Today I packed my bags and said goodbye to Elmswell for eleven months.  It still doesn’t seem real, and I won’t be crawling into my lovely comfortable bed for my compulsory eight hours sleep next week.

I have had a fantastic few days – so many people have been sending cards and gifts and wishing me luck.  They all probably think I will need a lot of it!!  I have had a few days off work, so have sort of been getting things together for what I will need.  Or have I?  I haven’t a clue what I will need really.  There doesn’t seem anywhere enough in that little pile in the corner of my bedroom to last nearly a year.

I hate packing – and so inevitably that is why I always leave it to the last minute.  There is always something more important to do.  Or I make something more important to do.  I had started to make my “pile” about five days ago, thinking that I would have so much time I wouldn’t have to leave it to the last minute.  Ha!  Wrong.  There still wasn’t anything actually in the case at 1pm – the taxi was coming at 4pm.

I had finished work and said goodbye to several friends and customers during the last week or so – it still didn’t feel that real.  It was really strange – I didn’t feel much emotion.  It just didn’t feel as if it was really going to happen.

I had an absolutely fabulous party yesterday.  It started out as going to be a barbeque in my back garden, but as these things do, grew to well over 100 guests at Haughley Barns – just up the road from me.  I decided to make it a Clipper Farewell Charity Party – I like to have a reason for a party other than to kiss me goodbye.  The venue is fantastic – one of the most beautiful venues in Suffolk.  The Williams family that own the barn rent it out for weddings and other events, and let us have it for free as it was for charity.  It couldn’t have been better.  I did invite Sir Robin Knox Johnson, but was told he had a prior engagement.  Not sure the invite actually got to him, but we had somebody much more important – my skipper Wendy!  She made a huge effort to come – leaving the Race Village in St Katharines’s Dock and coming to Suffolk on the train.  If she can make that effort for me, I am sure going to make every effort for her!

The sun was shining, we had Pimms to greet all the guests, and a very talented Caribbean Steel Band.  There were three very dodgy Russian waiters that were going round with the canapés though!  Very polite, but English was most certainly not their first language.  They were getting into all sorts of tangles with words with several of the guests.

Jamie Lee Smith Catering provided the food and staff, and did a superb job.  The Russians moved us all into the Barn to take our seats for the food, and whilst everyone was settling into their chairs they came out with roses and a guitar.

They sang beautifully – serenading several of the ladies including Wendo, and singing the Scottish National Anthem to Nancy which was actually the Proclaimers song “500 miles”.  They got laughs galore, and were a really good act.  The only person that knew that the waiters were really West End Actors was me, and they took everyone in hook line and sinker.  Great job!

Paul had put a short video on about the Clipper Race, and then he had put together a little “surprise”.  A compilation of photos and captions to music that spanned the last thirty five odd years – many of the photos not actually doing me any favours!  It was a really warts and all compilation – and that got a few laughs as well!

We then had a raffle and auction – Jamie actually donated a Dinner Party for ten for the auction, so generous.  At the end of the day, we raised just over £1,750.  Perfect!  And it was a lovely way to say goodbye to everyone.  We all had a superb afternoon, plenty of drinks, laughs and dancing.  It still didn’t seem to be sinking in that I was not going to be around here much longer.

So, this morning I woke up to still have to do the packing.  I had to pop up to Elmswell Shop to get a pillow I had ordered on the internet (long story, but to cut it short I needed a smallish one to fit into the waterproof pillowcase I had bought about two months ago and then promptly forgot to find a pillow) and my currency to last me all stops to Australia.  Cutting things fine again then!  Stopped there for a coffee – and then really had to get home to start that packing!

Apart from the packing, I had an Ocado delivery coming with liquid egg (what trouble I had finding that!) that I had to take to London with me.  Good job I had a taxi!  My sleeping bag was huge, I had another huge bag with my foul weather gear and boots in, and then I had to get all the clothes that I would need for the next eleven months into dry bags, and then into a suitcase.  As well as another suitcase for the clothes I would need for this week.  I ziplocked a complete change of underwear into separate bags, and then vacuum packed them into a dry bag – only four lots, one change a week!  Thermals went into another one, with the cold weather gear, shorts and trousers into another one, tee shirts into another one.  Didn’t think I would ever remember what was in which bag, so I wrote on the outside with a permanent marker.  Bet I won’t be able to read that in the dark!

Harriet came home and gave me a bookmark that she had bought with some lovely words on – Remember what is most important.  It’s not having everything go right; it’s facing whatever goes wrong.  It’s not being without fear; it’s having the determination to go in spite of it.  It’s not where you stand, but the direction you’re going in.  Remember to live just this one day and not add tomorrow’s troubles to today’s load.  Remember that every day ends and brings a new tomorrow full of exciting new things.  Love what you do, do the best you can, and always remember how much you are loved.  That opened the flood gates!  It then hit me like an express train that I was just about to leave my family for eleven months – well, if I got the packing done that is!  That bookmark, not a huge amount of use with my kindle, will be stuck up next to my bunk to give me inspiration when things are not going quite right.  Let’s hope I don’t need to read it until at least I am clear of the Thames!

I did get the packing done – and half an hour before the taxi arrived.  No problem then.  Haven’t actually ever been ready on time before, so that probably means I haven’t got everything that I need.  At least I am only going to London, and if I have forgotten anything Paul can bring it up at the weekend!