For at least half of our 10 month backpacking trip around the world I couldn’t even hear the phrase “when we get back home”. Indeed, when we left I was convinced we would only return to the UK to sort things out for a new life, preferably one where we live partly in the UK, partly elsewhere. I imagined returning back with a fantastic broadcasting job sorted out, and even having met our child along the way. The idea that we would land at Heathrow with everything the same as when we left (well, on the outside anyway) was one I wouldn’t entertain even as late as when we sat on the New York Subway on the way to JFK. But it was not to be. And so we found ourselves going through the UK border early one Saturday morning, still childless, and with no home (our house still rented out), no jobs, no car (it was written off whilst we were in India) and no stuff which is still packaged away in our loft. Amazingly, somehow, despite my tears on the plane it was actually OK. In fact, our arrival back in the UK got off to a great start. We had begun the England leg of the Global Adventure.
Still on the trip…..
For the first month back home, it really just felt like we were still on the Global Adventure, just on the England leg. London, and Yorkshire which we reached later that Saturday all seemed a bit foreign. We knew the routes, knew the culture but being away somehow made it all seem Technicolor and it would be months before I stop observing the UK in the way I had all the other countries we visited. It helped that for once the sun didn’t let us down; August and much of September was wonderfully sunny. When we were in the often hard to tolerate humidity of Asia, or just the baking sun of the USA we would both wistfully talk of perfect English summer days, around 25 degrees and a slight breeze. Welcome back to the UK!
The other thing that seemed so colourful about England was the people. Even after New York people just seemed to funky here, the clothes shops so much trendier and groovier than what we had seen anywhere else in the world. Maybe I am just a sucker for very brightly coloured hair.
Food that we had been dreamed of…..
So we leave Heathrow, shocked at the price of tickets on the London Underground, but smiling at the price of a pint of milk and how amazing the food is in M&S Food is, and we catch the tube to my brothers. Jamie and his partner Smita welcome us home in the best possible way – with a good English fry up breakfast. They even get veggie bacon for me; black pudding for Patrick. We meet their new dog, stuff our faces and soak up the atmosphere of Portobello market in London. I haven’t slept at all for over 24 hours but adrenalin is high.
We put up on backpacks knowing the number of times we will have to carry them is getting less and less and we leave Jamie’s to get a train and coach to my mothers. 2 hours on a train, 2 on a coach. After the last year it feels so short a journey; hardly time for us to even get the kindles out. Mind you, I am so excited that I can get emails and Facebook on my phone wherever I am – I don’t even need a wifi connection – that the kindle hardly gets a look in. We buy M&S food and salt and vinegar crisps and head north.
A mother’s hug…..
My mother meets us in York. It’s just amazing to see her. We had Skyped (or spyked as she typed in one email) quite a lot during the trip but in the flesh was infinitesimally better. Our parents’ health had been a real concern for us during the trip and in fact we both discussed this in detail as part of the decision to go. My mum looked so well and blooming. We hugged and hugged. It will be a few weeks before we get up to West Cumbria to see Pat’s parents but that reunion will be no less emotional. In York, we get in the car and navigate very busy streets filled with drunk people. It’s around 7pm and it had been Ladies Day at York racecourse. We laugh and love all the women nearly falling over on their ridiculous heels, most wearing dresses that hardly leave anything to the imagination. There’s another thing that the British do better than anyone else – binge drinking and drunken walking on roads!
We look at Yorkshire anew…..
And so we spend a wonderful 4 or 5 days with my mother. We love the sunshine, we go for lunch with her friends and we head to a local Fish and Chip Restaurant for Patrick’s second food fix. We paint her windows and we learn how to text again. We catch up with a few siblings, nieces and nephews from both sides of the families. We eat loads of wonderful home cooked food. But most of all we look anew at our homeland.
My mother lives in a flat part of Yorkshire which, in itself is something, as Yorkshire is known for how hilly it is. I’ve always thought it’s not the most interesting part. But now I see it with the eyes of someone who has seen some of the most beautiful parts of the world. And guess what? It holds its own. Wherever we go in those first few weeks back in England we gaze in wonder. At the green fields, and moors and hills stretching for miles, at stone cottages, at old buildings and churches, the clean and neat streets and villages. After four months in Australasia and North America we cannot believe how historic and beautiful even common place buildings are. The size of the UK population – 66 million of us on a tiny island – was a source of puzzlement for people we met. We would say that despite this huge swathes of the UK is really rural. I dont think some people believed us. Our first few weeks back remind us just how lucky we are to have vast empty hills, dales and fields only minutes drive from large cities.
It’s “Yorkshire Day” a few days after we return; we could not feel more proud. A few weeks in to our return we will go to our local arts festival. A friend asks “where’s the best place in the world then?”. In unison without batting an eyelid we both say “Yorkshire”.
