Archives for posts with tag: UK

It’s six months since I left Australia – though Australia hasn’t left me, and probably won’t. Haven’t written any entries since Dubai. Too shellshocked by hemispheric upheaval/new job/old house full of other people’s debris/living out of suitcases for two months then blocked in by boxes when everything arrived in Leeds. But it’s probably time to wrap up this blog. I wanted to share the experiences – good and bad – of relocating across the planet when not in first flush of youth.

The following are notes on returning to previous location but not previous life (The Shock of the Old?). Some are captured before Brexit vote, some after (e.g. What have I DONE???).

  • I’m driving up the M1 in my hired car and I can’t remember the speed limit.
  • Got lost twice today in Leeds visiting old friend – roads are familiar so I stay on them, but expected roundabouts fail to materialise.
  • After some years of ‘fancy a coffee/movie/meal today?’, it’s back to ‘ are you free in a fortnight’s time?’
  • Newscasters and reporters have aged – men more than women probably because they wear less make up.
  • Nicholas Parsons is STILL on radio 4  – but I can’t remember the schedule any more, so don’t know how to avoid him.
  • All the shops are part of chains & franchises – only independent retail seen today in Leeds far was the great Jumbo records, still going
  • But Huddersfield has cool indie coffee shops (#northernteahouse) and Sowerby Bridge has good food. I go for drives and am happy to eat alone – another legacy.

Everything looks strange – my anthropological eye is now cast homewards. This is exhausting so I spend  lot of time in my hotel room, asleep.

Then I move back into my old and much missed home, but it isn’t mine. Every cupboard is full of tenants toothbrushes, discarded duvets, old cutlery.There’s a gnome in the garden. I remember another life in that house, but it is a long time ago and I seem to be haunting it. Things improve when the stuff I shipped back arrives – nice pieces from the Blue Mountains – and I start fitting the Australian and Yorkshire parts of the jigsaw together.Six months on and there are still a lot of boxes to unpack, but no rush. Things also get better when friends come to stay and I recall that home consists of people not things.

The UK I have returned to is changed – 5 years of Coalition then Tory Government – creating a particularly cruel, vindictive use of benefits system to punish the poorest and most needy.  I don’t think Australians would allow this to happen (to non-Aboriginals anyway). They still have a public sector, and trade unions. UK has voted to leave Europe, having already sold its heritage to corporate speculators and hedge fund bankers. The place is full of toxic fantasies. Back to Blighted.

But I do like the bustle, the full trains, the coffee shops at every corner, the new M&S food hall at the bottom of my road. And I like the variety of human beings that surround me, in shops, trains and – a real contrast – work. So many non-white faces at last. It’s also brilliant that London is a train ride away, Spain a short haul flight. I can pop round for tea with my dad, find my place in the family again, while I slowly reconnect with old friends, whose lives have also changed in the past five years. There have been births, deaths, divorces, moves of all kinds. Lots of catching up to do.

The main thing, though, has been getting to grips with the new job. As usual when life feels chaotic, I turn to work as my anchor. Six months on, this has been a good call – my ideas and contribution are valued and I work with several talented senior women at Huddersfield Uni. There have been some teething problems with rooms and so on but I haven’t felt gender-conscious since I got back to UK. It’s a bigger relief than I expected. Seriously, Australia, you really need to make better use of your very fine females. Even the nice guys are in the way. I miss my lovely women friends, Bernadette, Jo-Anne, Michelle, Jane….

I miss the sounds ALL the time – the kookaburra dawn chorus, possums on the roof, the magpie arpeggios. I notice every gum tree (one, rather forlorn, at the back of my Leeds house and a beauty in Spain). I corner Antipodean friends and colleagues at conferences, parties, anywhere, to talk about the place. No-one here knows or cares that much. One person sneered that Australia didn’t even have a decent mountain range; I pointed out that it was so old a land mass, they had been eroded.

