There’s No Place Like Home

Where’s My Ruby Slippers? is five years old this month, and it’s with huge reluctance that I’ve decided it’s time to say goodbye. I’ve been in London for nearly a year now and my expat life, the full technicolour version that I once lived, is most definitely filed in ‘memories’. I have a full and happy life here, that I love, and it’s not taken anywhere near as much time or effort as I once feared it would. Occasionally it’s tinged with the sadness of it not being where I was, and often it’s saturated with the exhaustion that comes with the territory of building a new life. It’s doesn’t feel like I never left, though, doesn’t feel like I’ve wandered back into my old self; I’m a different person, in a different world, and I never expected it to be anything else. I’m glad it’s not.

As I slowly sink into life here, I become steadily, softly ejected from the old life in Dubai. The messages and skype calls and everyday contact so prevalent just a few months ago, are diminishing. Photos appear, of my friends’ smiling faces, their arms wrapped around strangers I will never know. And of course, there have been more goodbyes. I watch from afar (well, okay, from Facebook) as the people I once cherished in my everyday begin to scatter to the four winds and return home, or continue their journey around the world. It was always inevitable. And I know in those moments when news of the next departure reaches me, that I will most likely never see them again. And each time another one leaves, I am sad, not just because it is another friendship confined to the realms of social media, but because I feel my ties to the city I used to call home being cut, one by one by one.

One day there will be no one left there, and I wonder if, when this happens, I’ll ever go back. Our son was born there; I used to believe that this fact would bind us, even if the near-decade we spent there was slowly erased by time and the absence of familiar faces. But even a year on, I’m not sure it’s enough. I’m not sure, when everyone is gone, what will be left. A holiday destination; a place we once lived; but a home? No, I don’t think so.

Is London home now? Nearly. Not quite, yet; we’re about to move house again and there’s still a hundred things I don’t know about, don’t know how to do, not sure how to get there. But I know that it’s only a matter of time. I am happy, abundant with friends old and new; I have accomplished an enormous amount in a year that I know I couldn’t have dreamt of achieving ten years ago and I have my expat life to thank for that. I’m proud and amazed at myself, that I did it better this time around, without too many tears or fights or slow lonely days and nights – and given my tendency to be glass half empty, that I did it with so much joy. Life is full, life is good, in a thousand different ways. And because it’s good, and because I’m just getting on with things, it feels like it might be time to say goodbye to my Ruby Slippers. To keep writing about this part of my life – to keep one foot in the doorway of my old self – stops me moving forward to something new. And if there’s one thing expat life has taught me above all else, it’s to embrace change. So although it’s with an incredibly heavy heart, I think it’s time to close up shop.

Of course, I am a writer, and so there is always something new to be said. I’ve started another blog that feels like it might be a better fit with my life as it is now, and I hope you’ll take a look. You can find me at www.fortysomethingfeminist.com , where I am not entirely sure what I’ll be writing about yet, but it’s safe to say I’ll be busy embracing the consequences of being a woman hurtling towards middle age. Fun times lol.

So, it’s not ‘goodbye’; it’s ‘au revoir’. I like to think that the pages of this blog will remain relevant to many of you, and I hope that the time isn’t too far away when There’s No Place Like Home makes it into print, as I always intended it would. I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops when it does! In the meantime, with all my heart I thank everyone who has supported me in so many ways and taken this enormous journey alongside me – in real time or virtual. It was an honour, and I will miss you and this funny old life of ours enormously.

Ruby Slippers
xxx

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RAD (Repat Adjustment Disorder)

So, hey, Happy New Year.

Is it too late to say that now it’s nearly February? Well, I am anyway. January, much like December, November, October, September, and most of last summer, seems to have shot by me at the speed of light. I keep wondering why it feels like my feet haven’t touched the ground since the clocks changed, and yet IT’S STILL WINTER.

