The champion of the world: a thank you letter

Ask most people who their hero is, and I’m sure they’ll have a name or two on hand to offer you.  For some reason, I always seem to struggle with this question: there are plenty of people I admire, but I’m not sure I’d call them my ‘hero’. How many people can you say you know who can be described as a brave person with noble qualities; an adventurer; a person of distinguished ability? Well, I realised this week I do have a hero of sorts. I have had one for years and years, but never applied the term. And, as this is supposed to have its roots as a travel blog, it must be said that he is the one who inspired me to pack my bags and start seeing a bit more of this wide world. Leading by example, inducing envy and supporting me when I decided enough was enough – it was time to hit the roads/rails/airways/waterways of as many countries as I could. Who is this mysterious person? The answer (cue one of two responses ­­ –  an ‘awwwwww, how lovely’, or a ‘bleuch that’s so cringey’ *fake vomit and pull disgusted face) is: my big brother.

Now the reason I’m saying this right here, right now is that this week he turns 30 and I, in a terrible timing faux-pas, am on the other side of the world, have missed celebrating with him and his friends on his birthday weekend AND can only call him to wish him many happy returns of the day at 6.45am on Wednesday morning, when it’s his birthday in Australia, but not actually the real deal in the UK yet!  So maybe it’s guilt, but mostly it’s about showing respect and appreciation for someone who deserves it.

Me and Graham on holiday somewhere - The champion of the world - Alannafreestyle

The driving force, even from a young age.

When we were little, my poor brother had to put up with sharing the back seat of whatever family car we had at the time with me (my teddy bear, and whatever items of our mum’s insane overpacking couldn’t fit in the boot) on long car journeys around the UK. His best method for dealing with that was falling asleep as soon as we set off or, if that failed, shutting out his irritating little sister with a Walkman (a magical possession that she didn’t have) and a never-ending series of cassette tapes (that she kept trying to steal so they could be played to everyone in the car on the stereo). Basically, he knew that for the next week or two he had to deal with me being there 24-7 and that most likely meant sharing a room, a car, picnics, walks, and the parents’ attention, so he was going to tune me out for as long as he possibly could. Don’t get me wrong, we got on pretty well  most of the time ­- although the incident on a doomed damp holiday in Wales where he told me there was a giant spider hanging above my bed waiting for me to fall asleep so it could crawl into my mouth and make a nest in my stomach, didn’t do much for parent-child or brother-sister relations ie I ended up screaming, ran out of the bedroom and refused to get back into bed until said spider had been caught, removed and banished from the house.

There were also times that I, his adoring little brat sister, would follow his lead in winding up the parents  – but where he led I seemed to fail.  One time, when we pulled up to yet another castle – possibly the fifth in one week (which actually he not-so-secretly loved going to) – he refused to get out of the car, however much our Dad cajoled, and insisted. So he was just left there with the keys and a few hours to himself. A few days later, I tried the same trick. I got told to stop behaving like a little madam, dragged out of the car and marched into whatever heritage site we were visiting that day, in a strop, whining that Graham hadn’t been treated like this two days ago. ‘He’s older than you,’ I was told as I was shunted along, as if that somehow explained it satisfactorily.

Anyway, after years of family holidays, with the two of us competing to see who could bodyboard the biggest and best waves (usually him, because I would mostly cry when the swell crashed unexpectedly over my head and sea water went down my throat – who’d ever think I’d become a wannabe surfer?!), consume the most ice creams and coca-cola in one sitting, make the most friends with the other kids wherever we were staying, get the least sunburnt and freckly (me, I’m fair, but not as fair as him), stay up latest (ALWAYS him because, again, ‘he’s older than you’), the sod started refusing to come away with us in favour of going off on his own adventures instead. Fair enough I guess.

And you know what? He made a good call. Because after approximately five years of watching him go on a succession of action-packed adventures while I tootled around little bits of Europe on beach holidays and made the odd transatlantic trip for a city break, I decided I’d had it with sitting enviously at home while he got to see the sights on offer in all manner of exciting places. If he could go on these awesome trips to far-off lands, then so could I. So I quit my job and buggered off to South America alone, leaving him seething in my wake. Boy only had himself to blame – he was the one who showed me photos of Brazil and told me how amazing it was. It was only a matter of time until I started plotting my own escape to discover that continent’s charms.

I think he thought it might end there – the girl who used to get homesick staying at her own grandma’s place on the other side of town would never dream of stepping too far out of her comfort zone. Wrong. That girl had long gone, and been replaced by one with one who became a little enraptured with travel, one who flew home from Peru a month late, incredibly reluctantly and with some seriously itchy feet – and they weren’t from the shared bathrooms in the hostels. Nope. I had the travel bug, and I had it bad.

When I started toying with the idea of moving abroad for an extended period, I’m not sure if it was totally unexpected, but I don’t think that anyone ever thought I would actually do it. In fact, of all the people I discussed it with, HE was the one I was most scared of telling because from two warring little people who used to do everything they could to drive each other up the wall, we have become close friends as well as siblings. His is the opinion I most respect and am most worried about being at odds with mine. He’s also the voice of reason: he was the one who (after hours of me going round in circles saying, ‘I don’t know what to do. I want to go, but what if it’s a terrible idea? What if I don’t like it there?’) told me to book the sodding ticket to Australia because at least it would mean I’d shut up about it. But to make sure it was a return, as at least that way he could nearly guarantee I’d be back in a year’s time to remind him he wasn’t an only child. See how the tables have turned?

So yes, I have a lot to thank my brother for – more than I can say – as without him and his European wanderings, Brazilian adventures, Stateside escapades, South African navigations, twice-thwarted Japan plans, and now a Patagonian experience that I missed out on myself while I was there, I don’t know who would have had pushed me to do the most brilliant and inspiring thing there is in this life: to see the world. Happy 30th Graham. Keep living the dream. And bloody well come and visit me will you?!

Who’s your travel hero? Who or what inspires you to see and do more? Share your thoughts here…

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About Alanna

...is all about seizing the day, Free Style!
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3 Responses to The champion of the world: a thank you letter

  1. dr julian freeman says:

    Quite right. He was told off at more than one place – i seem to remember a monster tantrum at Bentley, and your modo bongo strop was at Castle Howard – never saw anything like it from you. Hope you don’t behave like that in Oz. It would let the side down!

    xxxx Pa

  2. Graham Freeman says:

    What a thing to read when you’re 1) tired and 2) homesick! Thanks sis….tables have turned and it’s me who’s jealous of you!

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