A buzz in Yorkshire…..
It’s not just us that are feeling good about Yorkshire. A few things have changed since we left and we can sense excitement around about them. Firstly a new music arena has opened in Leeds. In the first few weeks Bruce Springsteen and Elton John will play. Designed by acoustic architects, it has been built solely for gigs and there’s real buzz about the sound. The outside lights up, colours changing depending on the gig. The Boss himself will say his gig was one of the best he’s played for ages “A beautiful building and a great place to play”.
Now readers of this blog will know how the Arena was part of what helped me come to terms with the idea of returning. In Australia I heard the news that my favourite ever band in the whole world – the mighty Depeche Mode – were coming to Leeds in November. So one evening in Sydney I managed to Facebook friends in the UK and on the first day of ticket sales we had tickets. It wasn’t just the tickets that had such an impact on my mood, it was the fact that I have so many friends in Leeds with whom I could arrange to go and get tickets. 8 weeks into our return we will have our first visit to the Arena – to see mine and Pat’s fav joint band, Leeds sons, the Kaiser Chiefs. This gig was always going to be the time by when we had to be back home. We went with our best mate, Ali. The evening just amazing; we go for drinks first in town with a group of mates, the Arena lit up in Leeds city’s and Leeds United colours (yellow and blue). The Kaisers are brilliant and the sound unbelievable! When we were in New Zealand we sang their song “Oh My God I can’t believe it, I’ve never been this far away from home” a lot. It’s always the song they play last and the crowd sing it over and over. This homecoming gig was different as 15,000 of us sang “Yorkshire” over the end of the chorus. November and Depeche Mode cannot come quickly enough…..
The other big thing that is getting Yorkshire folk very excited (and believe me, Tykes (as we are called) are not generally known for their ebullience) is that the Tour de France is coming here next year. The Tour de Yorkshire is everywhere. People are going cycling mad. And we are going to be the first host country in the world to have a 100 cultural festival alongside the race. Many of my mates are in the arts world. Bidding for commissions as part of the festival has opened. Once we have settled back into normal working routines, on a rainy morning in September I will head along to Leeds Town Hall to a briefing meeting to be told about the festival and the bidding process. Turns out it’s the best social gathering I’ve been to since coming home; old friends I haven’t seen for years, new friends and people I’ve seen a lot of since coming back, professional contacts I used to work with at previous jobs like when I headed up Bradford’s status as the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. After the meeting a few of us will head to the very old fashioned British and truly fabulous Tiled Café in Leeds Art Gallery. We drink tea in cups and saucers and plot and scheme for how we can apply for the money. By this stage I will know we are well and truly back into our old lives. But for now, we still have the England leg of the Global Adventure to enjoy.
Sunny England and its party and festival time….
So in our first few weeks back we leave my mothers and head to live in a little flat in my favourite part of Leeds, Chapel Allerton. Our beautiful friend Deborah gives us a subsided rent in return for some freelance work I can do and we marvel at the space which is all ours. We have a bedroom, living space and small kitchen and bathroom all to ourselves. It’s bang-slap in the middle of Chapel Allerton. We are surrounded by cafes and bars. Our holiday continues. Every day we go to one of the café’s or the local arts centre, coffees and catch-ups, letting people know we are back and looking for work. If we head on our own it doesn’t take long for someone we know to arrive. It’s a social whirl.
My bessie Ali puts on a party for us the first night we are back and straight away we catch up with a couple of our social groups. Ali always says “Mia casa es su casa”; her home definitely our second home. During our trip we skyped Ali most Sunday’s. Ali doesn’t really do soppy stuff but I keep hugging her, so so happy to be back with her and to have such an amazing mate. Our ability to talk bollocks for hours on end is legendary. A year away has not changed a thing.
Me and Pat have invitations to meals coming out of our ears, amazing given we are so poor we can’t even take a bottle of fizzy water as our contribution. But still the invitations come. We walk everywhere in the sunshine or get the bus as its fabulous. I go swimming and start dieting, determined to lose the additional 2 USA pancake stones I seem to have put on.
Throughout the trip we have been really lucky that we’ve never really had double panic going on. Basically, we have taken it in turns; one of us really troubled about the future, or money, or arrangements, the other one totally chilled. This continues. Patrick gets more panicky than me about the future and about work. I just laugh it off and say it will all work out OK. I’m having too good a time, loving Chapel Allerton, loving my mates and being back, loving not having a job but really excited by how the feelers I am putting out are coming good. Patrick though is worrying he is slipping the other way.
