OK, so I’m nervous.
This will be by 8th year living in London, and I get the feeling it will, for now at least, also be my last. I’m sure I’ll be back, but coming back is different to never leaving.
The first few years were straightforward enough. A steady job, a steady girlfriend, with whom I steadily lived with – a steady life. A routine. I can’t say I felt totally fulfilled, but I was happy, content. Working 5 days a week, socializing on weekends with friends, taking an interest in art and literature, attending night school to qualify as a management accountant, and making vague plans for some kind of future; living a life I guess you could call it. I even grew vegetables in my garden and built furniture.
After maybe 4 years, things began to change. My partner did something which, to be honest, and not wishing to sound too dramatic, changed all that I’d thought about ‘love’ and ‘destiny’. Although partly my fault, I felt cheated by all that ethereal stuff; the stuff which always works out in the movies. Well, whatever, initially we both tried to get over it, patch it up, redouble our efforts with one another and move on. Together. For a while we did, but I think we both knew things weren’t quite the same. Something fundamental had changed between us. I think it changed a long way back.
Things at work also began to change – our department moved to a different, quieter part of the office, I’d have less opportunity to travel, we had a new set of managers in the US who wanted to change the way we work – and as such a couple of close colleagues were asked to leave. I had to pick up their work. Unfortunately, being an inherently lazy person, I could never quite see this as the ‘opportunity’ they insisted it was. So it was, a few months later, I handed my notice in, rented out the house, and my partner and I set off to travel through Asia, Australia and New Zealand. That time now feels like a warm, hazy dream. Looking back, perhaps it was. Hold up a photo of that trip and I’d swear it was someone pretending to be me.
On return, I took a decent job at a well known company, whose offices were just a short walk from my house. I had to change the way I worked; be more professional, be punctual, wear a suit, wear a disguise. I drew the line at taking an interest in golf, but it was that kind of place. You’d be surprised if I told you the name of the company. Inside it was all grey and beige, smelt of efficiency, and hummed with the sound of a thousand computers.
That said, things weren’t so bad there. The work was (relatively) interesting, hours were good, and the people were friendly and much more down to earth than in my previous workplace (which, as a news organization tended to employ people with ‘connections’ – offspring of ambassadors and academics. They were from very different backgrounds to me, and it made me acutely aware of the way the world works; not always, but by and large, you were judged on how you look, how you talk and who you know). Still, after a year of being in disguise, I moved on, and went to work back in central London, for a company I thought would be more ‘me’ (whoever that is).
All this time, my partner and I were drifting further and further apart – common interests had changed, as had our circle of friends (many of mine had by now married or moved out of London), our tastes – even some of our most fundamental opinions were no longer, it seemed, compatible. We still had good times, but more and more I found myself feeling alone. Lonely in a city of 10 million. Still, we held on. Commitment? Desperation? Fear? Who knows. Still, we clung.
The new job was the worst job I’d ever had. For a company that is responsible for some of the worlds best loved, heart warming and magical TV shows and films, they sure know how to depress the hell out of their employees. Working insanely long hours, in a tense office with a borderline sociopath boss sitting right in front of me, ready to pounce on any mistake. I soon found myself dreaming of changing everything. Of escaping. Of living in the sun. Of being an outsider. Of waking up to the sound of birds. Or waves.
Of a new life.
It’s the curious way with dreams of that sort, once they are in your head, somehow, and for me, sometimes without trying, slowly they come to pass. My girlfriend and I split. I changed jobs. I registered to work overseas in an aid agency. I met a descendant of the man who invented forceps. The world kept spinning.
The world keeps spinning, but this year, my life will change. For now, everything that I’ve established as ‘me’, I want to walk away from. I think the nerves are kicking in. But that’s OK. Nerves are a good. Change is good.
*That’s my version of the past. It may well conflict with what actually happened, and I’m pretty sure in 10 years I won’t remember like this, but, for now, it’ll do as the truth.