Time passes. Attitudes change.

I’ve now been living in London for well over a-year-and-a half but for some unaccountable reason I continue to affirm this time frame, even though I’ve well surpassed it. It rolls off my tongue in such a way that I predict I’ll be saying it when I’ve been living here a decade.  Just last week, when questioned by immigration officials, I replied “a-year-and-a-half” in much the same way that the malfunctioning mutant in Total Recall repeatedly replied ‘two weeks’ as its face melted.

Perhaps ex-pats find the year-and-a-half point pivotal. It’s the point at which your brain stops constantly recalibrating and questioning as to whether you’ve lost your marbles in the move. It’s when, if you’re lucky, you find you’ve made a handful of friends: like-minded souls you can depend upon, who’ll give you reason to laugh when things take a nosedive.  At a-year-and-a-half you stop feeling like a goose that’s wandered into the lion enclosure.

Don’t think I have it all sorted though. I still find myself in situations (a formal English dinner party last week, for example) where I’m tongue-tied and self-conscious. Do I first address the person on my left or my right? How long is too long to give your back to someone? Does jam go on top of the scone or the cream? Are my dining companions politely pretending to find me interesting? Does ‘we must catch up sometime’ from the mouth of an Englishman actually really mean “I will most certainly never call you in my life?” But, never having petted a wolfhound by a drawing room fire before, I pushed my insecurities to the backseat and it turned out to be a sparkling night. (Whether I’ll be invited back is another story).

Generally speaking, I’m on more of an even keel. I know because I can compare my current equilibrium to my early days in London, when kindly enquiries from school parents as to whether I was ‘feeling settled yet?’ turned words to cotton wool in my mouth.

“Yes thank you, we’re really getting the hang of it now,” I’d offer, gamely. The truth was, I was about as far from getting the hang of it as you can get; stressed out, fearful of driving, twitchy about sending the wrong email response, paranoid about my kids’ behaviour on play dates, frequently lost, thrown by frequent use of the word ‘stonking’, guilty about having moved my teenager, worried about the effect moving would have on our family dynamic, missing the Workaholic who suddenly, ironically, had to base himself in Sydney, tempted by the pastry shelf at Tesco’s, gloomy about my cinnamon bun intake, bewildered by Sat Nav, perplexed by social customs and convinced I’d never make a friend. Settled?  I felt as though tectonic plates were shifting in my brain and an earthquake was imminent. I’d awake in a 3am sweat after dreaming of my mother, now so far away.

November in London is a prickly proposition. It’s cold, properly cold by Aussie standards, the clocks have wound back, the leaves have nearly all fallen off leaving trees spectral and forlorn.  Last November I was sad. I stopped saying yes to invitations.  I felt the darkness in my marrow.  As sure as a dagger pierced the heart of the little mermaid, it was becoming apparent that I’d never stop missing old friends. The mere memory of the ease of communication with them, the verbal short hand we shared, the in-jokes, the LOLS and that comfort of being your real self and not your ‘first-date self’ ached like arthritis in the soul. I needed to remind myself how fortunate I am to have made such friends in my lifetime.

Times passes. Attitudes change. This time round, I find myself cautiously welcoming November- I secretly suspect I may prefer the dark months to the long, light weeks of an English Summer. London suits the dark and it is so utterly different to Sydney that it’s feels galvanizing. Short sunlit bursts in the odd clear November sky continue thrill me. I fumble to capture them on my iPhone –hence the cracks.

So, though missing my dearest friends will continue to give me pangs like gout in the belly of an old diplomat, instead of comparing and despairing I’ve chosen to be bear-like and less… combustible. I’m cleaning out my closets (literally and figuratively). In listing old items for sale it reminds me how much fashion costs and how little it re-sells for, which makes me mindful about buying more. I’m embracing forgotten gems and started wearing them in creative ways. I’m reading crime. I’ve moved my social media apps to the furthest page on my shattered iPhone screen and put them in a folder ensuring there are several steps before I can access the images of sparkling Sydney when I’m blue. I try to be in the city that I am and appreciate it for what it is.

On other days?

I catch the Tube to alien boroughs.
I eat dark chocolate and play Top Trumps Insects with my 10 year old.
I haunt the garden of the Keats Museum.
I write.
I join a book club.
I try new forms of exercise.
I swim in public pools.
I say ‘yes’ to everything I’m lucky enough to be invited to.
I walk on the muddy Heath.

I extend myself.

November. I think I’m happy to be here.

Best wishes,
Sophie (via Homework Jail)