Fitting back into England has been a bit like putting on an old glove. On the surface it’s easy but there is a definite lack of connection. Maybe that’s because the ties to Australia are stronger than they used to be. There are times however when it has such a strong familiarity about it I feel almost at home. I remember a TV show in Australia about expat poms and how they felt about their experience there. Some had not found what they wanted and gone back and others were quite at home in the sun and warmth. One particular Brit had said he didn’t miss much but proximity to Europe was one of these. The best thing about the UK, he said, is France. Can’t help agreeing with that. One friend thinks this country is in a collective state of depression (well it always has been to some extent).
Proximity to Europe brings the subject of Brexit. There’s a definite negative feel I have about the place as it seems to lurch towards a disastrous hard Brexit. As far as Brexit is concerned there are a multitude of views from our friends and others. Some voted for it and regret it. They say they were lied to, which is definitely true. Some friends are planning to buy a place in Spain but voted for it anyway and are a bit confused why that plan will now be a lot more complicated, if it’s achievable at all. Lots of people think it’s nuts while one friend who lives in Romania hasn’t really given it loads of deep thought but has just said he has no idea what will happen when it does happen. Hopefully there won’t be a time when he is sent home and needs leave his partner and young daughter behind. Of course, two particular acquaintances were diehard Tories who loved the whole idea of tipping the place upside down. Like many in this category they had some money (either earned or inherited) and at least one had a foreign passport. Older people without a job and livelihood to lose supported it in droves and no doubt still do. It will mostly affect the poor who supported it because they saw the EU as the source of the erosion of their world and the prospect of even more Johnny Foreigners overrunning the place. Essentially racism lies at much of the heart of it. More than one person has thought the old (meaning white) Commonwealth should band together as a jolly club and trade together like to old days. But the old days have passed.
Which brings me to another noticeable point about London – the disappearance of the Australasian community. Years ago, it would be unlikely that the person pulling your pint in a central London pub would not have an Antipodean accent. Clearly there are a number of reasons for this as this BBC article from a few years ago says: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25401024
There are of course large numbers of them somewhere but the old ritual of moving to London on the old working holiday has clearly pretty much died. I think it’s not just cultural reasons, although someone should tell the older Brits that Australians and New Zealanders don’t really look towards the “Home Country” the way they once did. I think a lot of it is economically driven as well. The London working holiday was largely driven by the tyranny of distance and the vast expense of travelling to the other side of the world. This is no so much the case more really with the massive fall in airfares. Any office in Australia will always have a roll call of those on holiday in Vietnam, Slovenia, New York or Peru. Off for a few weeks and back to your comfy home. With travel now an off the shelf commodity for many and gap years also an industry that offer a myriad of possibilities beyond cramming ten to a tiny flat under the grey skies while working hard at piteously paying jobs to fund a jaunt round the sights of Europe in an old Kombi. Mind you that wasn’t quite my London experience. I have never been to the Bierfest for a start or much of that “circuit” but still did enjoy the company and friendship of my compatriots when I lived here.
But as I rapidly head towards senior status (well I’m there already but don’t qualify for the pension) I have seen quite a bit of change in the world and while it’s not always great I have learnt not to fear it but embrace it. It’s lovely to have spent this time here. The wonderful summer is a lovely accompaniment to travel through the benign green and pleasant countryside. To catch up with old friends is always lovely especially when their lives have been good.
I’m not the same person I was when I last lived in the UK and it is not the same place. No tears to shed about that. It’s nice to see old haunts and to remember the years in London which were largely very happy ones. When you are young the place is rich in adventurous possibilities while now I am merely a visitor. A well acquainted one but a visitor nonetheless. While I have easily able to reintegrate on one level there is also no going back. Once this was my home and I didn’t want to leave but I feel no great pull to stay. For now, being a visitor is good.
There have been some setbacks this trip. The main one has been the difficulty of renting the house. Never expected that one. With its conversion to an Airbnb, more income will eventually flow. There has been a run of other misfortunes. Kicking it off was my phone. Somehow the sim cards managed to dislodge and jam in it. It required major surgery to extract them. This rendered me totally phoneless for several days. I thought I might die from withdrawals but it actually wasn’t so bad. In the course of the sim card surgery the tray had to be cut. My slightly unusual phone meant that I had to buy a replacement part form China which will take up to a month to arrive. Now I have to exist with a phone that is simply a phone.
Secondly the Citroen Berlingo acquired an overheating disorder and the cause is not immediately clear. It can still run short distances but we have been forced to hire a car to get any sort of distance. Shit happens and often in stinking piles.
I’ll just keep looking forward. First to some time near the Mediterranean and then a sojourn in warmer and more exotic climes.