The end of a dream

It’s Easter weekend. It’s the last weekend before our season of bedding and breakfasting guests starts again for the next six or seven months. And it’s not exactly a free weekend. I have 24 people expecting a 2-course dinner tonight and I’m doing it alone. And Sunday, two of us will go in to do another dinner for the same lot.

The last few weeks have been quite a carousel of emotions. On the one hand, I am looking forward to working full-time again. It’ll be my third summer working here and I know what I’m doing and I know how everything works. I also know that I’m not completely shit at what I do. I like my job, even if it does mean working around the clock at some days.

On the other hand, I’m more confused about things than I have ever been. I had a horrific few days last weekend of just being curled up on the couch not able to move or do anything but be engrossed all the darkness that was occupying my mind. I guess I realised how bad it was when my Employer sat me down on Monday and essentially told me to get my shit together. In a nice and concerned way. I am scared of this season of working as I feel like after last year, I was left so empty and broken, and I’m not sure I’ve fully recovered. And I’m scared to be empty and broken again. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to handle it again.

I’m also scared because I feel like the pressure to reach a decision on what happens after this summer. Am I going to stay or am I going to go back? Or go forward? I have no idea what to do and I’ve never been in this situation. I’ve always had a secret dream or a plan of what I want to do. But I feel like I have reached the end of my dream, like this path I’ve been on is leading to a dead-end. And I genuinely have no idea what I want to do or indeed should do next.

I was having beers with the Employer at the top of the field on Wednesday night. “The top of the field” is a little corner of our grounds that’s the highest point and has the best view of the village and the hills in the distance. I love that view. As the sun was setting behind the clouds that had gathered around the hills, I couldn’t help but think, “How am I supposed to give this up!?” These hills are what I came here for, this quiet village life is something I have come to love and appreciate. A part of me cannot imagine life in any other place.

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But (and there’s always a big fat but) it’s an incredibly lonely life. It has taken me years and a huge amount of courage, but for the first time in my life I want, and need to admit it to myself that I feel lonely. I’ve always been the cat that wanders around on her own. I have taken pride in my independence. But there is a price to pay and it’s a dear one. I said at the beginning of last year that I needed to name my demons and I have realised after a lot of denial, that this one is my biggest one, and always has been.

As we were sitting outside in the cold (god, it was fucking freezing!) spring evening, I admitted to the Employer that I miss having friends. I miss having single friends. I only realise now what a stupid move it was to pack my bags and move thousands of miles from people who have so kindly opened their hearts to me. I don’t consider myself a nice person, or an easy person to befriend. I takes me ages to trust people and to make friends. I can count the people in whose company I don’t feel like the outsider, like someone they had to invite along out of politeness or social convention, on one hand. In fact, I don’t even need all the fingers. And they all live in Estonia. So what am I doing out here? Why am I here pursuing some selfish dream that’s not working out?

And don’t get me wrong, the people I’ve met here have been incredibly kind towards me. But Cumbria is an odd place and it’s very difficult to actually make genuine connections to people. And everyone I know here (with an exception of the Monk) has the other half. It’s a different crowd to what I’m used to and it’s very easy to feel out of place. More importantly, it seems to really emphasise my loneliness and isolation.

It’s gets more and more difficult to make new friends as you get older and I can feel like I’m getting to an age, where it’s nigh impossible to weave close relationships with new people. Everyone already has friends and habits and partners. They are not necessarily out to look for new ones. So living in a small community becomes very, very lonely.

All this is making me think about moving back to Estonia. Except that I cannot see where I would live or what I would do that would offer me the satisfaction that my work and my physical environment does here. I don’t know what to do. What to I choose? The place or the people? It’s not like I didn’t feel lonely in Estonia but at least I had those few people who were only a few hours away, rather than a day’s worth of travel away.

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I’m lost for ideas. I feel like this selfish dream I came to chase after was just an illusion and I’m back at square one but this time without an idea what the next step is. And it’s killing me inside…

Home is like…

I had to write seven similes for my creative writing class. The idea of the task is to observe something really closely and practise your skills of description. I don’t feel particularly strong when it comes to describing anything, so instead I choose a more abstract notion and tried to find similes for that. The word I chose was home.

I have struggled with the meaning and definition of home for a while now, even before I moved out of my home country. I feel often feel “homeless” or “rootless”. I have never owned a place, so I don’t feel like there’s been a place that is mine alone, my home.

