Here we go again. A calendar year comes to an end. Lists, resolutions and retrospectives blanket the media like nostalgic snow. It’s time, we’re urged, to decide what merits a coveted space in our memories.
I’m writing this on a sunny day in Australia. Relative to the same moment last year, I’m upside down and a lot warmer. London, my home for 5 years, finally tipped the scales in my mind from big and exciting to claustrophobic and stifling. So I left.
If I had to point fingers at what things precipitated the move, a few jump to mind. A front-seat bus crash on an icy mountain, then a scary problem with my lung, stripped me of the sense of invincibility I’d happily carried around since I was young. I looked more closely at where I was living: a cold concrete jungle with thickly polluted air. My schedule was so regimented that only the one or two days ‘off’ each month were notable. Serendipity and flexibility had been pushed to the margins of my life, by my own hand.
At the same time, the sharp end of Tory cuts on my workplace meant the organisation was digging ever deeper with fewer resources. My last major project was incredibly fulfilling but floored me at the end of a long winter. Continuing there wasn’t right for me.
I’ve now been travelling (and writing) for six months. Flexibility and serendipity have been abundant.
I got dehydrated in a scorching construction site in Bologna. I scrambled in circles on a damp, boulder-strewn mountainside in Switzerland. I lugged my worldly possessions through crowded, narrow backstreets in Istanbul. I slept fitfully under a table on a ferry rolling across the North Sea. I got stuck up a cliff in the Dolomites (thanks for getting me down, Patrick). I met people I didn’t like. I experienced frustration and isolation and sickness and wanted to go home. The world rumbled around me, politics and war and powerplays. I felt tiny.
It was perfect.
One late October night, I stood gazing over the Thames. In ten hours, I would board a plane toward Australia. The surge of misgivings was like nothing I’d felt before. I would leave behind so many wonderful friends.
Maybe four months rattling my own cage was enough? Did I really need to go halfway round the world to finish the job?
Two months back in Australia and I’m satisfied that the answer is yes. I could talk about reconnecting with my family. That’s been incredible. Catching up with old friends. Loved it. But it’s not what’s had the most visceral impact on me.
Australia feels like home.
Rough black bitumen burning underfoot. A raucous daily dawn chorus. Native birds tracing their signature arcs through the sky. Dynamic oceans of many moods, all enthralling in their own way. Labrynthine, senseless urban sprawl and staggering stretches of highway. Long, dry, scratchy grass dragging red lines across bare shins. Dolphins and spiders and snakes and kangaroos and lightning and fire and meteorites flashing across the Milky Way. Bakery pies and custard tarts. Swearing. Cricket. Barbecues. Flies looping through hot air. Sunshine. A country grappling fiercely with its own sense of identity, values and place in the world.
2016 is the blankest of canvases. I enter the year with more professional experience and confidence than ever. I’ve got a draft of a fiction novel that needs serious editing. I’ve spoken to interesting people about exciting things going on in different parts of the country. And I have a little old car to get me where I need to be.
See you next year. Somewhere.