More than a month has passed since Stratford, and as the dust has slowly settled on my grand tour I have been able to gain perspective on the thing, in the same way that you can only really gauge the scale and absurdity of an enormous folly if you stop living in it and go far enough beyond the walls to view it from a distance.
The truth is, I think I was a pretty crap husband, father, son and friend those eighty days. People close to me got fragments of my former self, not just in terms of the long chunks of time spent away from home, but even during the brief moments I spent in their presence. I am incredibly fortunate that most of these people still remember me, and some of them seem to have forgiven my aberration. A few even celebrated my absence and have enquired when I might be going away again, but I shan’t name names.
It has been an enormous undertaking for my wife and she has dealt with it all remarkably well. Not just the cooking of the chicken nuggets and the writing of two critically-acclaimed guest blogs, but the way our life together was compressed into gaps between me finishing the latest chunk of writing and sodding off again to get more material. She has been enormously positive throughout the whole escapade, and picked me up several times when I really felt like I didn’t want to do it any more.
She would say I have been stressed. I don’t think it is stress, not like trying to teach and control, push and cajole a classroom full of youngsters. I must admit I was in a flap at times as I tried to get out the door for a train, and have loudly cursed the various bits of technology that have frequently and deliberately let me down just when I needed them not to, but I think this is purely a lack of time rather than proper stress.
When I was a teacher everything was pigeon-holed into neat segments and if the timetable said the lesson finished at 10.30 that’s when we finished (for all our sakes). Yet my eighty days were crammed full of the opposite – technology that steadfastly refused to work, motorways that only sometimes consented to work, and writing that expanded to fill the space available and often beyond.
I have loved the discipline of writing every day, but had severely underestimated the toll it would take. I am not a quick writer or reader, and an even slower typist. Writing does not flow easily for me (no shit Sherlock, says my long-suffering readership) and it is not a game of perfect. It is something I have to work at and mull over, find the right words and lose the wrong ones. Each piece matures and by the time it simply has to be published I am unhappy because it is imperfect. I have had to accept that my writing is second best due to the time constraints of this project, and strive against it being third or fourth best.
I suppose I should have realised that transitioning from the exact world of teaching maths to the expansive and occasionally chaotic world of travelling and writing would test me like never before. Perhaps it was overly-ambitious of me, a man with no journalistic training or writing pedigree, and frankly only the feeblest grasp of the English language, to write up to 2000 words a day for three months. Add to that the travel, frequently in excess of four hours, and sometimes as much as eight hours driving a day, not to mention the time spent at the races (which was, after all, the point of the project) and the snatching of brief moments with my family whilst still trying to do the little things around the house to help them function a little better and me to assuage my guilt a little more. It was simply a very, very busy period for me.
I thought when I set out this would be a love story. Indeed it has been, but perhaps not in the way I expected. I thought that I would have fallen completely for the supreme beauty and unique charms of horse racing, such that I would be unable to resist it’s allure any more. And I have loved the horses and the courses, the people and the places – it has been a truly fantastic voyage, but I haven’t been racing since.
I wondered if I would be attracted to the romantic notion of being a writer. In the months leading up to my venture when people asked me what I did for a living I would simply say “I’m a teacher”. Having not yet transitioned to a new life, I was still clinging to the remnants of the old one. Now I would say I was a writer. I may not say that out loud, and if somebody asked I might mumble “pursuing other interests” or some such euphemism for a mid-life crisis, but if they really pushed I feel I have just about earned the elbow-patches to call myself a writer. I have done it, day in and day out, opened my soul for your delectation (or otherwise) on the amazing self-publishing phenomenon that is the interwebbage. If that doesn’t make me a writer then I don’t know what does. I may have so far escaped the international fame and glorious riches that have plagued JK Rowling and the like, but it is surely only a matter of time.
So despite loving both the racing and the writing, neither is at the heart of this particular love story. In the end the toughest foes on my travels were not the bookmakers or the blinking cursors on empty pages, but the homesickness and loneliness that signified my desperate longing to be with my wife and boys at one of life’s defining moments for a family unit. I know that resisting the urge to chuck it all in doesn’t make me a stronger person, but it has at least allowed me the perspective to fully comprehend their amazing qualities.
Astonishingly, I have completed my challenge. Mission accomplished. I spent 3 months of my life following my dream, and that was enough. I am so, so glad that I have done it, but I am equally happy to have now stopped doing it, and without hesitation I would nominate the best moment of my eighty day odyssey as the evening I finally went home.