Chapter 1: In Which Nellie Proposes to Girdle the Earth
New York City
‘If I could do it as quickly as Phileas Fogg did, I should go.’ -- Nellie Bly
A clock taunts the hours, shattering the early morning silence in the apartment that journalist Nellie Bly shares with her mother in Manhattan. All day long and into the night she has scoured her brain. Sunday is her customary day for preparing story proposals for her editor at The New York World. When she finally stumbles into bed, the prospects of finding an idea are as bleak as the bitter November darkness outside. Her quilt lies on the floor, sheets escape from her mattress, her nightclothes seem to strangle her. It is 2.45 am; Monday is already here and she has nothing, not a single proposal for her meeting later that day. Frazzled by fatigue and frustration, all she wants to do is escape. ‘I wish I was at the other end of the earth!’ she exclaims in the pre-dawn hours. Nellie stops to ponder her words, raising an eyebrow. ‘And why not?’ she asks herself. For two years she has worked non-stop at The New York World, the leading paper of its time. Migraine headaches are setting in. ‘I need a vacation; why not take a trip around the world?’ she says. One thought leads to another and by 3.00 am Nellie has a plan. She will challenge the record of Jules Verne’s hero in Around the World in 80 Days. ‘If I could do it as quickly as Phileas Fogg did, I should go.’ With that Nellie drifts off to sleep, determined to discover that very day if she can circle the world in less than eighty days.
That was it! The idea, born of exhaustion, that ignited a record-breaking journey that would define Nellie’s life, make her the most famous woman of her time, launch a legacy that lives on today, and make the world a little smaller. The idea that, 125 years later, would inspire me to pay tribute to Nellie by following her footsteps around the world.
* * *
Like Nellie, I like to set aside Sundays, usually after lunch, to pursue ideas, not so much for articles, but for adventures. It is my time and space, alone with my PC and my journal. I love reading about Victorian female adventurers and how they defied convention despite society’s determination to shrink their horizons and their waists through second-rate roles and body-distorting garments. Women like intrepid explorer Isabella Bird (1831–1904), queen of the desert Gertrude Bell (1868–1926) who mapped out Iraq, and wayfaring biologist Mary Kingsley (1862–1900). They all left their inhibitions at home and journeyed into the unknown alone across Asia, Africa, Arabia and America. It took grit, especially in a man’s world.
I decide I want to put female explorers ‘back on the map’, to rekindle a sense of adventure in myself and others, particularly my daughter Acadia and her co-millennials. I will revive a role model, an invincible woman who defied the status quo, walked on the wild side and explored the world without fear, eye liner or social media accounts. There are many; I cannot wait to compile a shortlist.
That is exactly what I am doing when I first meet Nellie Bly. Outside, a nippy day in winter 2013; inside, my desk edged up next to the radiator, scrolling, skimming and sifting through the lives of female adventurers. Suddenly she jumps off the screen at me. The more I get to know her, the more I am taken with this fearless woman who would not take no for an answer despite living at a time – the end of the nineteenth century – when women ‘knew their place’. Nellie knew her place all right, smack dab on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. She sends all the other contenders scurrying. She pushes herself front and forward. I let her. We click.
I cannot resist Nellie’s ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude that impelled her to conquer male-dominated newsrooms, feign madness to reveal brutality inside a women’s insane asylum and whiz solo around the world with a single bag. Most of all, I am in awe of her humanitarianism. Nellie’s newspaper campaigns for rights, justice and dignity gave voices to vulnerable people, especially women and children, and reformed corrupt institutions: asylums, prisons, sweat shops, orphanages. Unlike Nellie, my undertaking to get female adventurers like her ‘back on the map’ will not be a race around the world. It will be an adventure. I will re-enact her journey. I will walk in her footsteps and I will witness her travels.
Nellie’s first step was to study the routes and timetables of the ocean liners plying the seas to determine if she could circle the world in less than eighty days. Alas, the sun has set on the British Empire and I discover that the colonial ports that welcomed Nellie in 1889 now serve only cargo and cruise ships. The liners that Nellie knew are no more, and all of their routes, except for one, are lost at sea, along with my hopes of tracing her journey by ship. I must fly. I name my travel blog Nellie Bly in the Sky and begin to compile an itinerary.