It’s been winter here for a very long time. I’m not going all British on you and complaining about the weather; far from it – it’s been unusually warm here for the time of year and there’s only been a couple of dark mornings scraping ice off the car windows so I really am not complaining. Also on Saturday I sat in a beer garden, outside, with only a blanket around me, and my fingers didn’t start falling off from frostbite until nearly two hours had passed. So no, that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is the dark. And I don’t mean the dark nights. Living in Dubai, it gets dark pretty early all year round. We don’t have those blissful European summer nights spent sipping rose in the half light at 10pm. But even on the shortest days of winter, it actually gets light. And this is what I’m struggling with: the lack of light. Anyone that knows me will know I loathe the house we moved into in London specifically due to the lack of light. It’s north facing, or wrong facing or whatever; basically I have to have the lights on in my kitchen, living room and office 24/7/365 in order to see anything at all. This has produced many days of procrastination over sitting in the house writing, because dark rooms doth not a creative make. Not this creative, anyway.

So in order to live a more fulfilling life in a hundred different ways, I’ve focused on getting out of the house, out of the dark and into the light I sometimes see lurking outside the windows in the grey distance. Meetings, breakfasts, brunches, lunches; nights out, days out, weekends away; working and writing and dragging my laptop around with a general sense that if only I am not sitting in the dark, I will not procrastinate, and I will get on with things.

Which made me a very busy person. In between laundry loads and grocery store trips, parenting and house keeping, I tried to fit in running a business, producing and directing an improv show, editing my old book, writing a new one, plus a million other projects and social functions, all with as little contact as possible with my desk. And to balance it all, to be efficient and charming and creative and funny and logical and entrepreneaurial and a good parent, IT’S NOT POSSIBLE. I’ve written a thousand times about ‘having it all’ and I think we’ve all come a long way since 2012 or so and know that not only is it not possible, it’s totally undesirable. And so, as the year came to a close, I took my foot off the accelerator and realised that I’ve been doing way, way too much in order to stop remembering I left another life behind. In doing so, I’d created a life that was super busy, but didn’t leave me time to find meaning in any of it. I’d created Repat Adjustment Disorder: The bit where you forget to be you.

So it’s a new year and I’m in (slightly) better control of things. I’ve stopped running around networking for jobs; the work will come to me and I will do that work, but I’m not going to hunt it down – not for the time being, anyway. The improv show is nearly up and running – first performance 10th February (eek!) – so the time that has taken in planning, casting, rehearsing and administrating is diminishing at a rapid rate. The first book is done and submitted. The new one is waiting in the wings. Instead of escaping my hell hole of an office I’ve resolved to tidy it up (it’s a total shit tip which hasn’t been helping) and on sunny days – or days where it’s not raining – take a walk to get some fresh air, and take time off from the rest of life to enjoy the limited daylight on offer.

So far, it seems to be working. I feel far calmer. I have whole days where I come home from school drop off, turn off my social media and email, and sit down to write. It all feels far less lonely than I was scared it would, and I think that’s in large part due to the fact that I don’t need as many people in my life as I thought I did. Repatriation is part planning, part panic – just the same as expatriation, I suppose. You cast the net wide and say yes to everything in fear of being left alone crying in the car about having nothing and no one, and it leaves you with no quality time, no time to figure out how you want to spend your life or who you want to be. Putting the breaks on everything, taking time to be alone, and realise that I’m not lonely, has been the best thing I could have done.

I suppose this post isn’t really about much in particular. I don’t have a point, in the strictest sense; I just felt like sitting down and writing and sharing with you where I’m at. I’m sure lots of people who haven’t just moved countries feel like this too. But so many people have voiced how in awe they are of how much I’ve done, of what I’ve achieved since we returned. And that’s been nice, to have people say that. But also, it made me realise it’s not normal. And sometimes it pays to be a bit more normal. There’s hitting the ground running, and there’s doing it at a speed that won’t just graze your knees, it will obliterate you entirely if you don’t stop in time. There are benefits I’m reaping from fast tracking myself these past six months, but it’s time to put on the brakes a little and start to enjoy the moment.

