Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"There's no such thing as 'let's go back'"

It's a bit of a silly motto really.

I mean, there are occasions and situations when going back makes sense, or when it's vital.

When I dropped the ring my husband had given me (no - not an engagement ring.... waiting...) somewhere in the bush on a tramp, I went back.  Hmmm... small chance of finding that in thick NZ subtropical forest!

When realised I'd left my children and my passports in the ladies' loo at Changi airport, I ran like the freakin' wind to go back.  (No, no, that reads very poorly.  I didn't realise I'd left my children, and my passports, but the passports belonging to me and my children. Ditsy? Yes. completely stupid? No.)

I adopted the phrase as my motto on a hike back in 2003.  My family were keen hikers when I was growing up. I was dragged on Sunday afternoon walks every week for years, whether I liked it or not.  Holiday memories include not infrequent images of the kagouled family sheltering behind a dry stone wall to munch cheese sandwiches and pour hot drinks from a metal thermos while the rain drove across the dale. But whatever the weather, however deep the mud, however much I complained, we never went back. In a dire emergency someone might take a shortcut to fetch the car to closer end point, but things would have to be pretty bad for that to happen.

When my then-boyfriend and I moved to New Zealand in 2003 we spent the first few months travelling our new land in a camper van.  It was on a hike in the South Island that I first introduced him to 'There's no such thing as let's go back.' Against the odds we'd found the tree-covered trail head we were looking for and were soon on the hunt for a 'mirror' lake that sounded stunning in the guide book. The trail followed the path of a river and soon crossed a small stream, and so did we. At the next, wider, tributary; my man baulked.

"Come on," he said, "Let's go back."

"What?" I retorted, "Don't be pathetic, it's just water. Anyway, there's no such thing as 'Let's go back' - not in my family!"

We took our boots and socks off. A little further and there was another, deeper, stream; boots off and trousers rolled up.  Deeper again; boots and trousers right off.  Then we hit a small tributary that would require a cold swim. This was getting fun - or was it silly?  We weren't half way to the lake and had no idea how many more crossings we would have to do needing clothes off, find a way to carry them, chilly swim, clothes back on.

"Come on," said my man, "Let's just go back."

I tried to insist. It wouldn't be so hard to swim, I said, we could bundle our clothes and throw them across. It would be fine.

"And what about when the next one is even wider.  All this boots on, boots off is taking a long time too. We really have no idea how far we have to go, either..."

"But theres' no such thing as 'let's go back'." I complained.

He won, we went back. That hike is still on my list of 'things to do' before I die.

So it was with the international move, I guess.  The man insists he hates the UK, was glad to leave, and has repeatedly said he'd never live there again.  Fast forward to 2011 when he returns from a business trip to England, and among other curve balls he throws at me, says he wants to go back to England in six months' time, to live. WHAT?

Well, we'd talked about living in Europe. We'd discussed perhaps in a few years' time - three or five were mentioned. Phrases like "the south of France", "somewhere warm, with lots of sunny days" were certainly prominent in those conversations. If I ever even mentioned England, there was usually a stream of vitriol about the country of my birth, that I sometimes found frankly rude and insulting.  I may not have wanted to live there, but...

Fast forward again to now, and here I sit in my parents' home (sheltering from persistent rain) in a small, pretty, English town (not the large, less-than-pretty English town I grew up in, thank god) with my two young children, scouring the internet for a rental home in a nearby city and an English school for my eldest.

Coming back is weird. I put my foot down and refused to move in the six months the man had stated. Our marriage was in tatters aside from anything else, and it would also have meant two winters on the trot. Not something I relished. And living with a man who professed a deep hatred for cold and damp it was simply a big fat no-no if our relationship had any hope at all. So we came in summer (ha bloody ha. Someone forgot to tell the weather what summer is supposed to look like...) - with me and the girls the advance party. I strongly advocated not moving back to London. If we were going back we wouldn't go back, I reasoned, we'd go somewhere new.  And so we will.

I was pretty emotional leading up to the move. Lots of tears. I'd just found some good friends and a place I love living in; we moved to our lovely seaside suburb only fifteen months ago after eight years out in the countryside. I finally found myself again this past year, and like-minded people too. I had the sea right at the end of my road.  The girls had a beloved aunt who adored them and who had become a close friend. Our marriage was mending. Leaving all that felt and feels like a huge risk. Perhaps a foolish one.

Just sitting on the plane knowing it was a one-way journey felt off-whack. I can't quite explain why. But it was odd.  When I flew out to New Zealand it felt one hundred percent right. I was relieved to be finally going after two years of talking about it.  But coming back?  A little wonky.

I needed help at Heathrow. I packed too much hand luggage, my four-year-old had thrown up the entire contents of her stomach not half an hour before landing and both children were so sound asleep when the plane came to a halt that I was worried about them. Singapore Air staff kindly helped me off the plane, and handed me over to surly British ground crew. They would help, but not with grace and no smile, and only in a limited manner. Had I been less ragged I would have been more assertive. Damn it. But someone wheeled some of our luggage while I cajoled the children through that dreadful place. And smiled.

It was raining when we left the airport.  That was two weeks ago and we've had just one day when it possibly didn't rain for most of it. In what is meant to be mid-summer.  Meanwhile in my old suburb of Auckland my friends are taking their children to the beach in t-shirts, in mid-winter. Hmmm.

I've forgotten how fast you're allowed to drive on which roads. Really no idea at all. But I learnt to drive here, I drove here for years.

So many roundabouts - my head is spinning.

The money looks odd.  Ten pen pieces seem to have disappeared and the five pees look like something from a foreign country. Very small. Very fancy.

I'm trying to rent a home for my family and am told I have no credit rating and will need to pay six months' rent in advance.

But it's lovely seeing my children form closer bonds with their grandparents.

Everyone talks with English accents. Clearly I'm not staying in a very multi-cultural area right now, but the accents are really funny.  I'm really noticing them. And for some reason even the kids who think they're talking in 'hard' voices, sound posh!

Even after ten years in New Zealand I didn't 'get' cultural references on TV shows. Switch on a telly here, and I'm auto-tuned in. Odd.

No one sells seaweed rice crackers. And this is a problem. I mean, in a Kiwi supermarket you have heaps of choice of crackers, and rice crackers in particular. And here I can't even find one.  Well, okay, there were some barbecue flavoured 'SakATa' - no thanks, especially not at two quid a pack. Missing a trick, England....

I think I'm going to like my new city. It's full of huge old buildings. It's old-fashioned, a tad quaint, rather lovely. I took my dad to a bit I liked and he thought it 'rather suburban'. I thought it rather villagey!

It's late, and I should wrap this one up.  The moral of my tale is, I guess, that going back can be an adventure in itself. A challenge all its own. It's not defeat, nor treading the same path or retracing your steps. The journey always looks different in the opposite direction. Things appear new, you view them from a new angle. Sometimes a way that was easy the first time, is harder when you turn around. And sometimes that might be a good thing.

Here's hoping.

(c) Naomi Madelin

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