I think the most useful advice I received, right at the beginning, was from an American friend who has lived most of his adult life in various northern European countries before he married a Brit and moved to the UK. We got to know each other years ago during our respective long residencies in Amsterdam.
‘You think you’ve moved to a Northern European country. You haven’t. Oh sure, geographically it is Northern Europe; but if you expect things to operate like they do in Germany or Holland or Scandinavia, forget it. Culturally the UK should be located somewhere between Greece and Portugal.’
I’m too much of a novice to be a helpful critic of English / British culture. And let’s face it: every country – or if you insist, a small collection of countries in one kingdom – has its strengths and charms (museums, acting) as well as its weaknesses and demerits (plumbing). So I’ll leave further comment to the experts.
My bags are packed and I’m perched on an air mattress in an empty house in northwest London, using my cellphone as a hotspot for my laptop; the router was handed in this afternoon. Yesterday the movers came and took away my household. Tomorrow at 0900 a taxi service will arrive to collect me and my two bags and take us to Heathrow Terminal 4 – ‘The Top People’s Terminal’, as a colleague who works there calls it.
KLM will take me ‘home’ to Amsterdam.
Renata and I want to settle, or at least try, and Amsterdam was the closest we ever felt to being at home. We’ll see if we can nurture that sense of belonging into a permanent stay; I hope so. For the time being I’ll continue to work at Heathrow, commuting for a few days per week, but it might be that October 31 will bring significant changes to my job stability (…this is NOT a blog about Brexit).
It is a warm summer evening and just now as the sun was setting I took one last stroll around the neighbourhood. I headed up Ruislip way, along a path that runs through the grounds of the Ickenham Cricket Club. I passed a group of boys who were sitting on the perfectly mowed pitches eating their sandwich dinners, their seated frames casting long shadows in the golden sunlight.
I continued into the stand of ancient oaks at the top of the rise. Is this where ‘Ickenham’ gets its name, I wonder? Oaken-ham? There I found an elderly man picking blackberries at the side of the path, putting every third or fourth into his mouth. We talked about the quality of this year’s berries; last year’s were a disaster, the prolonged dry spell making them inedible.
I pause to tap the top of the waist-high marker at the end of the path. Normally I leave this ritual to Renata but she’s in Holland already so I fulfil her legalistic tap before turning back home. A man walking an old dog, the black lab greying around the jowls, strikes up a conversation about how it’s going with the Ashes. How remarkable: I know what he is talking about and discover I’ve become acculturated enough to make a sensible comment.
I will miss this place. Yes, I miss every place, finally. But England, with all its infuriating inefficiencies and delightful idiosyncrasies, has been good to us.
Bye, bye Britain. We’ll not be strangers.