… and it has flown by.
Not a full year, actually; eleven and a bit months, really, but I’ll be back in England for the full year, so I’m writing this now, before I board a plane for 22 hours, something which should not freak me out as much as it does. Almost a year ago I wrote this and left my flat in London to travel to Australia.
This has been an incredible, ridiculous, wonderful year. I have written a book; I have released two games for actual money and am damn close to a third, which will have to wait until I return to Australia; I have run two big live games and one which was a cross between disco dancing and charades; I have pottered about a flat in the middle of Sydney and done work here and there and been supported, endlessly, wonderfully, by my wife; I have lost weight, thanks to not being able to afford to drink in this city; I have made friends.
Oh, what friends I’ve made – incredible people, truly kind, generous, friendly, open. Some of them are massive bastards, too, and I love them for it.
And what friends I left behind; I am still me, of course, like Theseus’ ship you can replace parts of me and dress me up however you like but that innate spark of Grantness still burns and fizzes inside. But what of the country I left a year ago remains?
It’s been ticking on; my friends back in London, in Norwich, have had a whole year to themselves – they have not been waiting in some ether, hovering like models waiting to load into the map when I arrive back. The world does not shut down without me present; it is active, and that is scary to comprehend, because what new paths are there in their lives? What grooves have they marked on themselves, grooves that I am not part of and don’t belong to?
How will they see the changes I’ve made to myself, stripped of the intervening year to soften the blow? Not just haircuts and new shoes and less flesh but – but – the very rhythm of me has changed. And them too, I’d wager.
Today I fly back to England; terrifyingly, traitorously, I don’t know whether it will feel like home. I’m not sure whether I want it to, even. I have hit Sydney hard and left a mark faster and deeper than I did in London; I feel part of something, here, a regular feature. When my wife’s secondment is over, I don’t know whether I want to stay here, or move back to England, or go elsewhere. I am a free agent. I did not think it would be like this.
HERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT YOU CAN FIND IN SYDNEY WITH EASE
Great swooping flocks of Cockatoos; darting pairs and trios of Rainbow Lorikeets; madly-cackling Kookaburras; boisterous and territorial and tiny Minah-birds; gangly long-beaked Ibises, picking through bins;
Unbelievably attractive and fit people, clean-limbed and well-dressed, active and gorgeous; enough to make you feel like some watery soup of a creature, some homunculus, some gutter-slyph;
Kangaroo steaks, which are delicious;
Heat, in that, it is absurdly hot here for much of the year, and when Australians complain of cold they are invariably filthy liars;
People who will tell you that the wildlife is trying to kill you with a trademark sense of Australian pride, but not that many things which will actually kill you;
Strange stars, far above the city, that carve odd patterns around the sky (I have not seen The Plough in a year).
HERE ARE SOME THINGS I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO IN ENGLAND
Proper chips – fat, salty, soggy things, wet with vinegar and steam, served from paper;
Being able to afford to drink, just, except in London really;
The Fat Cat;
Chris, a man who I have decided I must share my life with, much in the same way you would a wife, but I already have one of those, so there are understandable logistical issues;
Slipping on my greatcoat when I walk to the shops and feeling it swoosh-swoosh underneath me;
Going dancing with people I trust in a place that I love; and people I love, in a place that I trust;
Seeing my family, all of my families, in a variety of ways and places, and consuming as much of their wine as I can.
AND NOW I AM GOING
I didn’t know what to expect from Australia; it wasn’t this, for sure, this place where I feel more comfortable and accepted and confident than ever. Maybe that’s just me becoming 27; who knows. This has been a hell of a year.
I will leave the house in about an hour, and I will get a train to the airport down winding tunnels, and I will smoke my last cigarette outside in the sunlight and wind, and I will board the plane and then – somehow, my heart thuds with terror at the prospect, not the risk of air travel but the thought that I will be unable to leave throughout – 22 hours will pass, and I will write and swear and drink and not sleep, not sleep, I will come close but I will not sleep.
And then England, bright and grey and cold, and the people I left behind, and an ever-smaller Grant-shaped hole in their lives in which I must briefly work my way into, lest I am forgotten out here amid the sun and sand and strange, strange stars.