by ELISA ARMSTRONG
“Let me know if you want me to bring you anything,” whatsapped my best friend from London, in anticipation of her Australian visit. “No, I don’t miss anything actually. Hahahahahahaha” was my quick reply.
I had moved back to Australia after 5 ½ years in London. A move that was partly visa-enforced but mainly emotionally enforced. My mind and feelings drained and slack from years of struggle in a city where apathy outweighs empathy. I had grown tired of peak-hour faces, the particular way the sides of the mouth threaten to drag an entire expression south. Seeing those faces and knowing they were a reflection of my own. Breathing in the tube air, wondering how the rats inhabiting the space actually managed to live past a few days. Holding on, just.
Once I knew I was leaving, one year left on a visa and no chance of renewal, I took pleasure in saying to myself, “That’s the last time you’ll go to this pub/gym/shop/park” and surprised myself by feeling delighted, giddy even, without any sadness. How often does one get a chance to start anew in their home country?
It’s been 6 months and every day I wake up happy that I am no longer in London, but curious as to whether the move was entirely right. Now my peripatetic heart is forced into stagnancy for at least a little while. Friends, tired of Australia, ask for advice on moving to London and it takes all my energy to not scream, “DON’T DO IT.” So instead I say, “You’ll need at least £15,000 to move there. Oh and did I tell you I used to pay £136 a month for tube travel?” That rarely fails to end any conversation.
I have moved to Melbourne. It is not really my home, but the city that contains my mother and all my friends. I only lived here for 2 ½ years but always told acquaintances in London “I’m from Perth AND Melbourne.” Cue confused faces from those enquiring, wondering how someone can be from two ends of a country.
I have moved to the exact area where I used to live. No ghosts here, everything has the glaze of familiarity with none of the emotional connection.
Until I walked to the market. Retracing steps I made from my old share house (2006-2008), I felt lifted into a dream and periodically taken back to my early-mid 20s and the budget constraints that full-time study with no income provides. I walked between stalls looking for the cheapest zucchini to spiralize into low-carb, paleo-friendly, authentically-lacking pasta – I am none of these things except authentically half-Italian. I felt vindicated when I found it $4 cheaper a kilo and greener, but with a lack of polish that endorsed its un-genetically modified state. I walked into the Asian stall, desperate for sriracha, but experienced enough to know that a giant bottle will gain intense crust around the spout before I can finish it. I pass by the stall selling British McVitie’s Hob Nobs, once a favourite, with a smirk on my face.
I moved from a wintry London into an autumnal Melbourne. My body went into shock and in the first month of winter I developed a bronchial infection and lung inflammation. Never mind that Melbourne temperatures in winter are equivalent to London summer (or at least an Edinburgh summer). We can bear extreme weight, more so than slight weight. My body was more ready for polar vortex cold than Australian cold.
To go from winter to winter requires boots. Boots that withstand the long walks I like to make over suburban terrain (and am made fun of for). My boots were purchased in London but worn for a month in Berlin and in Boston and New York. These boots have held up in Melbourne. You have crossed three continents, I tell them, and tell myself.
I do miss one thing about London, being able to leave it: quickly, cheaply, unglamorously, inconveniently. £34.99 for a flight to the part of Spain that seems exclusively for English tourists. £69 for a return Eurostar to Paris: leaving at 6 a.m., and returning after midnight. I miss my friends. I miss being an ex-pat. Not the lifestyle but the state of being. This is all I miss.
Elisa Armstrong is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Melbourne. You can follow her on twitter here. This is her first appearance in these pages. You can find our mobile site here.
“Polylonliness” – Spring Service (mp3)