The Departure Gate with Mike O’Connor

Departure Gate


Travel fantasies can be fulfilled.

When I was small I sat on the front porch and looked at the hill that commanded our suburb and dreamt of what was on the other side.

The world, in my mind, started on the other side of that hill and as winter faded and the sun grew warmer, I’d imagine the places beyond it to which I’d travel when I grew older.

I’m still doing it. I no longer live in the hill’s shadow and I’ve traveled beyond these shores but I still harbor summer holiday fantasies.

I also have non-travel summer fantasies, chief among them being the one in which I stain the back deck.

I have been entertaining this fantasy now for six months.

In my defence, last week I hung a framed photograph I took on a trip to Europe a year ago, taking exactly 12 months to carry it from the bedroom to the living room, hammer a picture hook into the wall and hang it.

It’s a shot of two empty deck chairs, one either side of a table and both looking out across a mown field beyond which lies a line of trees.

It’s not an exceptional photograph but it serves to remind me that travel fantasies can be fulfilled.

It was taken in France from the stone terrace of a farm house my wife and I rented, a dream I’d finally lived and as summer approaches, the dreams that have hibernated in my mind through winter have begun to stir.

There is the one in which we travel to the Namibian coast of south-west Africa, cross its sweeping deserts and stand on its windswept, wreck dotted coast.

Our magic, business class carpet then sweeps us north to Zanzibar where we sit on a stone dock where the clank of chains and the moans of slaves once echoed and watch the Arab dhows set sail.

We then soar across the Victoria Falls where I listen to their thunder and felt the mist on my skin.

Then we head north to the land of the desert tribes and Casablanca and Marrakech, driven by a sense of hopeless romanticism and because I rate Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia as two of the greatest movies ever made.

Then there’s this island somewhere in the Mediterranean. It’s Greek and the sun is so bright it burns your eyes.

At midday we leave the beach and retreat to the cool of our small, stone floored house. It’s set halfway up a hill and from the window, you can see where the Mediterranean meets the sky.

We spend a month there, sometimes catching a ferry to more popular islands but always returning to the sanctuary of our house.

We’ve tanned dark through the sunblock and the wine is cheap and plentiful.

In Cork, we visit my Irish relatives. It’s a brief visit but they show me where my grandparents were born, the cottages long since overrun by a housing estate.

They left there for Australia a century ago and never saw their homeland again. We go to Dublin, where I’ve been before, and embrace the good humor of that wonderful city and have too much to drink.

In London, we board the Queen Mary 2 and cross the Atlantic. I’ve read the histories of those sleek ships that once raced from Portsmouth to New York to claim the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing and I want to stand on the deck at dawn and watch as we slice through the long, grey Atlantic rollers.

We change ships and round Cape Horn, where once men froze in the rigging of their steel hulled clipper ships as they tried to round that cape where the winds howl and waves roar with more ferocity than anywhere else on earth.

We change ships again and we’re in Australia and sailing the Kimberley coast and then heading south to Margaret River to a house on the beach. There are no neighbors but we can walk to the pub where they do great fish and chips and the sand is like talc.

Then I am hauled from my daydream by my wife who wants to know when I’m going to stain the deck.

``I’m going out,’’ I say. ``Where to?’’ she asks. ``Zanzibar” I reply.