And with that, it’s time to go for a walk.

Ode to 2015

I can’t write properly. My fingers are too fat from all the Christmas pudding I’ve eaten and also, my brain isn’t quite ready to form whole sentences of reminiscence yet without getting a little teary. So here’s a poem instead. Happy New Year to everyone out there who’s still following me after all this time. It’s a privilege to write for you.

Ruby x

Ode to 2015

It’s been quite a year in this house; I will wager
We’ve covered more ground than an average year
The sum of it all is a large dose of happy
With just enough room for occasional tears

We’ve moved from Dubai to the city of London
Which fate has decreed should be our new home
But our year started sunny and innocent to the idea
That by June we’d be leaving to roam.

First there were shows every week at the theatre
With audiences laughing and cheering us on
Musical impro and Maestro, Ten Titles
And Theatresports – all of them came, then were gone

Next there was time for a small celebration
Academia finally calling for me
The end of two years of hard scribbling turned into
A book and a subsequent masters degree

Spring saw us starting our long preparations
For leaving our home of the past nine years
Logistics and planning and administration
Goodbyes to our friends who were so very dear

We went everywhere one more time for good measure
The desert, the ski slope, the beach and the malls
The restaurants and bars filled with so many memories
It wrenched at our hearts to say bye to it all

The summer upon us we left for a new life
Not having a clue what our fortunes would hold
These were the months of hard work, and before long
The summer was gone and it got really cold

School life began for our littlest member
The third set of friends in as many years passed
But easily settled with many a play date
It’s made him as happy as I could have asked

And me? Well I’m busy with writing and improv
And making my way in this different new place
Despite days of sadness where I feel quite lonely
There’s days where a big smile invades my whole face

A blossoming business, a published short story
A book in submission (I wait for a bite)
A new novel working it’s way to the surface
And sketch ideas keeping me up in the night

A new stage to play on at London’s The Miller
A new team to play with and enjoy the show
A bunch of new friends who I’m so looking forward
To spending more time with and getting to know

And if I look back, which I don’t do too often
For fear of the sadness that might start to creep
I find that instead there’s a growing collection
Of memories that I will cherish and keep

What a wonderful year, if crazy, chaotic
And challenging; yet, if you asked me today
Would I reverse it or change it? I’d tell you
I wouldn’t have it any other damn way.

Happy 2016 everyone!

The boxes are the least important

Well. Here we are. Here I am. We’re six months in, and I’m standing at the school gates offering advice to a teacher at my son’s school as she embarks on her maiden expat voyage to New York. ‘The boxes are the least important bit,’ I say, before wishing her good luck. And as I walk towards the car, I think ‘maybe it’s time to blog.’

Some may consider this a tad overdue, but I would disagree. I write when I feel compelled to do so, and quite simply, I haven’t felt compelled in quite a while. There wasn’t much to say. I was getting on with things, it all seemed to be going well, and I didn’t care to dwell on it too much. After that, I had stuff to say but I wasn’t sure how to say it. And then I got too busy and it seemed like I’d be writing out of a sense of duty, in that awkward apologetic mode, like anyone really cares whether I put pen to paper or not. But now, I sort of think that maybe I’m ready.

Six months. It feels like yesterday I dragged my sorry, hungover arse onto the plane and few away from my old home, towards my new one; and yet so much has happened, you could tell me it was light years ago that we left and I wouldn’t argue with you.

The family have, by and large, settled in well. The boy is making friends, and although he desperately misses his best friend from Dubai, he seems to have accepted that they won’t be seeing each other any time soon, and that life must move on. He’s happy in school, seems happy with his life, and mentions Dubai less and less. I don’t think he’ll ever forget it, but I see him making fewer comparisons as the months go by, and as his life fills up I’m sure it will become nothing much more than a distant memory. It’s a relief, that he is so content, but mixed with a large dash of sadness, that a part of his life is gone and consigned to the memory pile before it was really time. But there’s no denying, it’s mainly relief, that his transition has been easy and he’s embraced life in London with such joy. You can’t ask for more than that, and it makes me incredibly happy to watch him flourish and grow in his new world.

