Friday, 16 January 2015

Settling in

Today seemed like a good day to write. It’s a Friday, so it's the end of the week. Not that with my lack of gainful employment of late I really have the right to look forward to days off, but I do still feel a little less like I should be doing something productive on Saturdays and Sundays nonetheless. This week I’ve achieved quite a lot actually. I found a job and bought a car. Today I went and did my Motorbike Theory Test. This involved a visit to the hell-hole that is Ipswich (never have liked that place) and sitting down to answer a series of multiple choice questions about road safety and traffic signs and bike maintenance, followed by watching a series of clips to test your perception of hazards, or rather the DSA’s perception of when something becomes a hazard which is an altogether trickier proposition. It was funny, like being back at school again waiting to go into the exam room, exchanging nervous, conspiritorial glances with the other candidates. You have to turn in your mobile phone, show them you don’t have the answers written on your arms and you’re good to go. I am relieved to say that I passed it with flying colours, so onwards and upwards to the scarier, but infinitely more fun bits. Suffice to say, I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing since I’ve been back, lying in bed till lunchtime and being lazy.

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Rewind a little though...

On 22nd November, a cold, grey and very uninspiring day, I arrived back in the UK after 17 months out of the country. It was a time of very mixed emotions, sadness at leaving people I love in Canada and a little nervousness at how I would deal with being either back at square one (if I’m being pessimistic) or at the start of a new chapter (if I’m being a little more optimistic).

My first feelings when I landed at Gatwick and headed in search of a way to get to Victoria Bus Station were how bleak everything seemed. After the initial pleasant surprise of walking straight through the e-passport channel and out through customs in 5 minutes flat without actually having to interact with a single human being, I found the bus ticket desk was closed and no-one could tell me where I could buy one instead. Nor did they care. In fact just about everyone I asked for help looked at me like I was inconveniencing them. After waiting for the EasyBus for far too long - the first couldn’t let me on without a ticket, the second was empty but the driver's card machine was broken and they can’t take cash so he couldn’t sell me a ticket, and the third was full! - I gave up and decided a few £’s more for a National Express bus was my best option.

As I sat waiting for the bus I noticed the chewing gum patterns on the floor and the McDonald’s wrappers left on the seats and I seriously wondered what I was doing back here. I reflected on all the bus stations I’ve sat in over the past months and decided that this one certainly came in the bottom 10% in terms of facilities and cleanliness. Sad really, given that all but one of the others were in some of the poorest countries in the world. Fifty pence to use the toilet and no free wifi. Anywhere. With a couple of hours to kill, I went to a little café nearby where I was promptly ignored as I sat at the table waiting for someone to come and take my order. For the first time I truly appreciated the concept of table service and would have quite happily tipped for it. To make matters worse the coffee was awful, the food mediocre and a quick conversion in my head to Canadian dollars had me reeling at the prices.

As we finally set off, I realised it felt very strange being back on the left side of the road and the obsessive health and safety rules on board the bus amused me. The driver refused to start the journey until he had checked personally that every single passenger had fastened their seatbelt correctly. He then had to blow a clear breathalyser sample in order to be able to start the bus. First though he had to mediate in several scuffles between passengers who felt they should have the right to the seats with more leg room. The selfish sense of entitlement from these angry, miserable people shocked me. The bus driver turned out to be a cheerful enough guy though, giving an impromptu audio tour of London as we passed through and soon we left Victoria Coach Station bound for Colchester. I was almost waiting for him to start a rendition of ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round’. As luck would have it, I found myself sitting next to a lovely lady who proved to be good company as we sat through what seemed like endless traffic jams and put the world to rights. Eventually, several hours later I arrived back in Colchester to a warm welcome and with a much clearer understanding of why the train costs more than the bus. I’ve made a mental note to fork out the extra in future.

So now fast forward two months…

My initial resentment at being back here was actually short lived. I hibernated for a bit, but then started venturing out and reconnecting with people and I realised something – that there are a lot of good people here. In the first few weeks I had a lot to sort out and get straight. I reclaimed my old mobile phone number thanks to the very helpful guy at O2 who gave me free credit so I could reactivate my number. Then the lovely Inland Revenue people gave me a tax rebate for the money I’d overpaid them just before I went away as I was well under my allowance for the year. The Student Loan Company followed suit and donated another couple of hundred pounds to the cause and before I knew it I’d made almost a month’s wages without even lifting a finger! Then that stopped and reality set in. I decided to allow myself until after Christmas to start looking for serious work and in the interim period I’ve sold various bits and pieces on eBay to earn a little to tide me over.

It was just before Christmas that I received some of the best news that I could possibly have hoped for – Evan decided to come to over and spend Christmas with me. Having just got my head around the idea that I probably wouldn’t see him until at least March, and only then if I could raise some proper funds, suddenly he was going to be here in two weeks.

Finally that time came and we spent a wonderful week together. We visited Brighton, Cambridge, Southwold, Aldeburgh and Lavenham, and spent a day being tourists in London. We went to the Tower of London (along with what seemed like a million other people), HMS Belfast and walked around Westminster, ending the night with a ride on the London Eye. We even tracked down gluten-free fish and chips in Islington...only to later discover that both my local fish and chip shops actually offer this option! I realised how nice it was to be a tourist in my home country and to be able to share those things with someone I care about very much...well, I couldn’t ask for any more.

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So I think it’s fair to say that England is growing on me. Far from being the stagnant, oppressive place I left behind, I’m discovering that being back here is exactly where I’m supposed to be at the moment. It’s actually a place full of opportunities, not least due to the wonderful support I have from my parents in providing me with a roof over my head (again!) whilst I frantically work out how I’m going to get to a stage where I can leave here again, hopefully in August or September. They’ve gone way above and beyond in their efforts to help me achieve this and I’ll always be grateful to them for their unconditional support. That too extends to my other lovely friends here. So many times since I’ve been back I’ve happened to bump into the right person at the right time or I’ve made connections with helpful people in the most random of ways. It makes me yet again question the concept of coincidence and reaffirms to me that there really is no such thing.

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This week has been pretty good. I’ve caught up with so many friends, made plans to get some bike practice in, start seriously learning Spanish with a couple of lovely ladies who also want to learn and I tracked down a bargain deal on a car - a Volvo V70 of course for those of you wondering! I’ve signed up with an agency and will start work with a vengeance next week...first assignment some data entry for a scooter shop! Finally my patience is paying off in so many ways. Life is pretty damn good right now. I’m calling it - 2015 is going to be an even better year than the last.

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