Bella Blanchard

bella-for-web

‘My childhood was spent in rural Wiltshire, where my sister, two brothers and I had a very happy and carefree upbringing. My mother took us riding around the countryside and we played in the fields and woods. My father was a bit eccentric. He strongly believed that we should learn to stand on our own two feet, and with that in mind, used to drive us into the middle of nowhere, equipped only with compasses, the plan being that we should find our own way home. As contrary individuals we immediately went our separate ways, so he had to round us up again with strict instructions to stay together. He wanted us to be like the Von Trapp family, so that when he blew a whistle we’d all come running, but I think really he preferred our individualism. He was a keen sailor, and we’d often go on the boat with him, although crossing the channel in gale force winds with four young children must have been interesting.

I was quite naughty at school, ironic as I am now a teacher. Inclined to be noisy, I used to sing and laugh everywhere.  In fact, my laugh was once mistaken from the other side of the school for the fire alarm. At the end of my school days I hatched a plan with a great friend from Ecuador to go travelling in Greece and Israel. Her name was Beatrice, but no one could pronounce this so she became known as Potter. I worked in a wine bar which allowed me to save up some money for the trip. When Potter and I met in London for the first leg of our journey, my rucksack broke a table in a cafe. We stayed our first night with a much-travelled godmother in London, who removed the 20-odd books and the year’s supply of shampoo I’d packed, and sent us off the next day, somewhat less loaded. As almost penniless 18 year-olds we had great fun, living as cheaply as possible. For a long ferry trip, we supplied ourselves with a large pack of pitta bread which I ended up boiling because it had gone stale. It wasn’t too bad with Marmite, a resource I felt no traveller should be without.

The following year I worked in Switzerland and saved a bit of money. Potter invited me to visit her in Ecuador and so, equipped with a much lighter rucksack, off I went.  I stayed with her family for a few weeks in Quito, and then travelled around this fascinating country by bus, often with her sister Catalina. There were adventures, like clambering over a fallen tree trunk above a ravine in the dark to get round a landslip across the road or waking up in a hut to see a scorpion dangling above my head. Without a guide book, I often took a bus to places that simply looked interesting on the map. I spoke Spanish pretty well and always felt safe on my own, although I was careful what I wore and where I went. People were amazingly friendly and helpful. I then travelled down to Peru and visited the Amazon. This turned out to be more alarming than I had expected as at one point I lost my footing and fell in the fast flowing water and was quickly swept downstream. Luckily some people hauled me out further down. I’m not sure where this love of travelling comes from, but I’m fascinated by people, their cultures, their languages, and the excitement of not being sure what’s going to happen next. From Bolivia I went to the Galapagos Islands on a military plane which was very cheap—I think the flight was £15. I spent three weeks exploring these islands which are quite extraordinary.  Getting off the islands was more difficult because the military plane didn’t return. I managed to get back to Quito minutes before my flight back to England and went to London to start university.

I read history at London University although as a great reader, my first love was English. Many of my friends were English and Drama students, and we had a wonderful time enjoying the life that London offered, going to shows, and having huge fun at the Edinburgh Fringe one year. I always worked while I was a student, in restaurants and at the Barbican, so that I could save money for the next trip. The first summer holiday was to Turkey, in a camper van with my sister and a group of friends. We met in Canterbury, and a few miles down the road the clutch went which wasn’t a great start. En route eventually, we visited some great European cities and toured the whole of Turkey, which was unforgettable. Sadly the camper van met with an accident, to put it euphemistically, presenting a considerable problem for those of us who had filled it up with luggage and now needed to get everything home somehow on buses. So much for my very light rucksack. The following year I travelled to Africa, another challenging summer.

After university a friend suggested I did teacher training, which would enable me to work and earn either at home or abroad. So I did and found that I loved it. I worked in London, then went to South East Asia and Australia for a year, on to the Philippines, China and then worked in Hong Kong for the British Council. My mother decided to come out and visit which was probably quite a trip for her. I was living on a small island in a little house on top of a hill—362 steps uphill through vegetation to the front door. When my mother got to my house, she proudly announced that she’d brought both gin and tonic, by then much needed, but was shocked to find I had no ice, nor indeed any suitable glasses in her opinion. My sister also visited and halfway through her stay we heard that a typhoon was on its way. She decided that we would not stay in my little house which was sure to blow down and so we stayed with a friend on Hong Kong. Admirable decision.

After a brief spell back in England, I was offered a job in Italy, near the lakes. So I bought a car, got a map, and set off in January, taking what seemed the most obvious route which was over the Alps. It was spectacular, especially at night with the full moon on the snowy mountains and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Only when I got to Italy did I find out why there had been no other cars on the road. At that time of the year, everyone goes through the tunnels of which I was blissfully unaware. While I was in Italy, I met my husband, John, who ran a company there with an Italian called Giuseppe, and eventually we returned to England, got married, and set up home near Bath. After our first child Theodore arrived, we decided to move to Dorset; John’s work could be done from anywhere, and I had a great aunt who lived in Loders called Mona whom we had often visited as children. She had worked in the Natural History Museum, was incredibly knowledgeable, and was known to locals as “the terror of the lanes” due to her driving, which varied in recklessness. I had happy memories of epic picnics provided by Mona on the beaches and clifftops. We bought a house, and moved here 22 years ago. Two more girls came along, Alex and Antonia, and I think our children have had a wonderful family life. I went back to teaching English after some years, in Bridport and Dorchester, and sometimes from home on Skype. Since we moved to Bridport and were bringing up a family, the travelling slowed down, mainly because I have been absurdly happy here. We go back to Italy regularly where we have friends, but in the future we might just hop in a camper van, with a map but no particular plan, and just see where we end up.’