March 2008


My second posting comes to you from 39500 feet, somewhere over Siberia. Technology hasn’t quite advanced enough to let me upload it right this second, but I’m hoping I can do it in Tokyo and backdate it to the 31st which it still is, in the UK (just). You’ll all be getting to bed right about now – it’s five to eleven on a Monday night.

Thanks to my Moving Flight map on my little seatside TV screen I can also tell you that it’s minus 57 degrees celsius outside, we’re travelling at 563 mph and that we’re just over 1545 miles and 3hrs 2 minutes to our destination.

The flight’s seemed short so far; time hasn’t started slowing down for me just yet. That might have to wait until we arrive in Hakone, the first hot spring we’re due to stay in in three days’ time. I need to slow down.

Hugging Jocelyn and my father Miles goodbye in Cambridge on Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t stop the lump in my chest from turning into tears. My father and I have been used to living on different continents for most of our shared life, but Australia does seem so very far away. Their next door neighbour took some photographs of the four of us smiling in the sunshine and printed one off for us just before we drove away. So I have this picture with me, this happy, intrepid and melancholic moment captured before our departure. Thank you Jill, it’s wonderful.

Later, in a Heathrow hotel, we met with Jok and Jane, Paul’s parents. It was a lovely, delicious meal we shared, experienced through a surreal haze of exhaustion. On the Heathrow Hopper the next morning, not even the thought of what awaited us at the infamous T5 could push back another lump in my throat as I talked with Jane and the tears spilled again. In the end, they needed to leave us before we went through security so they had time to catch their train back to Derby. In a strange way it made the farewell easier – they were leaving us, not the other way round.

The reported horrors of T5 seemed to have passed by the time we arrived; the place was calm, empty and quiet. It’s quite some building, vast and filled with light, everything sparkly new. At security, a remarkable coincidence: there was Natasha, now working for T5 (that’s one for my flamenco girls). I didn’t dare ask her what she’d had to deal with the days before. All the staff we met in T5 were friendly and helpful. They must have had a horrendous time dealing with the chaos, poor things, and had to have felt some relief that all was going relatively smoothly by Monday – as were we. All our luggage was loaded, the flight took off, and here I am, hoping that our backpacks and suitcase are safely nestled in the hold below us.

I’ve just finished reading a book a friend recommended, a sweet little tale called Who Moved my Cheese. I liked this bit:

As he started running down the dark corridor he began to smile. Haw didn’t realise it yet, but he was discovering what nourished his soul. He was letting go and trusting what lay ahead for him, even though he did not know exactly what it was”

That kind of sums it up for me, really. Here we are, in limbo, way up in the sky, homeless, countryless, jobless, rootless. I don’t really know what lies ahead. And actually, it’s starting to feel tremendously liberating.

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Flip over an hourglass and watch the sand. At first, the decreasing level in the upper chamber is hardly perceptible, but as more and more sand trickles through to the lower chamber, the faster it goes. Once it gets to the final seconds’ worth of sand, it takes…well, seconds to drop through.

 

The last seven months have been like that. P and I were married on 1st September last year in London (www.katherineandpaul.com). As soon as I threw away the completed checklists for that, new ones were drawn up. There’s quite a lot to consider when emigrating; sorting through decades of accumulated junk, selling stuff off, choosing a value-for money removal company, transferring money and pensions, going through the bureaucratic hoops required whenever anyone leaves the UK for good. For good measure we’d chosen to travel for on the way. Six weeks in Japan, four days in Cambodia and three weeks in Vietnam would need a little bit of planning too.

 

For a long time the impending departure didn’t feel real. The sand shifted imperceptibly and our lives in London continued as normal, P working his chef’s insane schedule at The Lanesborough’s Conservatory, me on the hamster wheel of the daily commute to a soulless skyscraper in The City. I squeezed in time with friends and family, a weekly fiction writing class at Birkbeck, and snatched the odd moment with my husband. The sand began to trickle through ever faster. My veil of denial began to lift, rather painfully, with the realisation that each time I met up with a dear friend, there wouldn’t be many more times we could get together before I took off to the opposite side of the planet. Every now and again, at the top of the double-decker bus to work, I’d see the pink sunrise reflected on the dome of St Paul’s as we headed up Ludgate Hill, steam rising from the buildings around it, and I’d be struck by the beauty of London, and how much I was going to miss it and I’d well up a little. Getting back on the Central Line at rush hour was a good cure for the sentimentality. But this was nothing compared to thinking about the family and friends we’d be leaving behind.

 

Alongside this occasional melancholy sat bubbling excitement at the adventure ahead, making for a peculiar emotional rollercoaster ride. The sand trickled faster still and the increasing busy-ness anaesthetised me from the pain of goodbyes that loomed. In the final two weeks, having given up our jobs, we rushed about like recently decapitated chickens, trying to beat the clock. But there we were, swept down into the lower chamber with the last dregs of the sand. Yesterday, our time ran out. Driving away from London, I waved goodbye to the place I’d called home for 18 years.

 

On Friday, P and I gathered with our friends and our family at The Prince of Wales pub in Holland Park, where we’d celebrated our marriage seven months before. It was a great night. I almost wanted to stay, then leave again so that we could have another party just like it. So many people there, wishing us well. It was hard to spend the time I wanted to with everybody; that was when the sand was trickling fastest of all, and I tried to pack in as much time with as many people as possible before the night ended.

 

But end it did, and waking from a surprisingly good night’s sleep on a wooden floor covered with sheets and blankets, we went to Mike’s in Blenheim Crescent for a full English breakfast. I ran off down a market-crowded Portobello Road with a camera to record as many of the memory-ripe places as I could. I’m steeling myself for the pangs of homesickness I’ll feel whenever I think of the neighbourhood I’ve loved and grown up with these last eighteen years.

 

 

The final goodbyes to our neighbours over, my father drove us up and out of London, to Cambridge, to spend our final weekend. And this is where I am now. The sand’s run out, we’re in the quiet eye of the storm, about to take off tomorrow from Terminal Five at Heathrow with – I hope – our luggage (impeccable timing), for a new future and a new life. We’ll have fun on the way. My long gabbed-about foodblog, chewitover.net, has been postponed until we arrive in Australia. Atchi Kotchi, in the meantime, has temporarily taken its place so that all those we know and love, and maybe anyone interested out there besides, can dip into the next two months of what will be a strangely rootless travelling life and see what we’re getting up to.

The clocks have gone forward today – spring is on its way. We won’t be here for it, but to all those we’ve left behind – enjoy the approach of the sun. Thank you for your friendship, for being there or us and for a fantastic leaving party. We’ll be thinking of you, we’ll miss you, but it’s really not ‘goodbye’, it’s see you soon. My next blog posting will probably be from Tokyo. See you then. I hope you enjoy Atchi Kochi.

 

Katherine