The defining moment arrives for me when dates begin to fall in place. The year ahead will bring a milestone anniversary; 14 November 2014 marks 125 years since Nellie set off on her record-breaking voyage around the world. It is the sign I awaited; this landmark anniversary is the journalistic hook on which to hang my own journey. #NellieBly125 is born on Twitter; my blog goes live. I will re-enact Nellie’s globetrotting journey to commemorate the 125th anniversary of her triumphant achievement.
* * *
When Nellie awoke the next morning, she knew exactly where to go – Steamship Row, where Manhattan meets Hudson Bay on lower Broadway at Bowling Green. Here the offices of transatlantic liners stood shoulder to shoulder on cobbled streets scored with trolley tracks leading to the city’s busy waterfront. Offering passages to ports around the world, Cunard Line, Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, Clyde Lines, Anchor Line and Red Star Line had set up headquarters in the Federalist-style former homes of city merchants. Their handsome brick three-storey façades with arched doorways and sash windows spoke of direct steamers between New York and Le Havre, Southampton, Antwerp and other destinations. Above their slate roofs capped with dormer windows and tall chimneys, steamship company names soared in giant letters visible far out into the harbour. It was one-stop shopping for Victorian voyagers.
The former Steamship Row site, today subsumed into New York City’s throbbing financial heart, remains a magnet for travellers. Transatlantic ocean liner passengers like Nellie have been superseded by twenty-first century tourists charging onto ferries crossing to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. These days only one authentic liner still plies the ocean and it is the largest, the longest, the tallest and the most expensive ever built. Cunard Line’s flagship RMS Queen Mary 2 crosses the Atlantic between New York and Southampton twenty-five times a year. Glimpses of the golden age of steamship travel – when ocean liners ruled the waves and flying machines waited in the wings – linger in the Greek revival entrances for first class and cabin class passengers at Citibank, Number One Broadway. Mosaic shields representing major port cities, including London, Paris, Southampton and New York, ring Citibank’s second storey like a necklace. Gargantuan ocean liners engraved in bronze decorate 20 Exchange Place nearby; and starred railings lead to the former offices of Blue Star Lines at 9–11 Broadway.
It was here, 125 years earlier, that Nellie calculated the crossings that could lead to the journey of her life, perhaps even the journey of the century. ‘Anxiously I sat down and went over them,’ she wrote, ‘and if I had found the elixir of life I should not have felt better than I did when I conceived a hope that a tour of the world might be made in even less than eighty days.’ Nellie was sure it could be done. She could travel the entire world in less than eighty days and break Phileas Fogg’s record. With ships’ timetables clutched in her hand and spinning in her head, she set off from Steamship Row to see her editor in The World’s offices at 31–32 Park Row on Printing House Square, about a mile away.
En route, Nellie’s usual self-assurance vanished. Battling the cynical voices invading her head – too wild, too visionary, too far – she inched herself into managing editor John Cockerill’s office that Monday. Without warning she blurted out: ‘I want to go around in eighty days or less. I think I can beat Phileas Fogg’s record. May I try it?’ Cockerill looked up, a cautious smile emerging behind his walrus-style moustache as he toyed with the pens on his desk. He gave in eventually, but winning over The World’s business manager George W. Turner was another matter. The answer was an adamant no. ‘The terrible verdict,’ she called it. ‘It is impossible for you to do it,’ Turner said. Impossible was a word that Nellie abhorred. It held no place in her vocabulary and certainly not in her approach to life.
Turner laid out his reasons. ‘In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector.’ In the 1880s it was unthinkable for a single woman to travel alone around the city, let alone around the world, without a chaperone. Secondly, the sheer number of steamer trunks required would slow her down and impede her passage. And thirdly, Nellie spoke only English on an itinerary covering a dozen countries with at least ten languages. ‘There is no use talking about it,’ the business manager said. ‘No one but a man can do this.’ That was enough for Nellie. ‘Very well,’ she fumed. ‘Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.’ Turner reflected. ‘I believe you would,’ he said. By the end of the meeting Nellie had secured a promise that if anyone was commissioned to make the trip, it would be her.
Nellie had already established a reputation for doing whatever it took to get a good story, including putting her life in danger. Just the year before, when she had smuggled herself past the security guard at The New York World, Nellie was penniless, jobless and desperate. She had been pounding the city’s pavements daily for four months to no avail. But before she left The World that day, Nellie had set the scene for an assignment that would transform her life, and the world of journalism, forever. Once inside the building, she finagled her way into the office of managing editor John Cockerill and proposed an article about the wretched conditions faced by destitute immigrants crossing the Atlantic to America. It was rejected. But after conferring with The World’s publisher Joseph Pulitzer, Cockerill asked Nellie if she could work her way into an insane asylum. ‘I don’t know what I can do until I try,’ she replied.
