Back in Blighty by Angela Caldin

BlightySix months in New Zealand have passed in a flash and now I’ve changed the Land of the Long White Cloud for the Land of the Rose and its teeming capital city. My fellow blogger, Emily, often refers to her homeland as Blighty and that rather old-fashioned term, so evocative of a bygone era of derring-do and Britishness, always makes me smile. Apparently, the expression was first used by soldiers in the Indian army and was an Anglo-Indian alteration of the Urdu bilāyatī, which means ‘foreign or European’. From there, it developed to be a slang term for Britain or England, used by soldiers of the First and Second World Wars. By extension, it was used for a wound suffered by a soldier in the First World War which was sufficiently serious to merit being sent home to Britain.*

Away from Blighty

Having got that out of the way, I want to capture before they fade the things I have discovered during the last six amazing months away:

  • Spending Christmas as part of a large family gathering is, as I always suspected, a wonderful thing. We were 25 or so over the Christmas period and it was a total joy to be with so many lovely people, young, very young and not so young. All that was required of us oldies was to provide a large quantity of wine and then sit back while others produced the most delicious meals on a well-organised rota. Meanwhile, we senior citizens were able to bask in the sunshine in the garden, lounge around on the beach and take pleasure in seeing the children playing touch rugby, dashing in and out of the sea, putting on concerts and generally getting to know one another.
  • Serving the evening meal for the homeless at the Auckland City Mission has taught me that the homeless are not an amorphous mass of identical types, but are made up of individuals with differing personalities and attributes just like the rest of us. Each person has their own particular reasons for ending up as they have. When you’re homeless there are many areas of your life which are out of your control, so when a decision is made for health reasons that you can only have two spoonfuls of sugar in your drink rather than the three or four that you’re used to, you can feel really annoyed and got at. As a volunteer helper, you have to decide whether it’s worth having a confrontation or whether it’s better to give the impression you’re providing four spoonfuls when in fact you’re only half filling each one. There is a strong sense of fairness around, and you must treat everyone the same, for any special treatment causes upset and jealousy.
  • Seeing our younger daughter qualify as a teacher was a source of immense happiness and being there as she started out in her new job an even greater privilege. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that teachers have an easy time, that they are able to finish their day early and can enjoy long holidays. Most of them are still at school well after 6pm and spend the holidays planning and preparing for the next term.
  • Joining a hot hula class on a Saturday morning was a rewarding decision. Tying on a lava lava and swinging the hips to some great music is a perfect way to exercise. Hot hula has nothing to do with hula hoops but takes many elements from the dances of the Pacific Islands and combines a pleasant workout with learning a dance routine.
  • Being part of our grandchildren’s lives on a daily basis is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Seeing them draw, learn to read, discover new talents and develop new interests, mill around with friends, dance to music that was part of our own youth, all these and many more are moments to treasure.

Travelling between hemispheres every six months might be considered a strange way to spend your declining years and sometimes it can feel as though you’re neither here nor there: building a new life and feeling settled and centred until, before you know it, your time is up and you must pick up the threads of your old life as best you can.

*Footnote:

The speaker in the poem below has a blighty wound and is therefore thankfully on his way home:

Going Home by Robert William Service

I’m goin’ ‘ome to Blighty — ain’t I glad to ‘ave the chance!
I’m loaded up wiv fightin’, and I’ve ‘ad my fill o’ France;
I’m feelin’ so excited-like, I want to sing and dance,
For I’m goin’ ‘ome to Blighty in the mawnin’.

I’m goin’ ‘ome to Blighty: can you wonder as I’m gay?
I’ve got a wound I wouldn’t sell for ‘alf a year o’ pay;
A harm that’s mashed to jelly in the nicest sort o’ way,
For it takes me ‘ome to Blighty in the mawnin’.

‘Ow everlastin’ keen I was on gettin’ to the front!
I’d ginger for a dozen, and I ‘elped to bear the brunt;
But Cheese and Crust! I’m crazy, now I’ve done me little stunt,
To sniff the air of Blighty in the mawnin’.

I’ve looked upon the wine that’s white, and on the wine that’s red;
I’ve looked on cider flowin’, till it fairly turned me ‘ead;
But oh, the finest scoff will be, when all is done and said,
A pint o’ Bass in Blighty in the mawnin’.

I’m goin’ back to Blighty, which I left to strafe the ‘Un;
I’ve fought in bloody battles, and I’ve ‘ad a ‘eap of fun;
But now me flipper’s busted, and I think me dooty’s done,
And I’ll kiss me gel in Blighty in the mawnin’.

Oh, there be furrin’ lands to see, and some of ’em be fine;
And there be furrin’ gels to kiss, and scented furrin’ wine;
But there’s no land like England, and no other gel like mine:
Thank Gawd for dear old Blighty in the mawnin’

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