Obviously, there’s the home I grew up in. My parents still live there and I visit it as often as possible. (When I lived in Estonia, at least once a month, usually even more often.) For a brief period I moved back there only to realise that if you have moved out of home at the age of 15, it is difficult to move back again ten years later. I think a while ago I might have really hurt my mother’s feelings when I tried to talk to her about not having a home. She then in complete confusion tried to explain that I have a home there, with them. And I can’t argue with that. It is a home but It’s not my home, it’s our home.

For a brief period when I lived in Tallinn, I rented a small tiny bedsit in a slightly dodgy area (I always felt pretty safe there). This was the first time in my life that I didn’t live with anyone else. I had the whole flat to myself (the whole 16 square metres!), I didn’t have to share anything. I didn’t have to take someone else’s plans into consideration when making my own. I could have friends over whenever I wanted. I liked that freedom.

Although that tiny, tight space might have been just mine (even though I was renting it), Tallinn was never a place that I felt at home in. I have realised now that I am not a city person and as many perks as there were about living in Tallinn, I wasn’t a fan. The one place I had really felt like home had been in Cumbria and Lake District.

So I moved here. But I no longer have a space to call my own. For last two years I have inhabited a room in the loft (i.e I’m the madwoman in the attic!) where I needed to move out over weekends as the house gets taken over by groups. I then move into the spare bedroom of my employers. They have beautiful house but I can’t help but feel like a guest and out of place.

However, when it comes to my surroundings, I have never felt more at home. I love the life in a small village, where people are polite and if they don’t know you, they are likely to know of you. The skyline of fells in the distance has become so familiar and at the same time, awe-strucking and surprising every time I look at it. On the one hand, it has been difficult to fit into a small community and my almost non-existent social life is at its all the low. On the other hand, I have been welcomed so warmly by so many people around here. About 18 months ago, I was heading for a run when a woman stopped me just outside the village, “You live in the village, don’t you? Why don’t you join our running group on Thursday nights?” And that’s how I ended up meeting fun people who like to run together and who in a way helped me to enjoy my first half-marathon. A few weeks ago I was being lazy and went to the local cafe for my lunch and got greeted with a hug from the owner. These little things mean so much to me. So although I haven’t made any real close friends (my employers excluded) or met the love of my life, I still feel like I have been noticed and acknowledged in the community. (I still feel crippling loneliness and homesickness for friends and family often enough…)

Will I ever be able to join all the dots that would mean to have my home for real? I don’t know. I appreciate the fact that I will always have a home with my parents. I appreciate even more that once when I was talking to S, my employer about this feeling of homelessness he said that I would always have a home here as well.

What makes a home for me then? It’s not so much about what the actual physical space is like but about the whole deal. It’s having my own space, something that is really mine. It’s about having that space in an environment that feels like a community. And it’s about having my people, my friends within that community. Is it too much to ask? Perhaps. God knows I can’t afford to step on the property ladder anytime soon unless I win the lottery or dig up that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Maybe I’ll forever be homeless and rootless and having to compromise.

Estonia – a flying visit

We had another week at the guesthouse this August booked by a group for sole use and since I had been “on call” for the previous one, it was my time to go away. Since my last visit to homeland had been in January, it was time to show my face again and save the real travelling for after the season ends.

It must be a sign of getting older but travelling is no longer as exciting as it used to be. I used to love airports, how simple and straightforward they are. I now find them annoying. Especially if you are trying to be frugal and spend the night there for an early morning flight. Glasgow airport is especially annoying because their benches have armrests between every seat so you can’t even have a sneaky nap. It’s also getting quite exhausting that I can’t get a direct flight to Estonia from this end of the country. So when you land in Riga, it’s still a long way from home. Previously I have flown to Tallinn, but since the flights were super expensive, I decided not to this time. So by the time I landed, I was not only bursting for a wee (I’ve never used the toilet in an airplane and refused to do it when it was only half an hour before landing), I was also sleep deprived and exhausted before I even reached home.

My mum and dad volunteered to pick me up and we had a roadtrip back home with a compulsory sea break near Salacgriva and a booze shop just off the border (alcohol is much cheaper in Latvia). I only nodded off a few times on the back seat and kept the parents company most of the way.

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A little indulgence in Paisley before the uncomfortable night at Glasgow Airport

After a good night’s sleep and a slow morning, I was off to Viljandi to meet up with my adopted family. J, who now lives in California, and I overlapped in our visits to homeland and as we hadn’t seen each other for a good few years, a reunion was mandatory. Especially, since she had got engaged a few days before we met and I was in for a chance to meet the lucky man for the first time. Before I stepped on the train, J asked if I’d be willing to do a kind of engagement photoshoot for them. I reluctantly agreed, mainly because they (and I mean, she) wanted to do it in the wetlands and I was dying to go there.

