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I can barely believe weíre half way through the year. In three weeks Iíll walk away from my job for the last time. In six weeks Iíll fly back to Melbourne and my London days will be behind me. Between now and then I have a mindboggling array of things that need to get done. Once Iím there the list just gets longer. Meanwhile there is someone coming by to have a second look at the flat today. Is it too much to hope that theyíll put in an offer? What a great start to the month that would be!
Could the tide be turning? It only takes one, and one has appeared Ė or two to be precise. I know itís important not to get ahead of ourselves but if the promise turns into fact then in one fell swoop a major hurdle will have been crossed and we can focus more fully on the forward journey rather than the means with which to get there. It may all come down to naught of course. This may simply be the first of a series of false starts. But itís hard not to be seduced by the thought that maybe, just maybe . . .
I keep telling myself not to get carried away but another part of me simply says, why not? Why not imagine the best possible outcome? Why not believe that it can be easy and straightforward? Thereís something deliciously empowering about optimism. Iíve always been the kind to see the glass as half full and yes, sometimes this means I end up disappointed .But thatís okay; itís not as though disappointmentís a terminal condition. In the meantime, a healthy dose of optimism helps me to get up in the morning and face the day, and that canít be a bad thing.
Our weekends are generally lazy ones. We both work hard and for all that we have one of the worldís great cultural capitals literally outside the front door, more often than not weíre content to stay home and potter around. Perhaps there will come a time when our recent lack of engagement with London will seem perplexing but when youíve lived here for a while it becomes all too easy to take for granted. I have no doubt weíre going to miss it all when weíve gone but then, thatís life. Itís why change can sometimes be a good thing.
Weíve had an offer on the flat. It falls well short of the asking price but itís a start nonetheless. We in turn have made a counter offer. The prospect of getting the sale sorted sooner rather than later is heartening but this is only the start of the process. All we can do is wait and see and trust our gut instincts. Iím prepared for things to be straightforward. I have a sense of things gaining a natural momentum; a sense that the timing is right and that fate might be playing into our hands. Itís a tantalizing thought.
We sit in a sunlit garden and discuss the future of the kids, the ones currently under my supervision but soon to be under his. ďItís still your show, you know,Ē he says. ďIím just the stranger lurking in the background.Ē Itís true. I have wondered whether in these last few days my authority would have started to wane but it hasnít done. They still look to me for the final word and Iím still the one to crack the whip if it needs cracking. His is a very different style to mine. It will take them a while to readjust.
London is awful when it gets hot. The trains are stifling, the buses heat up like tin cans and the buildings are unbearable. For a country that caters so well for the cold there is little or no provision made for the heat and after months of moaning about the cold weather everyone starts moaning about how hot it is. Air-conditioning is a foreign concept. A colleague was genuinely surprised when I told her we had air-conditioning at home.
ďWhat, you mean the real thing?Ē
ďYep, you bet!Ē
One thing Iím really looking forward to back home is universal air-conditioning.
Iím getting so little sleep itís affecting my capacity to remain positive. Emerging from the Underground at North Greenwich I climb aboard the 132 to Eltham wondering where Iím going to find the energy on this, the hottest day of the year. I have an aching tooth that IĎve no time to attend to, we still have no real movement on the sale of the flat and weíve been up late all this week talking to our architect in Melbourne about our new planning submission and trying to persuade our troublesome neighbour not to lodge any more objections. Iím knackered!
Whether we like it or not theyíve decided to play hardball. In the face of this and with no other offer on the table weíve decided to cave in and accept their offer. Itís not the offer we were hoping for but itís not dreadful either and at least it will allow us to have closure on this part of the process and move on to the next. With so much still to be done, everything rests on selling the flat. Without that we do we wonít know where our finances stand and we wonít be able to move forward.
I could really do without a toothache right now. Iíve been trying to put it to the back of my mind in the hope that it would go away but it hasnít. Iíve tried flossing; Iíve tried using those god-awful poky little brush things the hygienist gave me and Iíve been using mouthwash a dozen times a day. Iíve massaged it, poked it, rubbed it, even wiggled it in the vain hope of relieving the pressure on it, all to no avail. Nope! Thereís no getting around the fact that Iím going to have to get myself to the dentist.
