Boarding the Eurostar to Paris

I’m currently waiting in the terminal of the new St Pancras international terminal; it’s such a relief to be sitting here, finding a moment to blog before boarding the train in an hour. I haven’t caught the Eurostar in five years, and this terminal didn’t exist back then. Part of me can’t believe I’ve finally made it this far…this past week has been over-the-top busy, even by my superhuman (!) standards. Put it this way: my day started off with an 8.30am phone interview for a job with the ABC back in Sydney — and it will end by 8.30pm with me soaking my feet in my new apartment in Paris. Not to mention all the other stuff that’s happened in between. This is the first moment all day where I’ve really been able to relax.

The thing is, I didn’t plan on even applying for a job; as I’ve been writing for the past year, my plan for a long time has been to take some time off. But a very unusual job came up two weeks ago that I sensed I was perfect for, and I somehow found the time to apply while I was back home in Sydney. They got back to me pretty quickly, earlier this week while I was travelling. I’m not sure I performed at my absolute best this morning over Skype (no camera), at 8.30am from my little hotel room in London — but they seemed keen and my answers were punctuated with a few “terrifics” on their end. So let’s see how it goes. I’ve been thinking that if I get this job, I’ll take it, even though it means disrupting my plans to take a sabbatical. It’s like when I met my partner three years ago; I was totally not intending to enter into another relationship and felt that I needed time to myself, but I couldn’t exactly walk away from what I knew in my heart was what I had been looking for. Life isn’t always so neat in terms of timing, is it? So I’m being quite philosophical about the appearance of this job.

The truth is, I’m at my best when I’m busy, and I’m at my most inspired (and inspiring) when I’m doing something I can throw my heart and soul into…so coming back to Sydney in September to do something that is as close to a dream job as I’ve seen in a while is probably a good move. Though that won’t stop me resenting it a little from ruining my fantasy of doing nothing for six months! But, that was always a fantasy, much like I used to fantasise about being single and dating, and instead found myself constantly in relationships. I’m who I am.

Being back in London has been wonderful, and I realise that I’ve missed it. After all, I used to live here and it was the first city that I fell in love with. One of my school friends, who went a bit before me, stayed on…and it looks like she’s permanently settled here. It made me wonder, what would my life be like now if I had stayed on? I was only here less than a year; what if I had stayed on for two years? Or more? Would my life be any different now?

Even if I had stayed on for a while, I would have come home anyway. I’ve changed a lot since I was 24, but I haven’t changed that much. I’m still attached to home and to having a sense of belonging. London is a very exciting place, and I would happily live here again someday, but I did the right thing by me. In fact, the years being back in Sydney after London were the most truly formative years of my life; a time when friendships grew, family relationships improved, as did my own understanding of who I am. The other thing is, I think if I went back to London now and did it as an expat, I would have a very different experience compared to when I was a rather naive 24 year old who knew very little of the world, despite what I might have thought at the time.

These past two days have been pretty hectic though, and when I haven’t felt hammered from the effects of constant travel, I’ve been having a wonderful time catching up with many of my friends. That’s probably the main thing I really miss; all these people in my life who have at some point been very significant, who are now so far away from me. It’s been a pretty social couple of days.

On the first night I caught up with my (English) ex-boyfriend, and maybe because so much time has passed, and we’ve both moved on far into the future, it was really nice to catch up and talk about all the things we used to talk about; and some of the things we never did before, like the challenges of settling down and becoming more normal than we thought we were. The next morning I caught up with a friend of mine who lives in Berlin, who was in London for work (though he visited me in Thailand for a week so it hasn’t been so long since I saw him). He and I also go way back, to 2001, and he’s the one friend I’ve met up with in most places in the world. I had lunches with friends from back home, and last night I had a great time catching up with three British girlfriends (though two of them also visited me in Thailand recently so it hasn’t been so long either!)

All in all, I feel very lucky that I have some great friends here in London, and it makes the city so much friendlier than most others. I also have a bunch of friends I didn’t have time to catch up with, but in fact I will be seeing them in Paris over coming weeks because they’re all coming anyway. It’s crazy just how close these two cities are; in a few short hours, I’ll be getting out at Gare du Nord in Paris, laden down with luggage — remind me to travel much lighter next time!

And back to London itself…The taxi driver on the way here grumbled about how living standards are declining in the UK (he blamed New Labour) and talked about how much he loved the recent trip he took to the New England area of the States, and how much better life seemed over there. I’ve been to exactly all the same places he and his wife went and could see where he was coming from; as tourists, of course it all seems hunky-dory to us. Boston is a beautiful place, as is Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard etc. But America is not an easy place to live right now, and of course it’s hard to see that when you’re not in the thick of it.

From my perspective, I felt like London has actually improved quite a lot since I lived there. Lots of development. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to check out my old suburb, which is right near where the Olympics will be held. A taxi driver told me that Leyton has totally changed beyond recognition. Since I’ve had such a good time the past few days, I think I will make the effort to come back next month with my other half. He went once ages ago, and it would be cool if I could show what was once home for me.

Greensmiths in Waterloo
Greensmiths in Waterloo

Maybe I unwittingly ended up in a groovy part of London but I wanted to mention in particular that the food quality was incredible near where I was staying (Tune Hotels Westminster, owned by Air Asia; I recommend it even though it feels exactly like a budget airline hotel). I’ve had such good food over the past few days. British food has a terrible reputation, but surely there really is some sort of food revolution going on. Even back when I was living there, I felt like there was a lot more discussion about organic food than in Australia (fuelled by the Mad Cow scare), and now there’s even more of it. Around the corner from my hotel were some really gorgeous organic supermarket-cafe places, and I ended up buying lots of food to try, the kind of food that you simply don’t find in Asia. Everything seemed rather cheap in London after Scandinavia actually, so I’ve left London with money in my pocket.

And the train is now boarding so I’d better publish this now. Will write again from Paris!

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