That was it; the conversation that ignited a brave new approach to journalism. This was the dawn of investigative journalism, and Nellie Bly was its pioneer. Just before leaving Cockerill’s office she asked him how he would get her out of the asylum. ‘I don’t know,’ was his bleak answer, ‘only get in.’ In her most astonishing achievement, even more than racing around the globe, Nellie convinced authorities that she was insane and endured ten excruciating days inside the women’s section of the New York City Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. ‘Positively demented. I consider it a hopeless case,’ said one of the doctors who admitted her.
His shocking verdict condemned Nellie, and countless other women, to ice cold baths in filthy water, putrid meals, relentless taunting from malicious nurses, and beatings that drew blood and bruises. ‘What, excepting anguish, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment?’ she wrote. Most unbearable of all for Nellie was the torment of her fellow inmates. ‘In thinking of the greater misery of the others, I forgot the sting of my own.’ Nellie found out how easy it was to enter an asylum, but now, to her increasing terror, she was discovering how hard it was to get out. This assignment from hell had landed her in a ‘human rat-trap’, a ‘den of horror’, that she feared she might never escape. At last Cockerill sent a lawyer to get her out after the ‘ten longest days’ of her life.
When it was published, Behind Asylum Bars shocked the nation. Nellie’s accounts and her book Ten Days in a Mad-House unleashed sweeping reforms and almost $1 million to enact them. Inspectors invaded asylums across America seeking out cruelty and neglect. Her Blackwell’s Island exposés brought acclaim for Nellie Bly. She had proven that she would go to any lengths for a story. But the assignment that would make her the most talked about woman on the planet was yet to come.
* * *
On the dark, drizzly evening of Monday, 11 November 1889, almost a year since her proposal to The World’s managing editor, Nellie received a note summoning her to his office. Heading downtown, her apprehension swelled into anxiety; what could she have done to warrant such an urgent summons? As she approached The World’s offices, a heroically sized bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin emerged from the ash-grey mist of Printing House Square. He carried a copy of The Pennsylvania Gazette, the newspaper he had published in Nellie’s home state more than 100 years earlier. The effigy of this legendary printer, inventor, patriot and statesman, who once commanded the vast square flanked by City Hall and New York’s leading newspapers, is now squeezed into an asphalt triangle. Today Benjamin Franklin rises from his massive granite plinth as testimony to the newspaper legacy of Park Row and Printing House Square, where Nellie carved out her career.
On this wet November evening, she was about to take on the assignment of her life. Cockerill was busy writing when Nellie slipped into his office. Without a word she sat down next to her editor’s two-tier, multi-drawer desk and waited for him to look up. Manilla paper scrolls – marked, squashed and tossed – spilled from his wire waste basket. At last, lifting his neck and peering out under slumped eyebrows, Cockerill asked her quietly, ‘Can you start around the world the day after tomorrow?’ ‘I can start this minute,’ she replied. Less than seventy-two hours later, Nellie was aboard the SS Augusta Victoria. Her race was about to begin. There was just enough time to commission a travelling ensemble, purchase a warm coat and a travel bag, and write notes to her loved ones.
By mid-morning the next day Nellie was in the upper Manhattan studio of society dressmaker William Ghormley of Ghormley Robes et Manteaux, with shops in New York City and Paris. The four-storey brownstone townhouse, turned shop front, stood in the city’s most prestigious commercial district frequented by the well-to-do ‘carriage trade’. Nellie was known to take great pride in her wardrobe, so this may not have been her first visit to Ghormley’s. ‘I want a dress by this evening,’ she said to Ghormley, ‘a dress that will stand constant wear for three months.’ William Ghormley did not even flinch. Bringing out a parade of fabrics, he draped his best cottons, linens, wools and silks artistically over a small table, studying their tones and textures in a large looking glass. He selected a plain blue broadcloth and a camel’s hair plaid as the most durable combination for a travelling gown. Before Nellie left at lunchtime, the seams of her gown had been boned to give it structure, and she had already completed her first fitting. When she arrived back at 5.00 pm for a second fitting, the dress was finished. ‘I considered this promptness and speed a good omen and quite in keeping with project,’ she wrote. In eight hours Ghormley had fashioned a two-piece fitted gown that under normal circumstances would require at least four days of work. Nellie was delighted, but not surprised. ‘If we want good work from others or wish to accomplish anything ourselves, it will never do to harbour a doubt as to the result of an enterprise,’ she said. She need not have harboured any doubts. Ghormley acted as if it were an ‘everyday thing for a young woman to order a gown on a few hours’ notice’.
