Friday, December 31, 2010

You Can't Go Home Again

It’s an odd thing, going back to places you’ve been before ... but after a long interval, when you’re a different person at a different point in life.  The last few weeks in the UK and Ireland have been a lot of that.  Oh, I’ve been a lot of new places, too, which I loved, but I got the chance to go back to a few from “the last time around”. 

Let me back up a bit.  I tend to assume that everyone already knows this, but as a bunch of the people reading this will be people I’ve met since it all happened, they may not actually know.  Anyway ... my sister Julie and I went to the UK on Working Holidaymaker visas (as they were then called —temporary visas for people under the age of 27) just after university and camped out in London for a while.  (I do mean “camped out” —our bedsit was pretty primitive.  But it only cost 30 pounds a week, so who’s complaining?).  We also had shorter visas for Ireland (up to 4 months only, unlike the more generous two years in the UK), and migrated over there the following spring.

Julie went over before I did —I think she got tired of waiting for me.   I kept stalling, since I was head over heels in love with this English guy and really didn’t want to leave London.  I had a hunch we wouldn’t survive any long-distance thing, which proved to be true when the relationship crashed and burned later that summer.  (More on that in a subsequent post!)

I’ve been back to London since, and it was a very different experience going back “on holiday” as a working professional with money to spend —London was a lot of fun when I was a poor starving backpacker, but having a bit of cash in your pocket opens up a whole other world of possibilities that you don’t see as a wandering 20-something making a few pounds an hour and living in a grotty bedsit.  It isn’t necessarily better, though —I loved the time I lived in London, despite having scarcely a penny to my name the whole time, and by my most recent trip to the city (before this) I was substantially better off but starting to get restless and unhappy in my little working rut.  (Being happy, and having money, don’t necessarily go together.)

Going back to London this time was an odd combination of the two.  I’m not the same girl I was in my 20’s when I lived in London, but I’m kind of back in the same budget category.  It’s an odd feeling now, saying to someone, “Er, I can’t actually afford to go to that restaurant ...”; when I was working in Toronto, I’d gotten quite used to going out where I pleased and paying the bill without even needing to check how much I was spending.  I don’t have that kind of financial freedom right now, but I have again the same kind of freedom I had in during my 20-something London days —the freedom to wander at will, go where I wanted and do what I wanted without having to answer to a time clock.  (I think I value that kind of freedom more than the financial kind, although it would be really nice if they’d go together.  If anyone cracks that problem — how to have unlimited time and unlimited money at the same time — let me know.)

Going back to Dublin was perhaps even more of a shock.  I went there after leaving Cork — I’d originally planned to work my way back north and see more of Ulster, but weather intervened and I opted for the more prudent choice (i.e. where I was more likely to be able to get out again).   I hadn’t been back at all since I lived there while on my Irish work visa, and it felt surprisingly unfamiliar.  Oh, there were a few things I recognized (my old “local” The Bleeding Horse, for one), but for the most part I felt like I was wandering around a strange city i’d never seen before.

I suppose it’s because I didn’t really live there very long, compared with the length of time I spent in London.  In hindsight, I wish I’d spent as much time there as my visa would have allowed —but, at the time, I made the choices that worked for me then.  It seemed more important, then, to see where that relationship might go, than to move away from him to a strange city; who knows, maybe it was even the right choice.  We didn`t end up together (and thank god for that, it would have been a disaster) but it taught me a lot about relationships, and, if I hadn`t tried, I might have always wondered “what would have been”. 

Dublin’s still a great city, familiar or not, and like every other Irish city I’ve ever been in it lives up to the stereotypes —the people are really friendly, the accents are delightful, they do drink a lot and there is a pub on every street corner (sometimes more than one).  It’s compact enough that you can walk around the central bit, and there’s a couple of new tram lines (well, new since I last visited) for the times it just started to feel too damn cold to keep walking.  All the pubs came in handy in the cold, too; whenever I started to lose feeling in my fingers and toes, I’d just nip in to the nearest pub and have a pint while I warmed up.  I even went to the oldest pub in Ireland —probably the oldest pretty much anywhere, since it was founded in 1198 A.D.!  (How many cities take their drinking so seriously that they’ve kept the same pub in business for more than eight hundred years?)

I’d have loved to spend more time there, but you might’ve heard something about the kind of weather they were getting over there — I was getting worried about getting back to London at all (let alone getting out of Heathrow when I got there), so I thought I’d better start heading back that way. 

But it was good to go back, to there and to London and to every other place I revisited.  But it reminded me that you CAN’T go back, really; the UK and Ireland are inextricably linked in my memory with a particular, significant period in my life, and I find myself thinking about that time whenever I’m back over that way.  But it struck me very strongly this time that I’m not that person any more, and — what’s more — I don’t want to be.  I like having challenging work, and some money to indulge myself occasionally, and a place that I can call home (where it doesn't feel like camping out!).

Oh, there’s some things I’d like to get back again.  I think I wrote about this before — how I remember feeling very alive back then, much more so than in recent years – with the “higher highs” and the “lower lows”, it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but I feel like I threw myself into my life with much more passion than I’ve been able to summon for the last few years.  This past year excepted — while I’m not the same wide-eyed innocent who headed off to a new life in London way back when (and I’m glad, she was a bit of a dolt about many things!), I have found some of that passion and joy and enthusiasm that had gotten lost somewhere along the way.

Now, whether or not I can keep this attitude when I have to go back to earning a living again ... that’s really the question. Talk to me again this time next year to see how well l've managed it ...

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