So my job in terms of parenting this move, is pretty much done. I can relax a bit now, and turn my attention to all the other things in my life. Not the boxes, obviously; there are still plenty of those, lurking in corners and in the attic where I can’t see them and don’t have to unpack them. Not that there’s much point, because the house we rented is a pile of crap. We love where we live; we just don’t love what we live in. Sigh. There were bound to be problems moving to a house you’d only ever seen on a video, I suppose, but I didn’t quite bank on moving again so soon. The Rightmove and Zoopla apps remain on my phone and the reminders come weekly, advertising potential properties to rent or buy. It’s the one cock up, the fly in the ointment; it’s not bad enough to make us miserable, but it doesn’t make us happy either. Mainly, what doesn’t make me happy is the idea that I’m going to have to box up the sodding house all over again in six months. Still, I mutter on a regular basis, once it’s done, it’s done. It’s only moving house, not countries. A walk in the park, right?!

So, what of me? Well, I finished my book. It’s out there, submitted, and I live in hope that someone will love the idea of 200 pages of expat life and put it into print. I’ve had a short story published here, another one sadly rejected, and I’m tackling the idea of starting a novel in January. I’ve made friends with some of the mums at school and have organised a little festive drink this week to seal our friendship, which was met with great enthusiasm. This means an awful lot to me. It’s been lovely, to meet new people and be so welcomed by them. I value them enormously, even after such a short time, and look forward to the years I will be spending with them a great deal.

I accidentally started two businesses, which has been interesting, challenging and a bit stressful to say the least. The first one, to be fair, wasn’t accidental; I was hoping to build up some copywriting work once the summer was over, and miraculously, September and October went crazy thanks to a single client who suddenly put a lot of work my way. I was ON FIRE. I was psyched. I was king of the friggin’ world. Then November hit, the jobs finished and I realised I had nothing. No pipeline of work, no network, and no idea where to start. As a result I’ve spent much of the past month swinging between wanting to network the crap out of everyone I meet, and shutting myself in a room to avoid having to do anything that might involve putting myself out there. I am terrified I will fail. And so, I have learnt the first harsh lesson of being a new-born freelance writer: not only is it really hard to win clients when no one understands why they need you (‘It’s just writing; everyone can write…right?’) it’s also a lonely, lonely job and no one is just going to roll over and pay you money because you asked them to.

The same goes for friendship, as it does for entrepreneurship. No one is going to be friends with you unless you make it happen. That goes for new friends and old. It’s hard but necessary work – yes, work – to manufacture a brand new social life, that at times has been just as stressful as running a business. This is where my homesickness kicks in, where I desperately miss my life in Dubai. Where I was out working acting jobs in the day, or on stage by night, with my best friends; where I would nip for breakfast with the girls before wandering home to write in a room bathed in sunlight; where I could head for a glass of wine bathed in a warm evening breeze and laugh, carefree and content. In contrast, after school drop off each day in London, I head back home to, I suppose, what most people in the world who don’t have live-in help probably head back to: laundry, clearing up the breakfast stuff, putting the bins out and cleaning up cat shit. Once that’s done, I debate going to the gym, decided against it, and head to my desk. I sit, lonely and silent, in a room which never gets light. I try not to get distracted by social media, which I stalk in the vain hope of getting some attention, and at my lowest points, live my former life vicariously through the photos and status updates of my Dubai friends. And then I realise I need to get out of the house and do something that actually means I won’t go crazy.

And that’s where business no. 2 comes in. I have inadvertently become the producer of an improv show, launching in February. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to do my hobby and meet some people…but it sort of turned into a big monster truck of a thing and apparently I’ve ended up behind the wheel. But no matter. THIS is where I will come alive; this is where I feel myself, where I can embrace the crazy and laugh about stuff. I know it will come, and I know it will make me happy…I’m struggling to not wish time away so that I can get there faster. In the meantime, it’s giving me purpose and confidence to carry on, and stay positive, and it’s probably the most vital thing I could be doing for myself. Luckily, both men in my life can see that too, and let me loose each Saturday to indulge myself, so that I come home revitalised and smiling, ready to take on whatever is next.