But then I didn’t know how old the land was until I got there and it told me. You feel it all the time, this ancient presence, just waiting, sometimes welcoming, sometimes shrugging us off. You can feel your feet sinking in – if you want to.  I have left but not forgotten. Australia introduced me to geological time.

Now Europe looks so young, with all its pointy bits still sharp and edgy. All the workable land is worked and has been for thousands of years, unlike the vast emptiness of Australia. Took a visiting prof with a farming background over the Yorkshire moors and he could see how many farms there were occupying space that would have been one maybe two stations back home. The land here tells of lords and peasants, strip farming, inheritance law and people striving to feed themselves over millennia. It’s just a different story.

I guess that’s my conclusion – everything is altered by the experience of living in Australia. What was familiar is no longer, but then its new strangeness has a new wonder. At first I wasn’t sure about going back, it’s not something I do much. Now I can see I haven’t gone back, but forward.

 

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A day on Jamie’s boat, an 1879 Dutch sailing barge, with dad, Kate, Jamie’s partner, Cathy, and dogs Spanner and Frankie.imageimageimageimageimage

Walking through Mayfair on a warm afternoon. I was here in 68. image

matisse at Tate Modern imageimage

Lunch with Leah.  imageimage

The drivers seat on the DLR.imageimage

Flynn’s parkour palace down at old East India docks, a part of London that feels like Brazil, but has a tiny pocket of community on Trinity Buoy Wharf.  imageimageimageimage

I moved out of London in 1993, first on an experimental basis, to do an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, then permanently, a year later,  to take up a position at the university of Central Lancashire. So I’ve been a visitor to my home town for the past 21 years. But until moving to Australia in 2011, such visits to family and friend were pretty regular, only a few hours drive or train journey.

Now it’s an annual event and I’m finding that place has usurped chronology in my personal story-telling. Having been struck by the Indigenous emphasis on land not time as the main unifying narrative, a recent trip to London has illustrated how this works for me.  Every bus journey takes me through a jumble of pasts: that supermarket was the swimming pool where I learned to swim; I kissed a boy there, broke my heart here; saw Hendrix there; got drunk, got sober, worked, organised, lived, here, there, then.

None of my memories of Australia are more than two and half years old; London is scored through four decades.

Watching cop shows on the ABC here, I know from the colour of the house bricks exactly where the body is buried; can still tell north from south London accents (and loved it when the recorded announcement at Waterloo, in contrast to the usual posh advice to mind the gap, told us the next platform was dahn the escalators). This knowledge carries a poignancy, as it’s quite redundant in a new country. Who cares?

Then, walking through Regent’s Park with a friend one summer evening last week, describing the loss of this personal history, she laughed and said ‘how liberating’ and I realised she was right. I see people living in mausoleums to their own histories, defined by what they’ve been, not what they are. (And I am not immune to this – with 5 boxes of memorabilia in transit as I write.) I need to go home at least once a year to be with people who know me in the way only family and ancient friends can know you (my father recalled a childhood scene at the (long gone) Primrose Hill swings where my oppressed little sister surrendered her place to me& waited her turn –  only to be grandly informed  that ‘we don’t do turns any more’ ).

But it’s rather marvellous to come back to somewhere that tastes of the future.

 

I’ve been surprised at how the death of Margaret Thatcher has triggered old responses and as her funeral fills the airways, might as well as note these reactions.

One of the things that struck me on arrival in Australia was that some aspects have a parallel universe feel but without Thatcher or the EU. The absence of the latter accounts for garish ice cream colours, inadequate food labelling and widespread use of pesticides; the former means that unions are still plentiful, have full negotiating rights throughout the public sector (with actual pay rises!), most services are in public hands and the cuts currently falling on UK are unthinkable here (though likely change of govt in September will test that hypothesis). That’s the good news. The bad news is the resemblance between current Labour party and the pre-Thatcher UK version. People often forget that activists like me joined to disrupt the cosy, corrupt union leader-councillor-developer nexus of the kind splashed across the front pages each day here. I guess the big difference is that now UK corruption is all on Tory side of the fence, with contracts being written by beneficiaries as everything passes into private ownership.  I also had some reflections on the fact that many institutions in Australia are run for employees not service users – impossible to access outside standard working hours, for example. I’d have defended that in the 80s, now not so sure.

