic and poignant to watch. It’s hard to explain why I am doing so well with his passing, but clips like that remind me of the one important factor in all of this…

He was ready to go.

While I might have liked him to stick around a bit longer, I know, deep down, that his transition was nearly perfect.

He went when he wanted, where he wanted and how. No hospitals or nursing homes. No wires. He just drifted away – somewhat peacefully – at least not in any intense pain that I could witness.

The most surreal realisation I have of those final moments is that I was completely oblivious of what was happening. Seriously as he took his last breaths, I had no idea they were his last breaths.

I believe that too is how he’d have wanted it to be.

Ignorance is bliss.

In many ways it was just that. Bliss.

He was there for my birth. I was there for his death. It was as it should be. That gives me much peace and closure.

Balmaha - views of Loch Lomond Scotland from the hills

Next Month I’ll Do Better

This B&B  was a last minute booking just a few days ago, as I realised the month’s end would soon be upon us. I had to book fast if I was to keep up with my intention of traveling every month.

The place I picked was fine – say if you’re doing the West Highland Way, but not exactly luxurious. I think the word that comes to mind is adequate. And cheap. Cheap but not too cheerful. At least the scenery mostly makes up for what the accommodation lacks…

As I plan to go away ever month this year, they’ll not all be five star, so I am sure it’ll be mixed.

For February though, I think I’ll do more of a pampering trip. Perhaps it should be Stobo Castle or the Isle of Arran. Both have been on my radar for years.

On my Facebook page, I put out a post asking “where I should go?” and some good suggestions, near and far, have been shared…York is now on the list. A few people recommended Fife. The Hague was recommended. ‘Been talking about a trip to Iceland in May or maybe Rome to celebrate my friends’ 50th birthdays. That will be great! Dad would be pleased. Sorry, is pleased.

Gorgeous view from Rowardennan.

The world literally is my oyster.

Oh the places I will go. Wonder where February will take me…Watch this space to find out.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to recommend somewhere to travel for Trip two in the comments below.

Or if you’ve lost someone dear, a parent, a friend, a partner whomever, tell me what’s been helping you process things. Thanks.

Life Lessons My Father Taught Me – Part One

Baby Thea with her DadEven to this day, I’m a still a “daddy’s girl”. I can honestly say that there is no one I have ever loved, or will ever love, more than my dear, ole father. That feeling, I believe, is mutual. So I guess you might say that the first lesson he taught me is what unconditional love and support looks like…

As it’s Father’s Day, I thought I’d share some life lessons he’s taught me.

You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down

My dad, now in his 80s, is a workaholic. Still. He’s been that way my entire life. He works out of necessity rather than joy. He has to. He’s no real savings. The big million dollar houses we lived in are a thing of the distant past. He now lives, quite simply, alone, in his Silicon Valley apartment, and works just to make ends meet.

He runs his own security business (sort of). I say “sort of” because he has a few younger guys who, (when they actually bother to show up), do most of the grafting whilst he supervises.

He’s always been a bit like a packer mule, my father. What he lacks in entrepreneurial flair, he makes up for by being a hard-working, get-your-head-down-and-just-get-on-with-it sort of guy.

Dad often brags how he had perfect attendance throughout his four years of high school. (It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the only person to have EVER achieved that accolade). He literally never missed a day in four years which is a trait that carried into his work life too. I can’t really remember him ever staying home from work sick. Not once.

“Work” and “dad” are sort of synonymous terms for me.

Things began to change significantly a few years ago when he suffered an “episode” (he doesn’t like the word stroke, but that’s what it was).

Hands down, that was the worst phone call I have ever received. Halfway through my late night, radio show I heard the words, “Thea you father has had a stroke”. I felt the life drain right out of me on the spot.

Two days later, at his bedside, I stood over this six-foot-four-bulk-of-a-man lying prostrate in a hospital bed. Weak. Shrunken. Powerless. Sad. I felt the same. This could not be happening. Not to him. Not to my strong father.

But, defying the odds, a month later, after learning to walk again, he was done with rehab and back to work. A little slower. A little more hard to understand, sure, but working again. You really can’t keep a good man down!

Over the course of the next two years, I racked up the trans-Atlantic air miles when he broke his left hip, and followed that up by breaking the other one!

But do you know what? Rather miraculously, like the Energizer Bunny, he keeps going and going…He is the text book definition of resilience, and it’s a skill I believe I inherited from him.

ode to my dad video on vimeo - by thea newcombHere’s a wee video I made for him a few years ago at Christmas.

Working Hard is Good…to a Point

My dad works hard, but I’ve often wondered if that may be to his detriment. He’s the kind of guy who you reckon, the day after he retires, just won’t wake up. He’s made his life all about his work – it’s what has kept him going all these years. If you take that away, what’s left.

Watching how his work became his identity, I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to end up like him – in that respect – living alone, working all the time, sleeping or just streaming TV shows on a tablet.