And boy do I need to be revitalised. It is an understatement to say I’m tired. I’m completely, utterly exhausted. This year, like last year, has been a full 365 days of stress. More people died who we cared about. We’ve left our lives behind, we’ve moved house, and started over. We’ve been on planes, lived out of suitcases, and spent months negotiating the unknown. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point and remain sane, loving people. It feels like we’ve achieved a great deal and for the most part, life is good. I have few complaints and more importantly, no regrets. Repatriation has been kind to us, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been an awful lot of work. It continues to be. It’s part of the reason I’ve not really blogged and written very little, in a creative sense. I don’t have the energy, or the brain space, or the time to devote to writing swathes of text. I haven’t travelled anywhere to inspire me, haven’t gazed at the stars, or the desert, or the mountains, or even sat by a pool in the heat of the sun. To be honest, more than anything else, I’m gagging for a sunbed and a book and about 48 hours of undisturbed peace and quiet, and I expect I’ll feel that way until I get it.

I’m not sure when I will blog again. It’s been hard to write this, to put into words the myriad of feelings and experiences I’ve had about the past few months. It’s a rollercoaster: some days you’re high, others you’re low, and sometimes you just feel like you might throw up in someone’s coat hood in front of you. But the thrill of it all, the rush of the ride makes it worth while. And I had to write it down for you. Mainly to avoid the rest of the boxes.

Dorothy…you’re not an expat anymore

Today marks the day I stopped being an expat. Or rather, the day I realised I wasn’t one anymore. Maybe this is the wrong way to describe it. I mean – I’ll think I’ll always be an expat. The longer we are here, the more foreign I feel, to be honest. My friend says I’m just going through the ‘I feel stupid’ phase. I feel like this phase might last for years, some days. But setting stupidity aside, today I just feel, well, a bit sad. Maybe what I mean is, today marks the day I don’t live in Dubai anymore.

What has caused this sudden dawn of realisation? On the other side of the world, in the desert we called home, my friends’ kids – my kid’s friends – went back to school on Sunday. Everyone is back from their holidays. Work has begun. Pictures of proud little men and women in their new uniforms begin to adorn my Facebook page, chatter on my Dubai chums whatsapp group has increased tenfold, a new season has begun at the theatre where I spent my life these past three years, and suddenly, I realise that life is moving on without us. I watch it go, full steam ahead, and I know it’s an unstoppable train.

We are just back from a wonderful weekend in France celebrating my birthday, so it’s not like I have anything to complain about. I’ve spent three days eating butter-laden pain au chocolate and drinking cheap but delicious rose wine at various hillside idylls, soaking up the last of the Mediterranean summer at the beach, speaking bad French at everyone who will listen and gazing at beautiful old buildings backing onto impossibly blue skies at every opportunity. There are worse places to turn 41, I realise this.

But it was weird coming back here. It just felt a bit odd. Like, as in, ‘you’ve just come home to the wrong place’ kind of odd. I had a cry in the kitchen, in secret, bizarrely while trying to sing ‘I will always love you’ by Whitney Houston. I’m not sure why. But it appears my son felt it too, whatever the sensation was  – we’ve had tears this evening, about going to the new school, about missing his old house, his old school, his friends. It’s the first time he’s had a wobble like this since we arrived in England and I know how he feels, I feel what he feels – the strangeness of it all, the confusion, the lack of purpose to being here, the wave of homesickness that rears up when you least expect it. All I can do is hold onto him and tell him it will get better, that we will make new friends and it will all get better soon. ‘But how do you remember the old friends?’ he says to me, wiping away his tears and looking at me like I have all the answers. ‘You talk to them, and write to them, and visit them, and when your life fills up again with new friends and things to do and places to go, you don’t miss them quite so much,’ I reply. My heart aches.

