Back and Forth: Unsettled Then

…well, back at least. Recently, I returned from a trip to England which left me feeling deeply unsettled. Realizing that this is nothing new for me, I found the following entry in my diary for January 7-8 1994.

I wake up at 4 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. What is bothering me? Why am I returning? Just to collect my belongings? By 6 a.m. I abandon the pretence of falling asleep and make myself a coffee (or three) while I watch the news. Take your (ice) pick – it’s frozen everywhere except where there’s flooding and except here in Wivenhoe, where it’s fine. The Man phones at 6.50, so it’s as well I’m up to take the call, we chat very briefly and, though I miss him dearly, I cannot muster any enthusiasm for returning. I draw a deep breath, shower and finish my packing. I despair at the 20kg my suitcase weighs. After a final visit to friends for (yet another) coffee, I can delay no longer and am back just in time to pick up my bags, bid a choked farewell to Grandad (who thrusts a bank note into my hand as I leave), and reach the station. On the train, I doze a little. Luckily, Liverpool Street Station has reopened Left Luggage – what a relief. Keen to pack the time with as many people as possible to avoid facing-letting-go, I head to meet SK in Gower Street. We talk and walk books. For hours we do this. She then comes with me to Liverpool Street and helps me take my baggage as far as Hammersmith, when we go our separate ways after hugging a great deal and a great deal longer than strictly necessary. As a result, I miss two trains. Eventually, make it to Richmond, where I and S collect me at 18.45 and take me back to theirs for a pot of tea plus trips down memory lane via the photo albums. They drive me to LHR Terminal 2, which is strangely quiet. OA 266 is the last flight out at 21.55, delayed by half an hour. They’re getting good at seeing me off, I and S, and I find it oddly reassuring that this is as close as I seem to get to tradition now. My Athens flight is only half-full; mercifully there’s room to stretch out. I hang onto England until OA 266 peels its wheels off the runway. Arriving in the UK, I’d cried over London, playing join-the-dots with the lamps, lights and headlights down below as we taxied in behind flights from Paris and Tashkent. I don’t look forward to Athens; so tedious, the airport no more than a holding-pen, but there’s only an hour and a half wait and my connecting flight is, once again, only half-full. So, the journey to Rhodes is quite smooth. I’m in time for the Nissos Kalymnos ferry to Symi and, when it docks in Gialos, I find a taxi to deliver my suitcase to the door. I am ‘home’ by 11 a.m. I’ve been on the road for 22 hours. The sun’s shining and it’s a beautiful, warm day. I’m flagging. I unpack, eat, shower, sleep, unpack, shower, eat – rinse and repeat. I feel distant, in fact, not here at all. When I was in England, the time passed so quickly but I did so little of what I’d set out to do. The whole experience was unsettling, unnerving and illuminating. I set out with questions left unanswered and returned with yet others. It takes me two days to return to ‘normal’ – wherever that is.

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