Every day we get up and we sit together on our little sofa and watch some motivational subliminal videos. Pat, of course, is sceptical; I am not. My optimism is limitless. Even the realities can’t hold me back. I check the web and discover that despite having always worked and paid into the system until this trip since the age of 21, as I was previously self employed I am not entitled to claim dole. But Pat is. We have no money so the £70-odd a week will make a real difference. So we make an application and one Thursday afternoon Pat is called to the job centre for an interview. We head into town; I go for a work meeting and Pat has the interview. It is soul destroying he will tell me later. So many hopeless people in the horrible building. He feels dirty, looked down upon he will say. His assessor completes forms with him. He ticks off the boxes, reading them out, saying yes then ticking. “White British? Yes” he asks. “No” says Patrick in his very northern English accent. The assessor looks up. Are you an asylum seeker then he asks? Turns out there’s no option for Asian British. Feeling more British than ever Pat ends up ticking Indian.
Signing on made Pat feel the lowest of the low. We cannot afford to get the bus home (£4.20 of unnecessary expense) so we walk the few miles back. I laugh and try and improve his mood all the way. I’m so positive and feeling great after our travels I find it so funny about our change in circumstances. “Just 5 or so years ago I had my best ever paid job, earning nearly £60 grand a year, lots of traveling to London with first class trains and hotels. Now look at us, walking up Chapeltown Road on the way back from the dole office cos we cant afford the bus fare” I scream with laughter. “Ah yes” says Pat, “but look how much happier you are now”.
Stuff and stuff….
Although the sun is shining we do realise though that we could do with some of our stuff which is all packed away in the loft of our house which is still rented out. The few summer clothes we have are threadbare and fine for summer but what if we get jobs? So our tenant very kindly lets us back in to the house. We pick a few things we can easily put our hands on in the loft. We find some clothes and a bit of makeup. I am distraught we cannot find my hairdryer or straighteners, but we do find some of my sparkly shoes and some coats which we know we will need soon. We get the clothes home; I can’t get into any of mine I’ve put on so much weight. Even this cannot dint my good mood. I just resolve to try and keep to the diet today….
And so we continue to have a lovely life, occasionally thinking about work. We’ll maybe that’s not true. Maybe it’s occasionally thinking about contracted work which pays here and now. Me and my laptop have been reunited and its one huge love-in. After a year of writing and blogging on the ipad it’s so easy to type on the laptop. I do a lot of writing in advance of some meetings I have with literary agents. I work on my proposal and sample chapters of the managing weight book I finally finished in Thailand, and I start on working on turning this blog into a book. I make contacts and I get stuck into working on Tour de Yorkshire bids and making new consultancy contacts with arts organisations. But it doesn’t feel like work, rather its just like when I was writing on the trip. I am physically near Pat when I work (Pat is working his way through Deborah’s book collection) and we still spend loads of time together. I have time to go swimming and we don’t feel time pressure.
After a week or so back we see a notice on Facebook – help needed to make soup at a festival. Free festival entry and all the soup you can eat. We email and apply and we get the gig. We feel great and think that things are going to go our way. We both think this soupy connection could lead to something more. We feel accepted and wanted. Just the start we needed.
So at the start of the bank holiday weekend we load up the car with begged and borrowed camping gear and with some new very cheap, vaguely warm clothes we bought that week from Asda and head to the Yorkshire countryside.
These days, Britain during the summer seems to be a country of festivals. Every weekend people are away at one festival or other, with maybe 6 or 7 festivals each weekend. There’s a definite festival look here – shorts and willies. August Bank Holiday sees the Leeds Festival – one of the big 5 in the UK. In the days running up Leeds rail station reminds me of Bangkok Rail Station – young people wearing very few clothes in big groups carrying huge backpacks.
Our festival is held in the grounds of a very beautiful English Stately Home. The weather forecast is for lots of sun, but of course it’s English festival season so it’s cold. Festivals in the cold and wet are such hard work it’s amazing they are so popular. We are too busy working to get really cold. The soup is freshly made. We chop veg from the time we get up till early tea-time. The table we chop at is too low and my back starts to be agony, but I am determined not to cop out. We get blisters on our hands but we have a great time. The soup tastes fantastic – from Cajun Gumbo to a veggie Thai beetroot soup to Mexican Chorizo soup – at least two soups made each day. Sadly, trade is not as busy as we would hope. Seems home-made organic soup is not what festival goers want, at least not until the last day when they are starting to get fed up with crap food. Next to us is a noodle stall doing a huge trade; people don’t seem to mind that their noodles are simply fried with a few vegetables and then covered in ready-made Uncle Ben’s sauces.
Our stall gives us a great view of one of the stages. We watch old classics like The Undertones and The Stranglers, and listen to new up and coming bands like Leeds boys Hope and Social. We discover a new habit– catching bands we think are ace just as they start their final song. There’s quite a few Irish/American influenced diddly-diddly bands which we just love and can’t get enough of. I keep looking at the festival goers, still feeling like I’m in a foreign country and observing their characteristics. I remain wowed by how groovy so many people are, how vibrant the British are, even at this very family festival.