The reality is we’re doing fine so far. More than fine. Surprisingly so, if I’m honest. I’m just a bit sad, sometimes, when I notice my old life disappearing. It’s been blurring around the edges and smudging along the lines all summer, and now school has started and everyone is back from their holidays, I know it will quickly begin fading from view altogether. When we visit, as we plan to, we will be visitors. I knew that before, of course, but it’s sinking in now. It’s the bit I was dreading, the purgatorial part of the whole process, where you’re neither here nor there, but everyone else is very definitely here or there and you don’t have any of the answers about how to be, or who to be, or what to do. It is the ‘I feel stupid’ phase. The ‘lost’ phase. The ‘helpless’ phase. Or maybe it’s better to give it it’s official name, and call it culture shock? Or homesickness? Or a bit of both? Whatever, I wish wholeheartedly it would be over, for us all, before it engulfs us along with the truly rotten British weather (sorry to state the obvious, but I’d forgotten how bloody relentless the misery-inducing greyness can be. Three days in the Med only exaggerated the whole thing, I fear).

Mainly, though, I wish it would be over for my boy. There’s nothing more saddening and guilt-inducing than seeing him upset over a decision that wasn’t his to make; an action that I can’t undo; a sickness that I can’t kiss better. He’s been amazing, so strong and I’m so proud of him, but enough’s enough and I need to fill his life up again. Next week, when term FINALLY begins (and really, I just wish it would, I think it would do everyone the power of good just to get on with everything) I will post my own Facebook photo, and embrace the start of a new life for my boy. I hope that his own ‘I feel stupid’ phase is blissfully short lived. I could barely care less about my own happiness in comparison to making sure he finds his. And he will, I know. I will be there with him, egging him on, helping him every step of the way. It works the other way too, of course. ‘I’ve got 37 friends to make, mummy,’ he says, counting all the kids in his new Year 1 who he hasn’t met yet, ‘so you’ve got 37 mummy friends to make as well.’

I do. And I’ve got a ton of stuff coming my way that will help me find a new tribe and begin to heal the wounds over from leaving the old one. I’m sad, in a mourning kind of a way, but I’m not miserable, or stressed, or any of the things I was when I first moved abroad. To coin the analogy (or whack it over the head with a big stick)*, we’re nearly ‘over the rainbow’. Nearly. We’re so close to being in a new place and point in time we can call ‘home’, while knowing that in some other dimension there’s another place just like it, but different, that we love just as much. Just a bit more time, just a few more steps along the (yellow brick) road and we’ll be there, and we’ll miss the other place just a bit less. Whether we’ve landed in Oz or woken up in Kansas is questionable. But then that’s rather the point, isn’t it?

*I can’t believe I’m reading this much into the Wizard of Oz. It must be the weather.

…get set…

And suddenly, we’re four weeks away from leaving. My days and nights are crammed with coffees, lunches, dinners, drinks and shows with the best of my friends, in a frantic attempt to make up for the fact that after June 27th, the door will slowly close on all the wonderful times we’ve shared together and things will never be the same again.

My last show at The Courtyard Playhouse was on Saturday. It was a 12-hour Improvathon to raise money for the Children of the Mountain Nepal Earthquake disaster fund. We managed to raise over Dhs 10,000 on the day through sponsorship and donations on the door. If you want to donate, you can contribute here.

The day(and night) was magical. We had a lot of fun, and the audience did too – as you can see here from this rather amusing video taken from one of the shows, there were several silly moments – and a whole lot of laughs. And then there were the tears. At the end of a three year adventure that began in a living room with a bunch of random socially challenged egomaniacs making stuff up, it was a true privilege to perform together one final time to a packed out audience in our wonderful theatre that for me has become synonymous with home.