William Ghormley did not keep customers waiting. Earlier that year, hehad created Caroline Harrison’s gown for the inaugural ball celebrating her husband Benjamin’s election as twenty-third President of the United States. The First Lady arrived at the ball on the evening of 4 March 1889 in a flowing fawn silk and brocade gown, to the music of John Philip Sousa and his Marine Corps Band. Ghormley’s opulent design, complete with a train, is one of the most luxurious in the Smithsonian Institution’s collection of First Ladies’ ball gowns. Nellie’s ‘Ghormley gown’ no longer exists and neither does Ghormley Robes et Manteaux. The celebrated society dressmaker did not stand the test of time; just four years after making gowns for the First Lady and Nellie, the business he opened in 1879 collapsed.
The fitted blue broadcloth and camel hair gown delivered by Ghormley in twenty-four hours served Nellie non-stop for seventy-two days. More practical than eye-catching, her travel ensemble, including a Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker cap, a black plaid ulster coat, and a small leather bag she called a gripsack, would soon be recognised the world over. ‘I got a cap with a double-peak,’ she wrote of her deerstalker. ‘Quite English, you know!’ Her iconic outfit turned up in newspapers and advertisements, on games and lookalike dolls.
* * *
Although her dress, coat and hat are lost to history, Nellie’s small Swiss roll-shaped gripsack, known in Britain as a Gladstone bag, is the property of her biographer Brooke Kroeger. She loaned it for display at the Newseum, a glass and steel superstructure in Washington DC devoted to journalism and freedom of expression, where I was lucky to view it before the institution closed in 2019. I had to see Nellie’s gripsack. Just like feigning madness to get herself committed to a lunatic asylum, she would do whatever it took to race around the world faster than anyone ever had, even if it meant squeezing everything into a 16 x 7 inch bag, and wearing the same clothes for seventy-two days. Washington DC was not on my official Nellie Bly itinerary, but I quickly tacked it on and flew to meet my great friend and fellow journalist Louisa Peat O’Neil who had arranged a day at the Newseum. I was hoping that I could hold the gripsack – even just for a minute. But alas, we were separated by Plexiglas. The travel-worn leather bag, scuffed at the edges, was encased in a display applauding Nellie as an undercover reporter. Even though I knew its limited dimensions, and had seen photographs of Nellie carrying the gripsack, I was taken aback by its modest size, no bigger than a bolster cushion. Now I have my own, a vintage lookalike gripsack, exactly the same size, a gift from my French friend Delphine Higonnet, who snapped it up for me at a brocante in Belgium.
* * *
Nellie purchased her travel gripsack the afternoon before her departure. She chose her bag with the strict intention of confining her baggage. In her race against time, and the conventions that kept women ‘in their place’, Nellie had to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. She also intended to prove that women were capable of travelling without trunks. Buying the gripsack was easy; but packing it was a nightmare: ‘the most difficult undertaking of my life, there was so much to go into such a little space,’ Nellie wrote. ‘I got everything in at last except the extra dress. Then the question resolved itself into this: I must either add a parcel to my baggage or go around the world with one dress. I always hated parcels so I sacrificed the dress.’ That’s how Nellie came to circumnavigate the globe for seventy-two days in a single gown carrying one small bag. At least thirty gripsacks the size of Nellie’s would easily fit inside a single trunk. In an era when trunkless travel was unheard of, Nellie astonished porters, inspectors, ship stewards, fellow passengers, even the newspaper that employed her, with her lack of luggage. ‘Just think of it – a run of 30,000 miles, more or less, and not even a Saratoga nor even a flat stateroom trunk,’ The World stated, noting that ‘many a belle’ would feel hard done by without taking ‘a round dozen of great roomy trunks for a fortnight’s stay at a Summer resort’. In Nellie’s era, massive curved iron-bound leather trunks known as Saratogas occupied most staterooms and ships’ holds. Named after the swanky spa city and racecourse in New York, Saratogas featured separate compartments, pockets and trays for the ease of packing. Hints for Lady Travellers, a guide published the same year as Nellie’s journey, warns women that gowns ‘are the terrible part of packing; each one requires a tray to itself ’. Nellie’s only gown was on her back.