I blame the daughter. The father liked it. The mother liked it. Then they had to bring the daughter round to have a look. Sheís just back from Australia. She thinks itís too small. She has no idea of the London property market or London prices. Sheís not even going to be living in it! Still, thatís all academic now. Theyíve withdrawn their offer and now weíre back to square one. Itíll be a month tomorrow that I leave. We keep trying to convince ourselves that things will work out but weíre increasingly anxious. What if? What if? What if?
In the night I awaken, my mind abuzz with a myriad of conflicting thoughts; the kind that keep you awake at night. I want to go back to sleep but whatís that damned noise? I try to ignore it. I canít. Before long Iím climbing out the kitchen window to see if itís the air-conditioning unit on the roof. It isnít. I go back to bed. Then it stops. Relief! And then it starts again. Damn! And then it stops. I should be asleep. Iím not.
Then, just as I might be, you sneeze. Loudly!
And then it starts again.
Itís the thought of returning on my own and leaving you behind with all the hassle of selling up that bothers me so - that and not knowing whether it will be two months or three or even more before you follow on. I hate the uncertainty. I can deal with the disruption. I can deal with all the hassle. I can deal with all the stress. Itís just this one thing thatís wearing me down. Dealing with everything while weíre both here in London is one thing but doing it while weíre 12,000 miles apart? That is something else again.
I donít think I can deal with so many farewells all at once. Iíd much prefer to quietly slip out the back door and be on my way. Itís not that I donít appreciate all the good will; I just donít know where Iím going to muster all the emotional energy. Iíve been increasingly sleep deprived of late and a nasty bout of gum infection has further taken the shine off things. The coming days and months are going to be pretty challenging and right now all I want to do is shut up shop and sleep for a while.
I worry about whatís going to happen to these kids. Some of them will be fine but the ones who are going into the new Focus group are in for a shock. My successor may have the necessary diagnostic skills but without the interpersonal skills that working with these kids demand I fear the whole thing will crash and burn even before it gets off the ground. I hope Iím wrong. I may be feeling disillusioned about what we have and havenít been able to achieve but that doesnít mean I wish these kids ill: quite the opposite in fact.
A signal failure on the Jubilee Line finds me sitting on the number 453 bus to New Cross. Low clouds scuttle by like giant balls of cotton wool. A guy on the bag rack behind me is sleeping, his elbow slipping down and catching my shoulder every so often; woman sitting next to me is gazing passively at the stream of traffic passing by in the opposite direction; another woman sitting opposite me in a green Indian sari is humming quietly to herself and Iím sitting here musing about how this is the last Friday Iíll be working in London.
Just another three days at work and it will all be over. Itís almost over now. Iím not expecting many of the kids to be in next week. That will be a blessing. Thereís such a mountain of work still to get through, including the school reports which need to be posted out on Monday. Youíd think things would be winding down but the place is undergoing a major re-structure in the coming school year and everyone is trying to get as much in place as they can before the summer break. As for me, I finish in three days.
As Sundays go thereís been nothing remarkable about this one. It hasnít really sunk in that I finish up at work this week or that in less than four weeks Iíll be back in Melbourne. I got up early as usual, bought the morning paper, prepared breakfast and after breakfast checked my email. This afternoon I pottered around, went for a walk, came back, watched a bit of television, prepared some work for school, watered the plants and did the ironing. Itís a little surreal to think this is all going to change, and soon!
It hasnít sunk in yet.
Itís been an odd sort of a day. I spent most of it in my office trying to get as much paperwork done as possible. Meanwhile, the office itself was being pulled apart around me and carted off to different parts of the building. Someone else is going to be taking over the room after I leave and they need to have it set up and in place before Wednesday. So! If I had any illusions about the fact that itís all coming to an end before today, after today I have been left in no doubt. Everything is changing.
I donít think I can do this anymore. My brain has seized up, my body aches all over and I feel like an emotional wreck. Iím waking up in the middle of the night with my mind racing and finding it totally impossible to get back to sleep again. Iíve have too many people wanting too many things from me and I feel like Iíve got nothing more to give. I know itís all finishing up tomorrow and I really enjoyed the farewell drinks with all my work colleagues after work this afternoon but boy do I need a rest!
So here it is, the last day Iíll arrive at North Greenwich station and catch the 132 bus to Eltham; the last time Iíll turn on my cranky old computer and check my Newhaven email account; the last time Iíll hold morning briefing with the team; the last time Iíll have breakfast with the kids; the last time Iíll patrol the corridor to monitor their behaviour; the last time Iíll have to smile and be nice to the boss; the last time Iíll have to gobble down lunch in five minutes . . .
