Well, the best that can be said of our honeymoon was that it was good in parts. It might have been sensible to save some of the India money for it, but I didn’t; so we set off for our holiday with barely a shoestring to sustain us. In retrospect it seems like a mad decision to hitch-hike to Madrid and then come back again with all the stuff I’d left behind over there – but at the time it seemed like a good idea to kill those particular birds with one stone (if we’d only known that the two birds most likely to be killed were us!) I’ve always been insanely optimistic at moments like these; so we set out from London and did pretty well at first, getting down to Folkestone for the ferry in a few hours. We met some interesting people in France; lorry-drivers and insane guys with smart limos who blazed down the autoroute at 100 miles an hour. I had to do most of the talking as Mark’s French is rudimentary, and it’s not polite to be silent when someone’s giving you a lift – but it did get tiring after a few hours. We got to Paris and slept in a cheap hotel, making it to Madrid in four days.
Everyone in Madrid was surprised to find that in the short time I’d been away I had not only travelled round India but also got married! We slept in a cheap hostal for a few nights and then camped in the yoga centre where I’d been living before I left. Our few days in Madrid were good; we went to museums and art galleries and I showed Mark the sights – but our money was starting to run out and soon it was time to head back. And that’s when things started to go really wrong.
Hitch-hiking with a rucksack each is one thing: trying to get a lift with several bags of clothes, a suitcase and a guitar, is quite another. I’d shipped everything I could afford to send back, but we had to carry the rest. Nobody stopped for us: we looked as if we were holding a jumble-sale by the side of the road, and after a few hours we were dispirited and exhausted. The lowest point was in a place called Burgos, somewhere in the desert North of Madrid, where we were stuck on a junction for 9 hours! We have a photo of me there looking thoroughly pissed off.
Eventually, after living on coffee and sugar sachets for a couple of days, we made it to Boulogne with just enough money for the ferry. I went up to the counter and asked for two tickets to Folkestone. ‘That’ll be ___ ‘ said the woman.
‘No, that can’t be right!’ I said, in a panic. I’d worked out the price exactly according to the exchange rate.
‘It is correct,’ she said.
‘Has it gone up?’ I asked, aghast.
‘Then how can it be more than when we came?’
She shrugged in the way that only the French can. Then at my insistence she made some enquiries. ‘It is more to go across than to come here,’ she said in the end.
Reader, by the rivers of Boulogne I sat down and wept. What were we going to do? Neither of us had any money in the bank, nor any means of getting hold of any. If I’d only known, there was an organisation in Madrid which would have helped us, as my friend David told me when we returned years later. But as things stood, we were stuck. (That’s the second time in my life I’ve been stuck in France, by the way. I should probably stop going there.) We were so desperate we even thought of selling Mark’s wedding ring (which I’d bought him from India) – and then he started to cry. And now comes the real low point of the trip – the thing that hurt worse than anything: worse than being ignored in Burgos or sleeping on floors or living off coffee and sugar sachets or making exhausted conversation with insane drivers. The worst thing was that we stood holding each other and weeping in the middle of the ferry terminal, and not one person – neither passenger nor crew nor office staff, not even a cleaner – nobody stopped to help us or even to ask what was wrong. That hurt more than anything we had experienced up to that point. Truly Dumbledore has said that indifference and neglect do more harm than outright dislike.
In the end we dried our tears and went back to the counter to see if they could help us. They said there was a cheaper ferry which left early next morning. So that’s what we did: we slept at the terminal and got the ferry the next morning, arriving back at Mark’s parents’ place in Kent in time for lunch.
‘Well,’ said a friend of ours when we got home, ‘if you can survive all that and still be together, your marriage will probably stay the course.’ I guess she was right. We should probably give it a few years…
The next day I discovered I was pregnant.