Then Thatcher died and UK reverted to the kind of blanket triumphalism that was her hallmark, the sense that dissent must be deviant & that deviants must be excluded, punished and criminalised. Reminding me of the police forces stretched across the M1 to prevent miners or their supporters joining picket lines, the fear that filled the room in 1987 when she won again and all the black, lesbian, disabled and otherwise Othered friends watching knew they were in trouble. That was the watershed for me, the election that utterly destroyed local government, completing the transformation of that sector from active campaigners for local people to a small committee handing out contracts. We were at the Nalgo (now Unison) national conference in Blackpool, still fighting for workers’ rights, but somewhere knowing that the tide that kept us aloft through 1984-6 was ebbing, the moment gone. The libraries, nurseries, parks, small spaces that made big differences, gone. I remember arriving back to my flat in London and being surprised that there were still flowers growing in my garden; so profound was the sense of blight.

And looking back it seems we were right in our doom laden messages. The shift from collective to individual was fixed in that decade and has only deepened since, as is evidenced by the reframing of tax as theft, of education as a private advantage rather than a social good,   and personal satisfaction as the only respectable goal in life. And even though I chose to have politics rather than children, and even though I know there’s a price for that, I always consider one of my life’s great experiences has been involvement in collective action. I have walked many streets with people standing up for beliefs, giving up their wages to be heard, at a time when it took tens of thousands of such voices to break through the mainstream deafness. Or women gathering to oppose Cruise missiles at Greenham. Or on a smaller scale, low paid women going on strike in protest at the unfair dismissal of a colleague – and staying out in real hardship until it was resolved. You get to see such bravery. A couple of years ago, at the retirement party for the Nalgo branch secretary David Eggmore, I spent a wonderful evening with other activists from those heady times and realised how deeply I cared for the community we built then, and for each other.

At the end of the 80s I found meditation and moved away from the polarization of those years – the absolute right/wrongness of those politics – seeing them increasingly as aspects of the whole and letting go of my own rage, learning to accept the complexity and contradiction of contemporary life. Today, watching £10m cut from UK arts budget and spent on Thatcher’s funeral, that seems a cop out. No, let me re phrase: inequality has worsened, wealth has passed from the poor to the rich, power likewise;  the planet as well as the country has been corrupted (not due to her personally, just the movement she represented and which is being celebrated today). The younger me would have organised – not a protest at the funeral but some event drawing attention to the victims of those years. Now I see the futility of meeting noise with noise, and try to hold a space for reflection instead. It all unfolded as it did and is what it is. There is a loss, a continuing damage that can’t be repaired; I’m glad that when the lines were drawn I took sides; but I guess for me, too, the fight is over.

Second Autumnal April (still a contradiction in terms), after a long glorious summer – turns out I LOVE the heat, at least the dry stuff we get out on the central tablelands – leaves are putting on a grand display.

Been ages since I posted anything – mostly because every spare moment has been book writing, but I just sent 4 (almost finished) chapters off to the editor so time for a catch-up. This has meant that I’ve appreciated the long summer only in sidelong glances from the computer screen and haven’t really had a break since November. On the other hand there is a certain kind of happiness from doing what you’re meant to do and even though the book has been so much harder to write than I expected, I haven’t resented it for a second. I just want it out in the world – so curious to see what if any life it has out there. My internal critic already has a review: “some interesting if odd, ideas, marred by unnecessary personal revelations and somewhat rambling patches”. Have to hope the ideas outweigh the embarrassment. Anyway still got a way to go tidying the text, chasing references, reformatting to requirements.