Dora de Blaquiére, writing for the Girl’s Own Paper 1890 Annual on ‘The Purchase of Outfits for India and the Colonies’, praised Nellie as a shining exemplar of how to pack for long voyages, and noted that she was ‘living proof ’ that fashion had at last ‘gone hand in hand with common sense’. What Nellie didn’t pack – crinolines, high heeled shoes, lace-up corsets and other body-deforming garments – impressed the Girl’s Own journalist. ‘While others debated on the best dresses for walking or working, the whole problem had been completely solved by this American lady in her two month and 11 day journey,’ she wrote.
Even so, Nellie’s gripsack bulged like a haggis. She squashed her belongings until everything fit, except for a gossamer silk waterproof that she draped across her right arm. Like closing the lid on a jack-in-the-box, she gave her contents a final shove and snapped the latch shut before it could spring open. ‘One never knows the capacity of an ordinary hand satchel until dire necessity compels the exercise of all one’s ingenuity to reduce everything to the smallest possible compass,’ she wrote.
Nellie’s packing list:
two travelling caps
complete outfit of toilet articles
pens, pencils, and copy-paper
pins, needles and thread
small flask and a drinking cup
several complete changes of underwear
liberal supply of handkerchiefs
fresh ruching fabrics to decorate collar and cuffs
jar of cold cream
‘Most bulky and compromising of all’ was the cold cream. She called it ‘the bane of my existence’. ‘It seemed to take up more room than everything else in the bag and was always getting into just the place that would keep me from closing the satchel,’ she wrote. In Nellie’s day, cosmetics were seen as instruments of the devil; only actresses and prostitutes used them. Respectable women applied cold cream, not makeup, to enhance their complexions; daubing it on their faces, hands and necks. Nellie used it to ward off the chapping that could come from travelling in foreign climates.
Along with her gripsack, Nellie carried £200 ($250) in English gold sovereigns, and Bank of England notes. She also took some American gold and paper money to discover if it would be accepted outside her country. The gold was tucked into her pocket; the notes were placed into a chamois-skin bag and tied around her neck. She kept track of local time with a timepiece attached to a leather bracelet; New York time was tracked on an ornate twenty-four-hour pocket watch.
What she refused to pack was a revolver. ‘Someone suggested that a revolver would be a good companion piece for the passport, but I had such a strong belief in the world’s greeting me as I greeted it, that I refused to arm myself.’
What she forgot to pack was a camera. ‘The only regret of my trip, and one I can never cease to deplore, was that in my hasty departure I forgot to take a Kodak. On every ship and at every port I met others – and envied them – with Kodaks. They could photograph everything that pleased them; the light in those lands is excellent, and many were the pleasant mementos of their acquaintances and themselves they carried home on their plates,’ she wrote. Alas, Nellie’s round-the-world adventure is documented only by her words; she painted pictures with them. The World illustrated accounts of her journey with sketches: Nellie boarding the Augusta Victoria, eating breakfast on the train to Amiens, toasting with Jules Verne, the end of the journey at Jersey City, standing alongside history’s greatest explorers. Many were drawn by her close friend at The World, cartoonist Walt McDougall.
Even with her ultra-lean luggage, Nellie believed that she could have packed even less. ‘Experience showed me that I had taken too much rather than too little baggage,’ she wrote. Leaving New York, she had no idea that whatever she needed, including ready-made dresses, could be purchased in ports along the way. Nellie packed ‘on the theory that she would only be able to secure the services of a laundress once or twice’ on her journey. In reality, laundry services were available at every port at prices far less than at home. Out at sea on the P&O ships, the quartermasters turned out a daily wash that would ‘astonish the largest laundry in America,’ she noted. Throughout her entire journey, only once did Nellie regret her limited travel wardrobe. Without an evening dress to wear, she chose to forego an official dinner in Hong Kong. But it was a small price to pay when compared with the ‘responsibilities and worries I escaped by not having trunks and boxes to look after,’ she wrote. ‘So much for my preparations. It will be seen that if one is travelling simply for the sake of travelling and not for the purpose of impressing one’s fellow passengers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one.’
* * *
Packing her bag was ‘the most difficult undertaking’ of Nellie’s life. My biggest challenge is mapping my route. To organise her itinerary, Nellie had to make her way to the ocean liner offices on Steamship Row and leaf page by page through bundles of ships’ timetables. All I have to do is switch on the Wi-Fi. I can plan it all online with an Around the World Explorer ticket. But I struggle as the planet stretches across the computer screen before me – continents and countries are powder-blue, oceans are sky-blue and airports are designated with navy blue dots. With so many places to take off and land, it looks like the map has measles. I wonder if everything is designated in shades of blue, the colour linked to serenity, to calm the nerves of people like me as we hop around the world on computer keys.
