Sylvie Nickels, writer
...... and where it's taken us
Before my further expansion into the self publishing world, there were other even more major happenings, such as the arrival of the 21st century and, far more more world-changing, the events of 9/11 and their aftermath. George and I celebrated the arrival of the 21st century with a world tour: Christmas in Nepal, a Himalaya trek for George while I travelled to my sister's family in Australia, where I was joined by George in due course, a month exploring New Zealand by camper van, and a brief visit to Canada and New York on the way home. One of our more memorable excursions was a harbour trip looking out to the city's iconic skyline, at that time still including the Twin Towers.
On 9/11 George and I were both in different parts of what had become known as former Yugoslavia. George was with climbing friends in Slovenia and I had travelled to Bosnia Herzegovina after visiting my Serb friend Sveto, who had moved to Serbia. On my second day, my bed-and-breakfast landlady called me urgently to the living room. For a few moments I wondered why she was pointing at the TV screen on which a plane was flying into a skyscraper, and then I realised I was watching a North American TV station and the events were actually real and happening in New York as we watched. Few of us can forget the events that followed leading to increased conflict in Afghanistan, the 'shock and awe' of the Iraq War, ever nastier conflicts in the Middle East, the horrors of refugees attempting to find new lives in Europe, and then the increasing expression of horrendous violence round the world, mainly against totally innocent civilians.
All the same we still managed to fit in a lot of travelling. One major event was a three-month house-swap we did with the daughter of a great friend in Deddington: in this case in Utah, an interesting stay in Mormon country. Another was to drive about 7000 miles through the western states of the US. And, from 2005, I launched into the world of self-publishing. I brought out my four books on 'what war does to people', a new edition of The Big Muddy, a novel on addiction for Young Adults and an anthology of short stories for the more mature. I had to learn quite a lot of technology but the process was inexpensive and the results satisfying, though with rapid advances creating built-in obsolescence and outstripping my speed of learning, it could be frustrating. On the other hand, it did mean that as long as I had something too say, I could carry on saying it, and I did still seem to have things to say.
Our mega motoring tour through the the Western States of the USA came about after George had met a trekker in the Himalayas who subsequently visited us in Deddington. We learned from him about an organisation created after World War Two called Servas whose aim was to bring people together in such numbers that we would have no further wars. This laudable if somewhat unrealistic aim attracted us and we joined it, thus being able to stay in private homes of fellow members. Membership entitled you to a copy of a book listing other members in your chosen country giving all the details from which you could select prospective hosts. We stayed in about twenty homes and our hosts were unfailingly charming. It was during this tour that I took the picture (below right), one of my favourites of George whom I asked to hug this giant redwood in California. We estimated it would probably taken twelve Georges to circumscribe it. It wasn't simply the splendour of the trees that impressed me, but also their longevity. We saw one - prone but alive - over 3000 years old, making it super-venerable at the time of Christ's birth.
This picture amuses me as it brings out the mountaineer in George so that he seems to be looking for footholds in order to climb up it. It is the desktop picture on my p.c., a great reminder of splendid days. I was sufficiently charmed by the tree to bring some seeds back but a local Woodland Trust man told me it was doubtful they would take and, if they did, one tree would probably cause our whole village to subside! It didn't seem a risk worth taking, so that was that.
Eric, one of our Servas hosts, preparing breakfast for us in Ogden, Utah.
And then one evening after our return to the UK I came home to find George could not move. Apparently he had polymyalgia reumatica, followed by heart murmurings, a pulmonary embolism and other signs that the years were finally catching up with him. It looked as though our travelling days were over until our dear Finnish friends suggested we should spend the following Midsummer with them, north of the Arctic Circle. It seemed just the right thing to do
and so it proved. As soon as we reached Helsinki George began long walks round the city. We all travelled by rail up to the Arctic Circle, where we found it was gently snowing (in June!) Our friends had taken their car in which we drove another 200 miles north to a wonderful lakeside cottage they had hired for a week. We spent it enjoying the Midnight sun, the huge calm of the forests and lake, the company of our friends, and the fact that George's health seemed to be making good progress. Alas, the latter did not long outlast our return home. What had seemed for some time to be lack of attention was diagnosed as dementia. It began to make sense to move into the centre of the village.
While awaiting the results of enquiries, we decided to make a trip north to see George's climbing friends and had a pleasant week divided between Yorkshire and the Lake District. During the winter months I viewed one or two premises, eventually finding one that would accommodate George's considerable collection of books. I did a lot of measuring of furniture and spaces in our flat-to-be and enquiries about disposing of furniture we did not need. We invited our solicitor round to discuss the putting of our house on the market.
He arrived one evening, left us with the relevant papers, departed around 7.30 p.m. Half an hour later, George gave a few grunts, fell forward in his chair and died. The paramedics arrived in minutes, but because he died at home it was necessary to bring in the police. A local vicar friend stayed to metaphorically hold my hands through the procedures. I don't remember much except unreality.