And work has been completely flat out since Feb, as I’m caught in the whirlwind of a massive undergraduate course review; it seemed such a good idea last year to offer my help in writing and co ordinating the new subjects that needed preparing. Didn’t realise that included almost every subject taught in the School, as documents need to be brought in line with new quality frameworks and benchmarks. Every week brings new surprises in timing, content and expectations- I realise I’m OK with the unexpected but get mighty cheesed off when ambushed by the utterly predictable. Still, I think we’ll have a Rolls Royce of a course when all’s done (Oh dear, they’re obsolete now aren’t they?).

Other thoughts include awareness of the gulf between how people here think life is in UK and how friends and papers actually report it – not so much Downton Abbey as Hard Times I reckon. A report last week says Australians ( 5% growth, minimal unemployment, small debt) compare themselves unfavourably to Britons on a range of indicators – what are they thinking??? Can’t afford a pool this year?? V odd self perception, must be part of some deeper narrative I haven’t fathomed. Still to be fair UK friends seem to think I spend my life on the beach (200km away). I wish.

Best part of recent weeks has been on/off presence of my lovely nephew Flynn, currently based in Sydney with his Parkour chums. Been grand showing off Sydney Harbour and the Blue Mountains, made me really appreciate the wonder of where I live.

Reeling from the weirdest jet lag ever (18 hrs asleep, 18 hrs awake) seems like as good as time as any to reflect on travels to Istanbul, London and Leeds. Don’t know if this is meaningful for anyone else, but if you’re even thinking of relocating, esp. if not in first flush of youth, then maybe these experiences are informative… Anyway, it’s been a brilliant couple of weeks. Professionally, an enjoyable and useful European PR conference in Istanbul, with plenty of papers in my field of professionalism and a couple on ethics, as well as interesting discussions with fellow academics around the world on trends and issues in the field. My presentation was well received and I picked up a really useful methodology for future research, so good trip. Plus Istanbul is a marvellous  city, made me want to be a 20 year old arts student on a course there; something about the chaos and noise and old and new, Europe and Asia, Byzantine ruins and bike repair shops. I love cities, the way everything crashes together , past and present. Definitely worth a longer look later. Photos show bits of book Bazaar, tea stalls, roof tops and dawn over the Bosphorous.

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Also managed to spend a few days in London and a few in Leeds, catching up with family and friends. Somewhat full-on with many meetings and a tight schedule – next time I’ll take more leave and move at a more leisurely pace. Managed to meet a new baby and say hi to old friends, which felt important however brief – a way of renewing ties, stating the commitment to friendship whatever the distance. I notice few friends ring or email me but I think that’s a bit like when a friend starts a new relationship and everyone assumes they’re too busy for chats. Not true in my case, but that’s OK. What I felt very powerfully is that I do have a continuing existence in their lives, as they do in mine. It was really, well, nutritional, to feel so valued. It was also very reassuring that my UK life is still there at the other end of a plane journey, that tea with my Dad, take-away on the sofa with siblings or an afternoon in Leeds Tiled Hall, is easily arranged. It all feels much more accessible than before, which is crucial just now as I am in the middle of deciding whether to stay on for longer than the 2 year contract.

I had also been concerned that visiting my house with tenants would be weird – either it would be trashed or I’d have lost my connection to it, but neither was true. The place is scruffy, with three PhD students’ mess, but feels really lived in and the guy I met said what a great home it was, not just a house. So again, if I am away for longer, I sense the house will be fine and it’ll still be there when it’s time to come home.

So, if I was worried I’d be more homesick after a visit, I was wrong – I feel much happier being here now. Also I’ve heard myself say what I like and don’t like about being in Australia and that’s helpful. I can value being in a small town as a great place to work and as a base for adventures;  I recognise that I have fallen for the high open sky and wild bird song; and that whatever the ups and downs, I feel very alive.