Rhian in Cambridge

I wake up in my bed. It’s a beautiful spring day. The cat greets me. I have

a shower. The phone rings. I eat something and drink something. There is a computer

upstairs with internet access. I can leave the house if I desire and don’t need

to tell a soul where I am. I could go to London. Or Edinburgh. Or anywhere,

really, within reason. I mean, these days you can go anywhere in the world at

the click of a finger really, can’t you? Or swipe of a card. What’s happened

to the days of adventure and exploration? Can you imagine what it must have

been like to spend months getting somewhere? Bizarre. I like it like it is.

It’s easy. We can do what we want, when we want. And be back in time for work

on Monday morning. It’s Friday today but I’m taking the day off. I can’t remember

why but I’m just going to enjoy it. I guess this means I get three whole days

off in a row. What’ll I do with all that time? I’m sure it will fill. No complaints

from this department.

I woke up on a plane. Dotted around me in various seats were familiar faces.

I didn’t know why I knew them. But I did. Their names at least. Try as I might,

I couldn’t recall anything about their lives though. Who were they? Were did

they live? Do they have a family? Did we meet through a mutual friend? No, I

know nothing about their friends. But I know their names. And more than that.

Their essence. But no facts. Nothing to help me figure out where I am.

I’m in a cage. The air is warm, very warm, and the sky is dark. Black dark.

There are stars. I’m wearing a vest top, cargo pants and hiking boots. Veritable

tank girl. The air is warm against my bare arms. Really warm. 28 degrees warm.

I am loving this sensation. We are drinking beer. Me and some friends. We’re

having a laugh while waiting. Waiting in a cage. A big cage. There are maybe

a hundred people in here. And it’s warm. Warm from the ambient temperature,

we have plenty of space. We’re having a laugh, my mates and I, drinking beer.

There’s a small shop that sells postcards and sweets. I’m still trying to figure

out where I am so I have a look. The cards show photos of beach and rock. It

looks lovely; I’d like to go to this place. Apparently it’s turtle season too.

There’s a tea-towel with a map on. We’re in the middle of the Atlantic, right

on the equator. Three islands are labelled: Tristan da Cuna, Ascencion and St.

Helena. I ask the kiosk woman, Elizabeth, if she grew up here but that’s apparrantly

a strange question. Not many people live here permanently; it’s mainly British

military, Americans and St. Helenians. St. Helena is much more lush than this

island but also small. Here it is barren, there is one mountain, and you can

drive around the perimeter in an hour. How long to walk? She shrugs. Two or

three hours? Not that it’s an option for me, this midnight in a cage. I deduce

that we are in the Ascencion Islands. I get a stamp in my passport. Wide Awake

Airstrip or something like that. One of the longest in the world; they can land

a space shuttle here. An odd place to land if you’d just been in outer space,

I think.

I’m on a plane again. There’s plenty of room and we can sit where we like.

Air Luxor is flying us because all the RAF Tristars are in the Gulf. That’s

the only way this war (?has it started yet?) has touched my life at all. Air

Luxor are Portugese, in case you haven’t heard of them either. It’s all a bit

random but no more than anything else. The squaddie opposite me is reading “What

Men Think About Sex”. Does he need to be told what to think about that too?!

The plane is full of squaddies, Bennies and FIDs. I don’t know why I know these

words. Another clue. I must have been somewhere. Immersed for long enough to

have abbreviations and nicknames. I look again at those familar faces and realise

that many of them aren’t even full names: Jumbo, Munki, Cat, Dad, T.C…. that

stands for temperamental chef, Shaggy, Student, Foxy, Mindy. I answer to La

La. I smile to myself remembering radio conversation, “Monkey, Monkey, Cat.”

“Hi Cat, Monkey here. I’m with Jumbo..” Aah, so I have memories at least. That’s


Now I’m on a ship. It’s rocking a lot. And I mean A Lot. There’s a wierd sensation

at night time when you’re lying in bed but almost standing vertical. Force 12

it is. Big Seas. Waves splash over the bridge. Huge Seas. Energy. If you can

stand up, it’s amazing. Three days of this? Maybe two. We came to a virtual

standstill one night and then turned left the following night. The Falklands

were on the map but we were certainly not heading for them! It’d be good to

have a few days there. Looking forward to that: four days on land, reintegrating,

acclimatising. The Falklands are like a gradual immersion into Britain. People

speak the same language, drink the same beer, watch the same football and it

rains the whole time. Rugged Hebridean landscape, I was looking forward to a

few good stomps in the hills.

At some point a notice went up and the rumour mill was wild. Our flights had been brought forward, they were delayed again, no they were tomorrow, now we’re not going to make it there on time, back to Saturday, they’re going via Santiago, they’re not, they’re RAF flights…aaah, chaos! Catapulted, I felt catapulted.

At the end of a catapult, the rock stops dead, on the ground. It is still. It is home. Nothing has changed.

I wake up in my bed (MY BED!!! I’m alone. I’m not sharing a bunk room with

three others. I can touch the floor with my hand. Mandy isn’t here. I am alone.

In my bed MY BED!). It’s a beautiful spring day. (BEAUTIFUL. SPRING. DAY.) The

cat greets me (CAT!). I have a shower (SHOWER! LONG. HOT. HOT. LONG!) The phone


A PHONE. IT DOESN’T COST £2.50/MINUTE) I eat something and drink something.

(OF MY CHOICE AND MAKING) There is a computer upstairs with internet access


I can leave the house if I desire and don’t need to tell a soul where I am.

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3 Responses to Rhian in Cambridge

  1. Jim says:

    So, the Antartic explorer is back home!

    And appreciating many simple things much more than


    I had lost track of you after the Jan29th entry since I had bookmarked Rhian

    in Antartica and the link did not update to the revised page. I thought you

    were lost in a snowbank with penquins….

    Your colourful and lively tale of your return trip and your thoughts was fun reading.

    Thanks for sharing!

    From the dungeons of YorkU…

  2. kris says:


    You’ve been home for months! …so I’m just going to shamelessly hijack this posting board. I lost your email address! What is it?

    Best wishes and welcome home. I must remember not to take hot showers for granted. Take them yes. For granted no.


  3. Colleen Fry says:

    I very much enjoyed reading your story Rhian. You write in(amazingly)similar fashion to my daughter; Rhian Nadine, whom we sadly and suddenly lost on February 8th O1. She was due to study dentistry at Bristol Uni. and won an RAF flying scholarship. She wrote a story about a monkey and Jumbo when she was 10 and loved the teletubbies – particularly La La. She also loved Bridget Jones and kept a diary written in Bridget’s style. A framed letter from Helen Fielding hangs on her bedroom wall. Thank you for the pleasure of your story.

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