We camp in an instant pop-up tent we have borrowed. I love camping but Patrick not so much so. He just can’t get beyond the festival toilets, the mud, the cold. Me, maybe I’m just hardened after 6 months of toilet stress in Asia, and I think the portaloos are a breeze. Overall, its bloody hard work but we love every minute. We feel really alive.
The Bank Holiday party continues….
We head back to Leeds on the Monday after lunch at my mothers on the way home. The bank holiday party is still taking place and the Monday afternoon it’s the Chapeltown Carnival – the UK’s 2nd largest West Indian Carnival. Me and Pat head down in the sun, walking through the park and down the streets rammed with people of all ages, all colours smiling in the sun and in anticipation of the parade and costumes. I buy a fresh coconut to drink at a stall (we hardly normally get fresh drinking coconuts here) and we find our mates. We sit in the sun people watching.
We both marvel at the passing of a whole year since we last went to the Carnival. Some things are the same – we are with the same mates, standing in the same places on the route, same brilliant costumes and colour. Other things could not be more different. Last year I couldn’t enjoy it as our life was just so difficult, falling apart around me; this year the sun is shining and we are loving it.
Tales of a mid-life crisis trip……
Upon our return I took a decision to be more upfront about what I want in life. All my reflection and meditation during the trip made me realise how I’ve spent much of my life not able to say what I want, just hoping other people would somehow telepathically realise, then getting upset when it doesn’t happen. So I decide to make a change.
The day after we bought a new car, I went for a drive to re-acquaint myself with the area. On the local radio I heard two people I know contributing. I think about other friends on Facebook who have really developed their radio presenting in the last year. In the car I have a big moment of ‘Oh God – what has happened to me? I used to be an important person with a great career now look at me.” I decide there and then to be proactive, to be upfront and put myself forward. A few emails later and I am on a roll – with a few radio interviews about having a mid-life crisis and going on the trip and a few other radio appearances booked in. One interview was with a station in the north east. Later that evening me and Pat sit down to listen again. “It was interesting” I tell him before we listen. “The presenter just couldn’t seem to get his head around the idea that anyone would give up a stable job. Maybe he thinks about it a lot?”. It’s a small world. Pat listens for a few minutes, suddenly exclaiming that he knows the interviewer, they both come from the same small town in Cumbria.
I also head back to the radio station I used to be on. There’s no regular slot available at the moment but I am asked to stand in on the live DriveTime show one evening. I say yes so long as my co-host can do all the technical bits so I can ease my way back in. I arrive for the show. “Who am I presenting with?” I ask. In answer, a sheepish face. An hour and a half after walking back in the station I’m back on air after a year long gap; a 2 hour live news and interview show with no co-host and me doing all the technical bits. My new found travel easy-going-ness does me proud. I just laugh, don’t panic and get on with the job. I’m rusty but I have fun and probably do not a bad job. Once again it feels great to be back. I am reminded how much I love broadcasting, and how much I want this to be the thing I do for work.
Starting to think about work that pays now….
During that first month back started to pick up old connections. Week 2 back found my putting on clothes which looked vaguely worky and going to a meeting of a network of consultants I was part of before I left. It was lovely to see everyone, but tricky as by this point my back had just had enough of carrying my world and have given in. Unable to stand up straight I took pain killers and told stories of the trip bent double. But it would turn out to be a turning point. The network needs someone to so some development work. It’s perfect. Within a few weeks of coming back I have negotiated a new freelance contract with people I really like and admire working on a new management tool which I’ve sort of been around during its development. It’s only a couple of days a week, leaving me time for developing my writing and broadcasting. Perfect.
On the Friday after the dole office jaunt, we get up and as usual I persuade Pat to watch the subliminal video. He’s still down about his dole experience. Half-way through the video his phone rings. It’s his mate. A factory in Saltaire are looking for staff. A couple more phone calls are made and within 10 minutes Patrick has a job! Its no where near as well paid as the work he did before and it means going back on shifts but he knows the people as he has previously worked with lots of them and will ease him back into work gently, he thinks. And it means no more signing on for the dole. He is so happy and feels his confidence come flooding back.
I hug him, really happy for him, but with tears in my eyes, thinking about his new job and also the fact that in a few weeks I too will start working fully. “How will I cope without you every day” I say? Through the 11 months of the trip, other than the odd hour here and there, we have only spent 3 days apart when I went to the retreat in Thailand and when we had to sleep in separate dorms on 2 occasions. But that other than that we have been together the whole time. I know, come the following Monday that will all change. I also know that as we have to leave Deborah’s it will mean moving back Bradford way which Pat is really happy about. Whilst Pat’s sun is beaming, my sun goes in and suddenly life seems a lot less bright. It’s time for normal life….
- Settling back in to normal life. How does it go?
- The year in summary – our guide to the world and middle-aged backpacking.