, today is my last day at work.
So there you have it: I never have to go back there again. All that involvement, all that responsibility, all that engagement with so many individuals Ė all finished and done with. Finito! How does it feel? Weird. Now that itís over I donít know how I managed to make it over the line. I lost my appetite for the job ages ago and ever since itís been an act of pure bloody mindedness to keep on turning up each day. Iíll miss the staff and I may even miss some of the kids, but the institution itself?
Not in the slightest!
Iím lying vaguely inebriated by the warmth of a roaring fire in a darkened field where a group of us are camping out for the night. I thought Iíd be in a sociable mood but my social skills appear to have deserted me. Instead Iím feigning sleep while allowing the conversation of others to wash over me. The frenetic pace of recent weeks is still too immediate and any desire for small talk deserted me hours ago. So Iíll just lay here and play dead for a while and leave it to others to solve the problems of the world.
Having spent a couple of days down on the island with friends I now wend my way back to London for one last time. Bathing in the cool sunshine of the late afternoon I stand on deck and watch its familiar silhouette slide away into the distance. Once the focus of all my nostalgic childhood memories it has become an integral part of my adult life, as have the people who reside there. Iím sad to be leaving but I know it is one of the reasons I will return to this hemisphere. Because this is where I come from.
I have loved living here in London. Our little flat is modest but nicely appointed. We overlook a busy street well serviced by cafťs, restaurants, pubs and a good selection of shops. In summer it fills with tourists and you can hear a multitude of languages drifting up from below. In winter it becomes quieter and takes on a more localised flavour. While in recent months I have started to disengage from London there can be no denying that my time here has been a rich and immensely satisfying one. And yes, I am sure I will miss it terribly.
Monday morning and I donít have to go back to that place. Itís been five full days now but I still donít feel fully divorced from it all yet. In my mindís eye everything is still in place despite the fact it was all being pulled apart while I was there. Iím guessing it will take a few more days yet. In the meantime itís beginning to dawn on me that I only have a little over two weeks until I fly out and we still donít have a buyer for the flat. Betwixt and between I think itís called.
Itís disconcerting having total strangers traipse through your home, scrutinising everything with a critical eye as they try to imagine themselves living in it. Before we bought it eight years ago this flat was all but uninhabitable with holes in the ceiling you could put your fist through, rotting window frames that were all but falling out, walls covered in layers of crusty wallpaper and a smelly old bathroom you could have grown mushrooms in. But we saw the potential and completely transformed it. Now all we need is for someone to walk through the door and think, Iím home!
At last, we have a buyer. Not only that, we have a buyer who wants to settle things quickly. After weeks of uncertainty we now have a sense of being able to move forwards. The sense of relief is enormous. I met the buyer earlier in the week, a likeable man whose wife hails from Melbourne. It was his second viewing and his enthusiasm for the flat was palpable. And why not? Itís a great little flat on a funky road in the heart of London. It should have been snapped up weeks ago. Whatís not to love about it?
Itís beginning to dawn on me just how much needs to be done before I leave London. There are bank accounts to close, credit cards to cancel, estate agents and solicitors to deal with, taxation matters to attend to, cupboards to clean out, things to pack or throw away, people to touch base with Ė the list goes on and on. It all adds to the surreal quality of this period. Itís been an incredibly full and busy year and thereís plenty more yet to come. I may have to pause and catch my breath sometimes, but life is anything but dull.
I went to see the Henry Moore exhibition the Tate this morning. I did so with the best of intentions, hoping to immerse myself in the work of this giant of British art and for a while I succeeded. I couldnít sustain the focus for long though. Instead I wandered home and slept on the couch for an hour, overwhelmed by a creeping sense of fatigue. Then a friend calling from France awoke me and after half an hour or animated conversation the fatigue dissipated leaving me free to enjoy the rest of the day at a more leisurely pace.
Today being the first time in ten years my partner and I have shared my birthday together, we celebrated it with friends at the Pollo Bar in Soho, a regular haunt many years ago when I was last in London. The food was simple, the wine cheap but very drinkable and the conversation animated and varied. When everyone started singing Happy Birthday I looked around to see who the enormous cake was for, only to realise it was for me, a wonderful gesture from my wonderful partner who sat grinning from ear to ear at my genuine surprise and delight.
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