It’s heartbreaking to know it’s all over. Four of us are leaving, and it was the last performance for all of us. An incredibly emotional day – and given the hole left in our original cast of nine after the massacre is over, not just for the ones of us who are going. While the show must – and will – go on (even I am not big headed enough to think I am irreplaceable), it will never be the same. I feel terrible that I’ve played a part in that – guilty, that I’ve betrayed them in that way. Sorry, my friends, so sorry.

I stood, for a while after the show was over, and watched as audience and performers mingled, and chatted and laughed together. I hugged a few people. I cried quite a lot. I said some goodbyes – to people I’ve taught, people who taught me, people I’ve worked alongside, people who I don’t even know but who’ve been to see the shows and know me, if not by name then by sight. I sat in the front row for a bit, taking it all in. Then I knew what had to be done – the moment I’d been dreading. It was a terribly quiet moment; a contrast to the raucous but comforting noise all around me. I found my friend and stage partner, Erik, who’s also repatriating. I could see he was as lost as me. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘it’s time to go.’ I knew he felt the same; he didn’t want to leave either; it was just too final. But in true improv style, without saying anything else, we held hands, quietly walked the few paces to the back,stepped through the curtain, and with a deep breath, left the stage.

And just like that, the adventure was over. There were drinks, and more tears, and speeches, and more giggles, for hours after, and I know life here, with them, will continue for a few weeks yet. But leaving the stage – saying that goodbye – was the end of something truly wonderful. My time here is something I will remember and cherish forever.

It’s pretty much how I’m thinking leaving Dubai itself will be. A glance back at my lovely friends, the knowledge that I have to leave them to their lives, their conversations, to each other – that I have to let go – and step over some invisible threshold (let’s call it the doors of an A380)  quietly, without any fuss, into the next chapter. It all feels so wrong at the moment, like I’m not ready; I keep feeling that there must be some way of making it last.

But there isn’t. I realise, now, what people mean about leaving well vs. leaving happy. I’m not going to leave happy. Oh no. I’m going to be devastated – I already am devastated – and no doubt my poor husband will cop the worst of it for a while to come. But I believe I am leaving well. I’ve jacked in the idea that anything – work, writing, packing, planning – is more important than just spending time with people until I go. Not just any old people, but the ones that I want to say ‘I love you’, ‘I’ll miss you’, ‘I think you’re an amazing friend/mother/person’ to; friends I want to keep, even though we are miles apart; friends I will treasure in the future as much as the ones I am returning to in the UK after so many years.

And as much as I am clinging on to life here right now, when the time comes, I know I have to go without regret. And I will. I have no regrets. What a phenomenal and special journey this has been. And continues to be. I am so glad I had it – so thrilled to have experienced all of it, even the bad bits, but especially the good. I feel strong even though I am sad; I know things will be okay even though I am scared; I know I want to go as much as I want to stay. I’m older and wiser than I was when I left home and I know that great things lie ahead and this isn’t the end of life by far. It doesn’t stop me feeling sad, but it helps to know I’ll get over it (eventually). I think this is what is meant by ‘leaving well’.

So with four weeks to go, I embrace it all, taking in every moment, loving every part, before disappearing quietly from this, my wonderful stage.

 

Going Home: The Upsides

Enough doom and gloom. I am two months away from a new experience and starting to think about all the things I’ve missed, that I can’t wait to get back to and explore with a decade more of life under my belt. It doesn’t feel like going home after so long; it feels like a brand new adventure waiting. I have a different career, a different outlook, a family; I am older, wiser, and a lot more relaxed. Even though my heart aches at the thought of leaving Dubai behind, it beats a little faster at the idea of the next chapter. Why?

1. LONDON

My first love. There is nowhere like it, nowhere I feel more at home. Yes, it’s noisy, and dirty, and crowded and it smells. Yes, it’s a heaving, writhing hell of commuters and tourists. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, the tubes are horrible in rush hour. Yes, your snot turns black and the traffic is hideous, and there’s dodgy areas where you wouldn’t take your mum at night. But then…there’s the parks, and the summers with their long light evenings; there’s museums and galleries and you can walk everywhere and there are pubs and clubs and restaurants and theatres; there’s crazy people and real people and people from every part of the planet pounding the streets alongside you just being who they want to be. The idea…the thought of being amongst it all again, of not being put in some expat wife box and left to find my own way out, is seriously exciting.