I am looking for a sign; any sign that will deliver me from the randomness of my route mapping. Nellie completed her journey in seventy-two days. My current itinerary fills twenty-seven days. Transposing the numbers is just the sign I need to hold my breath, close my eyes and press confirm on the Explorer ticket website. London–Colombo–Singapore–Hong Kong–Tokyo–New York–Washington–London, all direct flights, the shortest flying time available. My ticket confirmation arrives on 4 July 2014; accommodations are secured; the dream becomes a reality. I just need to purchase today’s equivalent of Nellie Bly’s leather gripsack. The forty-litre black and grey rolling rucksack I buy for my journey is slightly larger than Nellie’s bag. Measuring 21 x 10 inches, I can roll it on its two wheels or unleash hidden straps and carry it on my back. Billed as great for weekend adventures, it will serve me for more than a month as I follow Nellie around the world. Phileas Fogg carried a carpet bag, Nellie took a gripsack and I will travel with a convertible rucksack. I feel so righteous when travelling light. While others are organising porters as in earlier times, or swarming around baggage carousels like we do today, Nellie and I are off exploring our destinations. Along with independence and mobility, packing Nellie Bly-style means: no baggage fees, no lost or delayed luggage, easier access on public transport, and more space in hotel rooms or hostel dorms. It is also a plus when your accommodation is five flights up with no elevators.
Shrinking everything down to the ‘smallest possible compass’ like Nellie is easy with twenty-first century fabrics that wick, breathe, and even ward off rain, sunburn and mosquitoes. They pack down to nothing and dry overnight after a quick dip in the bathroom basin. My mix and match batch of clothing, in a quartet of basic colours: khaki, white, black and purple, takes up less space than Nellie’s dressing gown alone, and gives me at least a dozen more outfits than her. My state-of-the-art tablet computer, weighing slightly over two pounds, replaces Nellie’s ink-stand, pens, pencils and copy-paper, although I am never without a reporter’s pad and biro. Essential communications gear, not cold cream, clogs my rolling rucksack: the tablet, camera, mobile phone, chargers and their accompanying adapters. The only lipstick I take will get lost along the way.
My packing list:
two skirts (one khaki, one floral)
a navy mosquito-resistant shift
three t-shirts: white, purple and lime green
one gingham shirt
several complete changes of underwear*
first aid kit
glasses and sunglasses
tablet, mobile phone, camera, chargers and adapter
notebook* and pens*
four bandanas and a shawl
* the same as Nellie
My bandanas will multi-task as scarves, serviettes, washcloths, hankies and mini tablecloths. Purple, pink, turquoise and red, I can wear them around my neck, in my hair, on my head and in my pocket. The shift triples as a sun dress, beach cover-up and nightgown. Protection from too much sun or chilly winds, my black and white striped cotton shawl from India adds a dash to travel outfits, covers my legs in temples, and provides something to sit or lie on. I wear it over my head, across my shoulders and around my waist. I secure my case with a mini pale blue combination lock, more as a deterrent than proper protection. My secret code is 125, marking the 125th anniversary of Nellie’s voyage. Nellie did not lock her gripsack; it was too full.
* * *
Nellie wrote letters to her loved ones the night before she left. My loved one, my daughter Acadia, 19, wrote a letter to me.
You’re leaving in five days! Although I’m a little apprehensive about the trip and wish you were travelling first class, I am very proud that you are going round the world when most mummies are grey and boring and watching The Morning Show. So I guess you do classify as a ‘cool mummy.’
I am so jealous, please can we go travelling my style, five-star hotels, spas, first class, when I’ve finished university?
On your travels, remember be interested, not interesting. Unless it’s in a sealed bottle, don’t drink it and if it’s not from a pack, don’t smoke it.
You don’t really tell me off unless it’s about the important things. You’ve always supported me, no matter how many silly and occasionally slightly immoral things I’ve done and you always seem to be right in the end!
I’ll try not to stress Daddy out too much and manage my money a bit better while you are away. Also I’m being taught to cook by my roommates so you might have competition when you get back; how I’ll survive without your shrimp risotto for a month I have no idea.
I love you lots and lots.
Wormie [My nickname for Acadia because she wiggles a lot and loves to read books.]