My aim is to have more balance, more joy, fun and passion in my own life. Work does not define me the same way his does him. I do it and I enjoy it, yes, but I have friends, hobbies and passions – basically a life outside my work. I know who I am without it.

We’re Make Bad Employees

My dad was an Electronic Engineer by degree, and has a rather brilliant mind (particularly with Math – which is not my strong suit). He moved from the East Coast to Menlo Park – as a result of a practical joke played on him by co-workers (a story for another time).

In the sixties and seventies, he worked all over the world, and achieved much. Designing high voltage power supplies in,  he (claims he) was the only one in the world working on power supplies over 200,000 volts.

Eventually he moved out of engineering into project management.

When I was young, he got bit by the bug to leave gainful employment and run his own business.

The first business was a construction company, spending days building big beautiful homes (ones I was lucky enough to grow up in).

Then, when the housing market crashed, he segued into residential and commercial security where he has remained for the last several decades.

“Do what you love and the money will follow” is a phrase instilled in me from early on. We’re not nine-to-fivers. In fact, I’d say we both make “crap employees”. We like setting our own schedules, doing our own thing and answering to no one. I suspect, on some level, we’re both still doing what we love, and hoping that the money will follow.

That ethos has definitely shaped the choices I’ve made for my entire adult life. I’ve always stated “I’d rather earn a thousand pounds doing what I love each month, than ten thousand doing a job I loathed.” (Truth be told, I’ve come to realize, I’d actually quite like to earn the ten thousand doing what I love,…).??So instead of getting a proper job, I became a dabbler and never really had proper jobs for any length of time.

I have done radio. I co-founded ‘Bigwig’ (a music magazine) in the early 90s. After that I wrote and published an 80s music trivia book. Eventually launched – rather deliberately on Independence Day in 2000.

Dad holding cash on birthdayNot quite failures as such, but not one one of them has been a financial success either. That has meant that even though he’s had little money these past few decades, my father has been my CFO throughout every endeavor. Always the money guy, he’s had to support me long after any father should have to.

That fact is arguably what has caused me a the most amount of guilt in my entire life. Therefore my whole Raison d’être has become enough of a success that I can, one day, pay him back for all the support he’s given me.

It is my number one goal, and I hope reach it while he’s still here to see it.

On Embracing Technology

I would attribute my passion for technology and gadgets to him as well. We were the first on our block to have the six-foot (projector) television, the top-loading VCR (some of you will be too young to even know that is), and an IBM PC.

To this day, we share the passion for the products. The TVs, the cameras, and the iPads. When I first got my dad an iPad though, he had a look as if to say “what the hell am I going to do with this contraption?” Thankfully, a month later, it was the greatest thing since sliced bread! Now it’s never out of his reach, he even sleeps with the darn thing!

Day and night, dad streams his favorite TV shows (binge watches Netflix) another characteristic I inherited from him, and we use them to Skype every morning and night.

Through the joys of technology, we even can watch TV together – even though we’re six thousand miles apart. (We’re currently watching and loving ‘24’).

The technology connects us in a way I’d never have dreamed of when I moved to the UK, more than twenty years ago, and it’s made me feel less homesick as a result.

Good on him for embracing it still, right? Though he is easily frustrated by it, use it he does. Not every eighty-plus year old is like that, are they? I sure hope that if I reach eighty, I am.

Have a Laugh Along the Way

My father is a very funny guy. Not a lot of people really realize how funny he is, I don’t think. I used to tell all my friends about how hilarious he was, and when they’d come over he’d clam up. It reminded me of those singing frog cartoons from the 70s – who would sing “Hello My Baby” until you got him in front of other people and then all you’d get is “ribbet”…

I’m not sure why it was like that, but take my word for it, he’s hilarious when he wants to be. We do have laugh right through life challenges, and I am sure it’s where I get my own quirky sense of humor from.

Inadvertent Life Lessons

In essence, my father has taught me many valuable lessons across the four decades of my life. Too many to really document here but suffice it to say, he’s inspired me to work hard, and do what I love. He’s shown me what bouncing back truly looks like.

Through observing the choices that he’s made, he’s inadvertently taught me the importance of having more than just my work. I know that I need to have connections with real people – personally and professionally. I need my friends, fun, travel and joy in my life.

As wonderful and funny as my father is, joyous and passionate aren’t exactly words I’d associate with him, but maybe that will change? I keep reminding him that when he gets to the end of his days, he won’t be wishing he worked more, or streamed one more episode of ‘Charmed’ on Netflix.

More than likely, he’ll regret not doing more things he had always wanted to do. It’s my intention to get him to do some of those things now – before it’s too late.

The novel is the first item on that list, and I could not be more proud of him for embarking on this journey. It could be, if you’ll forgive the pun, a whole new chapter on his life. Incidentally, it’s called ‘Then and Again’ and it’s very good, but then I might be biased. No, in fact, I know that I am…

Happy Father’s day to my father, all of you fathers out there.

What is it that you’re teaching your kids?