2. GROCERY SHOPPING

Well, hello Ocado, how very nice to see you again. Please, come and change my life.

It feels odd to put this as number 2 on this list, but I loathe grocery shopping, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that the very idea that I will be able to buy food without visiting the supermarket three times a week – that I can buy fresh vegetables and free range chickens online – and OMG ready meals – leaves me unbelievably excited. Let’s not even start on farmer’s markets. (Dribbles). And I can buy wine. Without a letter from my husband. Without taking out a second mortgage (drifts into a sort of orgasmic coma).

3. PUBS

Pubs and bars, with food, and wine, and gardens, and roaring fires, and Sunday roasts and Saturday BBQs….pubs spilling into streets, stuffed into old houses, heaving with people on a Friday evening…pubs you can walk to and stagger home from. Pubs on every street corner, to cater for every whim. Oh, the wonder of pubs. I have missed pubs.

4. FAMILY

I suppose they should have come first but it goes without saying, the presence of family in our lives again is simply the most awesome thing. I will finally be able to offer my son access to at least one side of the family on a regular, on-demand basis – and he to them (the other half still being another 7 hours away on a plane, but still remarkably more accessible than before). He will finally understand – or at least appreciate – what it really means to have family nearby. And so will we.

5. FRIENDS

Friends from childhood. Friends from work. Friends from married life. Friends from Dubai. Writing friends, acting friends, old friends, best friends: they will all form the backbone of my new life – and there’ll be new friends too, as time goes on, who are just waiting in the wings for me right now, unseen, unknown and unimaginable. If being an expat has taught me anything, it’s how to make friends again, and that is a wonderful thing I will do my best to honour and celebrate. I know it will take time again, to find my tribe, and I will miss my old one desperately. But I cannot wait to see who fills my world next, especially given there’s an 80% likelihood of them not moving away after two years.

6. CAREER

Where better to be a writer and an improviser? Well, arguably Chicago, or New York – but London is a pretty amazing place to hang out if you’re a Josie Lawrence/JK Rowling wannabe. The sheer number of people doing the same thing – but different – is cause for celebration. There’s so many people to learn from, be inspired by, and share ideas with. The possibilities are endless.

7. EUROPE

Trains to Paris. Two hour plane rides to the beautiful countryside of Spain, France and Italy. Ski slopes that are on actual mountains, not inside a shopping mall. The northern lights, just a hop, skip and a jump away. While I’m aware I’m not going to be going to Europe every weekend, the idea that I can, at any point, choose to head to the continent and stroll around the cobbled streets of some random town on market day scoffing croissants and quaffing rose, is just too delicious for words.

8. ENVIRONMENT

Rolling hills. Mountains. Trees. Clouds. Seasons. I love the desert; love the expanse, the desolateness, the heat. But the thought of staring across Wastwater or spying the deer in Richmond park; the feeling of the wind on my face at Brighton pier on an early spring day; the crunching of leaves underfoot in the woods…once I learn to put up with the dark, grey, wet cold weather that makes up a large proportion of the year, there are so many things to experience again, that we have missed and my son has never even seen.

Is eight enough? I wanted to round it off at an even ten, but this was all I could think of.

‘All’. Look how full it feels already. I know the reality will be harsh; there’s 10 weeks of summer holidays to get through, the wrench of leaving Dubai, the waiting and unpacking and settling in, making sure my son is happy and making friends and enjoying his life, and all the while getting ready to face months of winter time that will shock us I’m sure. But these eight things give me hope that there will be lots of good things ahead as well, in the months and years to come. As a friend said recently, of repatriation: ‘there’s no moving home, only moving forward.’  So forward it is.