I was reluctant because I am not a photographer. I have a DSLR that I can barely use (it’s not even mine) and my photo editing skills end with moving the scales for light and colour settings on Google Photos. Luckily it was a beautiful evening and the setting sun created a gorgeous light. J & C were naturals at posing, so I just needed to point and shoot. In the end, I’m really pleased with the photos that I took.

Dips in to the marsh pool and a sauna later made for a perfect finish to the night. After a leisurely breakfast I went to see my aunt who lives just outside the town. I never told her I was coming as she is always home, so it was nice to surprise her. It meant a lot for me to go and see her, as I am never sure when will be the last time I see her. So whenever I’m in Estonia, I make sure to visit her. It warmed my heart to see her in good form and spirits and it gave me hope that I’ll see her again Christmas time.

Friday night was booked for a meet up with the girls from uni. I met K and K at the airport as they landed from their trip to London as well as S who had come straight from the office in Tartu just to hang out with us. We had a quick meal and then took a bottle of wine to the roof of the now empty concert hall Linnahall to watch the sunset. We ended our night in Telliskivi and after copious amount of wine, I was in bed by 4am.

Saturday was Estonian Night Run and in the morning I was really regretting signing up for it. Not just because of the headache and tiredness but also because due to various injuries, I had only been for a run a couple of times in months leading up to it. In fact, I remember the day I signed up for it, I went for a first big(gish) walk after injurying my foot at a wedding in May. I came back limping quite badly again. My foot seemed to be properly heal by the run. It was just my general physical fitness that had gone down the drain in the summer months and the five extra kilos I am carrying don’t necessarily help.

However, the run went much better than I expected. It had been really stuffy and scorching throughout the day but as I was standing in start among thousands of people, I could see the massive storm clouds gathering. I thought it would start raining before we’d be able to even set off, but it was only 10 minutes before I finished that the heavens opened up and the biggest thunder storm of the last few years took over. I crossed the finish line with a very pleasing result of 1:02:40 absolutely soaked. Very ladylike, I just used my mum’s rain poncho to give some cover while I changed every item of clothing in the middle of a parking lot in town center. I had felt really good and strong throughout the run and even my dodgy knee kept it together. (It could be that my knee was just so pleased about running on flat ground that it forgot to give me grief!)

On Monday, I my dad insisted on going for a road trip and we headed out towards Lake Peipus on the roads less travelled. I had only one request for the trip: I really wanted some pelmeens (a kind of dumplings). We stopped in Äksi Motel, which according the the placard by the church, was opened in 1989 and I don’t think much of it’s interior has changed since them. However, they had pelmeens on their menu and that satisfied my cravings. It was almost nostalgic eating there, reminded me the simple lunch canteens of my hometown where we used to have occasional lunches when I was growing up.

The weather didn’t exactly feel like going for a swim, so our main attraction by Lake Peipus was cruising through the villages and buying some local onions (the region is famous for their onions!) and smoked walleye as well as some pickled cucumbers to go with the fish. It was a real feast that night for dinner at home!

On Tuesday, it was time to pack my bag and head to Tallinn, to spend the last night with my sister and her kids. I got us some chanterelles from the new market at the train station and after we’d put the kids to bed, we tasted some wonderful craft beers and stayed up on the couch till way past midnight. The bus that took me back to Riga left at 6 o’clock the next morning and I landed back in Shap about 15 hours later.

I noticed a few things during my visit this time. Firstly, the first day or so, I slightly struggled with speaking Estonian. More than once, I found myself automatically saying yes or no in English in answer to the question. Secondly, I’ve really got used to the code of politeness here according to which you say generally greet the people you meet, say thank you if someone holds a door open or let you cross the road. Out of habit, I said hello to few people I didn’t know in my hometown and got a very stunned reaction from them. I’m no longer comfortable with not saying hello to people although I know it’s not about being rude. Finally, as I was on the train back from Glasgow towards Cumbria, I found comfort in the hills that defined the landscape. The vast and empty flatness of Estonia had felt a bit alien for me; I couldn’t grasp it. I am forever bragging to guests about how beautiful the wilderness of Estonia is and I truly believe it. But it seems that I need hills and fells and mountains to make me feel comfortable.

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It was an emotional trip being back, I found myself fighting with tears more than once. A tiny part of me had hoped that maybe it would bring me clarity about what to do next, but the truth is, I’m even more confused. I’m unsure where is home: is it here or is it in Estonia? Maybe it’s somewhere else all together?