At 19, having only recently come back from a trip around the world, I never thought I’d find myself camping out under the stars in the Namib Desert so soon. And yet, somehow, it was happening. I thought back to how I’d got here, and decided it had started when I withdrew my application to University.
I was in Australia at the time and, one day, when I was safely 10,500 miles out of reach of my dad, I withdrew my application to higher education. Then I sat back, relieved. I was a bloody maverick.
Until I got back to the UK. Then I was just me again, facing the prospect of no job, no ambition, no life plans, and, perhaps worst of all, the prospect of ’fessing up to my father.
I knew he wouldn’t be best pleased, so when I told him I made sure I mentioned this was absolutely, definitely the right decision for me. I made sure I mentioned how important it was I was happy, how important it was I took my time over deciding my future, and how this was in fact a courageous thing to do, demonstrating bravery, purposefulness and, a bit, maverick-icity.
He did not see it this way.
At first he looked like he was going to cry. Then he became angry. Then he punched a hole through the wall.
And that was when I told him I was going to Africa.
Given his unusual reaction to my revelations, the next few weeks were understandably dicey. John Bilko became determined I was not going to Africa. He began charging me rents that rivalled those of central London. And at the time I was living in bloody Swindon. Just existing became a struggle. Saving simply wasn’t possible.
So one day, John Bilko arrived home from work to find me with suitcases and bags fully packed.
“Hello, dad!” I said. It was the most we’d spoken in weeks. “Ready to take me to Uni?”
I went on to explain that I’d got myself a place on a journalism course at the University of Lancaster through clearing and was due there tomorrow. He wanted me to go to Uni, well, I was off. In fact, I was excited!
Again, he did not see it this way.
Looking back, it must’ve been a funny scene. Me on the drive with all my worldly possessions haphazardly bundled into bin bags and boxes, my dad in a suit, just home from work, open mouthed and speechless at what was happening. He wanted me to go to Oxford to study engineering. I was instead going to UCLAN to become a journalist.
In the end, we both decided it was best I live at home for another year whilst I finalised my decision. I’d pay reasonable rents and help out and my dad would stop throwing things at me from across the dinner table. It all seemed fair to me.
The next morning, I booked my ticket to Africa. And here I was, in Namibia, looking up at the stars.
They were as bright as I’ll ever see them.