The first three months in a new country are always difficult and it is no surprise that I found them exhausting, frustrating and sad. I had read the books and knew about the value of a ‘good goodbye’ and back in August had made sure we found ways to say au revoir to all our groups of friends, with dinner for Ian’s ‘band’, drinks for my networking chums, a last writers’ circle and then a series of beverage-inclusive last hurrahs. I went through the motions and shed a fair amount of tears but let’s just say the reality of my departure had not sunk in. I was in denial.
As readers of my blog will know, the thing that has scared me most during my first trimester of the new posting was the unexpected level of petty crime in KL. It crippled me and my fear or going anywhere alone made me feel like my wings were clipped. In short, I mostly stayed in our flat and I did not feel like the old me one bit.
And so I was desperate to go ‘home’ to the UK for Christmas, to see my parents, my brother, his kids and, above all, our two boys. The books often try to dissuade you from going back too soon so I was wary, and I know for a fact that Ian was concerned I’d go ‘home’ and stay there. I must confess it had crossed my mind.
After family, seeing old friends was top priority and so began three weeks of welcome backs and hugs and walks in sunny parks or on rainy streets with our besties. A pint of real ale and fish and chips in the Bull & Swan on day one, a visit to Marks and Spencer for new knickers, Waitrose for the brand of Yorkshire Tea I like and there it was, my ‘home town’, its golden stone shimmering under a blue sky as I walked slowly, savouring every step, moment and experience as if they were gifts. It was a week of rituals that when enjoyed gave me the kind of fillip that made me taller, squarer of shoulder and definitely more ‘smiley’. It was a wonderful time, despite being ill myself for most of the trip. My stress levels took a nosedive as I felt safe and totally able to be ill among familiar faces.
I’d planned to have a week back in The Hague, tagged onto the end of my visit, en route back to Kuala Lumpur way back in August when I’d booked my flights. But when the day of departure from Gatwick came around I found myself surprisingly reluctant to go. My goodbye wounds were still not healed. I missed my old friends very much and memories of the lifestyle I’d enjoyed for almost a decade haunted and taunted me. Until September I had lived above a shop in a fabulous neighbourhood, where I could simply pop downstairs each day to visit the cafes, buy the best cheese, fish, meat and exotic veg in town. If I needed to go further I’d jump on my turquoise bicycle with the big flowery panniers and pedal for fewer than 30 minutes in order to do and see almost anything and anyone I wanted. After that it was the tram or the train and using the car was rarity. A far cry from the need to pre-book a taxi or simply do without as I had experienced in those first 12 carless weeks in Malaysia.
It was cold, grey and raining when Sam and I landed. But there I walked straight into the first of countless warm hugs. There, at the Arrivals gate stood a friend of my son’s who had surprised us with a free ride back to the city. And that was just the start.
During the following week I found myself walking streets so cold their steely surfaces pierced the soles of my winter boots, chilling me to the core. I think I spent the whole week with goosebumps. But the penny dropped –this too was ‘home’. How could it not be after so many years and friendships? Lunches, drinks, coffees, cosy TV dinner nights with my dearest friend Julie and her daughter ensued and with thatthe chance to play in Kathy’s kitchen, a reunion pot luck lunch, a writers’ circle, a trip to the indie cinema with Fanny, because that’s what we do. In short it was heaven on a stick.
And so, I share with you the poem I wrote on my first day ‘back’ in The Hague
It Just Is
The cold grey streets
on which I walk
are no longer my streets.
My heart lifts at the familiar
and sinks a little
knowing nothing’s really mine.
And yet all this
is still my ‘is’
and can never be
everything still stands here –
the steps up to the tram
the words of greeting
I exchange with strangers
because it still is
a goede morgen
and can never be
a ‘was my home’.
7 January 2014, written on the tram to Zoetermeer from Den Haag
One morning, lying on the blow-up bed under a beautiful lime green and chocolate duvet with Julie’s Hay House radio station beckoning me to go downstairs I had a vision. Being in The Hague felt like I was encircled and embraced by a long home-knitted orange (of course) scarf. The scarf had pockets stitched onto it and out of each pocket peeped a grinning face that belonged to one of my friends. Skeins and skeins of scarf and friends encircled me, keeping me warm and safe despite the cold – folk I recognised would always be there for me as one of an increasing number of soft places to fall.
But like I said in the title of this piece, I am now re-jo-venated. My mo-jo returned as I sat with a client in a Dutch coffee house and was mindful of how much I love my job. I love my life. I am very very blessed. It was as if the fog of the last quarter of 2013 had lifted and with it taken my distorted images of life in KL. I felt positive, ready to take on the world, to leap in the car and to embrace all the wonderful opportunities that lie before me.
As I write this I am on the KLIA Ekspres train that will take me home. Yes, there I said it, ‘home’. KL I am ready now to make you my home.