My memory of events in the UK, and Germany, is sketchy. I had gone home for two weeks solely to attend a stag party and a wedding, and to catch up with old friends in my hometown, and hence I spent much of the time inebriated. I had such a great time though and enjoyed being back in the UK much more than I had eight months earlier. I'm sure that this was due to the greater sense of purpose that I felt about what I was doing with my life this time, thanks to the impending start of the turtle program. I now recognise that when I left for Australia the year before I was actually quite distressed and really had no idea what I was doing or why I was travelling to the other side of the planet again. In retrospect, of course, I am so glad that I did.
I had barely stepped foot in London before I was back on a plane to Berlin with 10 or so of Jim's best friends for his long-awaited stag do. Despite the understandable doubt that we had all placed in the organisational abilities of Jim's notoriously laidback brother and best man, Paul - the kind of sensation of inevitability felt during the build-up of the Athens Olympics say - the boy had done good. There was a perfect balance of a few laddish diversions, such as firing guns, a spot of relaxed sightseeing, a geeky tour of underground Berlin, some gambling in the casino, and all-out balls-to-the-wall strip joint action in the company of multiple high-class prostitutes. Yes, there are things that happened during that weekend that shall not be mentioned until one of us is on our deathbeds.
I spent the next few days in London hanging out with my bro in Earlsfield and my uni friends who had mostly migrated to Tufnell Park these days. Oddly it is my closest friends in London who are generally the worst at keeping in touch but, reassuringly, it seems that every time me meet we start from exactly where we left off, seamlessly continuing our friendship despite the glaring gaps in our shared experiences. People were having kids, getting married and buying houses, but with many of them the spark was still the same as it ever was.
Next it was to my sister's place in Kent for the second of our big barbeque weekends with my extended family. This would be the only time when I would get to see my sister who had been, and continues to be, an absolute rock and a beacon of positivity and enthusiasm that I have frequently taken comfort from during my travels.
I went to Nham (my hometown, Cheltenham) the following week, where I spent some quality time with some of my oldest friends. These were the kind of close friends that one shares an indelible bond with, and I could never have imagined, for example, that I might miss one of them getting married. But, in fact, that was exactly what I was about to do. Two of my oldest and best friends in the world, Alice and Lee, were getting married - to each other no less - and I was going to miss it because of the turtle program. They were predictably very understanding, even though I was pretty distraught about it, and they took me to the Worcestershire country pub and barn where they were going to tie the knot just two weeks later, in a medieval-themed wedding with Morris dancers and folk music. Man, I was gutted to miss it.
The one wedding I did not miss though was that of Jim and Thess. I left Nham in Alice's car that she had generously lent me and sped off into the Oxfordshire countryside with the sun shining. The next four days were awesome, making preparations for the wedding, picking up suits, fretting about cravats and handkerchiefs, playing croquet, getting wasted and causing havoc. The wedding and reception was held in a picturesque country barn and was stunning, the service being held outside, plus the sun was shining and we had all very quickly eaten too many canapés and drank too much champagne. Inside the reception was very funky, with lots of cool s*** going on at the tables, great food, fluid speeches, and a really impressive secret choreographed dance that Thess and all of her technicolor bridesmaids broke into on the dance floor. It was a massive surprize and very very cool.
Last stop, the Nham, to drop off the car, say my last goodbyes, and get on the bus to Heathrow. In 24 hours I would be back in Drake Bay, Costa Rica, taking the reins of a turtle conservation program and my very first job conducted in a foreign language. My life was about to change again in a much more fundamental way that I could have anticipated at the time.