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Jubilee #2: Linen

The second celebration during the first weekend of June.

overcast 13 °C

While this weekend in London is focused on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, another celebration is also being observed, though perhaps by fewer people. In fact, as far as I know, I am the only one marking the occasion.

Four years ago, on the early morning of the June 4th, 2008, I landed at Heathrow airport, and soon thereafter was admitted as a resident of the United Kingdom. Thus, today, June 4th 2012, is my Linen Jubilee. I am thinking of going out to the local Debenham’s and buying myself some new sheets to celebrate.

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Recently I was talking to someone at work who is also an emigre from another land. “How long have you been here?” she asked.

“Almost four years,” I replied.

“Oh, so that means you are here for good,” she said.

How had she determined that, I wondered. “Why would you say that?” I queried.

“Most people say if you have stayed in a place for four years, you’re bound to stay and not go back,” she replied.

I will admit that I have no plans to go back to Canada. When I first moved here to the United Kingdom, I always planned on staying for six years. Six years would give me enough time to run through my visa, one year of Indefinite Leave to Remain and then allow me to apply for citizenship.

Beyond that, though, I really had thought I would take advantage of my new status in the EU and probably pull up stakes and resettle somewhere in Europe. Perhaps Paris, which originally called me to move to Europe in the first place, or somewhere in Spain to brush up on my Spanish. Maybe I would move to Eastern Europe, settling into one of the fast growing Eastern European economies in their beautiful capital cities.

At the time I was filled with a wanderlust, and I really saw the move to Europe as a chance to fulfil that lust for travel in a different way.

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Over the last four years, though, my thoughts have changed. Certainly the ongoing drama in the Eurozone is partially responsible for questioning if I really want to travel into the EU (if there is even one left in another two years). However, there is more than that. Settling abroad as an immigrant has quenched my thirst for travel. I no longer get the itchy feet I used to if I am at home for an extended period. In fact, now when I travel, though I still enjoy it, I am also looking forward to getting home.

Now I feel that getting a British passport is not just a gateway to further adventure somewhere else, but instead I see it as cementing my position here in the UK. It is about giving me the paperwork to match with my feelings - that London is now my home.

Sometimes I am surprised how settled and comfortable I feel in London, because it certainly hasn’t been an easy four years.

I’ve struggled with work, at first to find any job, and since finding employment, to find the right job. I’ve suffered from a lack of UK experience, both real and imagined on the part of my employers, and am only now getting back to a level I feel is similar to what I left behind in Toronto. I am certainly not financially better off since leaving Canada, with my salary basically staying flat over the past four years in a city which is more expensive than my previous home town of Toronto.

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I left behind a set of friends in Canada, and came to the UK with no friends to call on. Trying to make friends in your late-30s and early-40s hasn’t been quick or easy, and there was more than a few times early on when I suffered from loneliness. Luckily now I have a growing group of friends to call on, and have something that could be called a social life now. But I still don’t have the number or diversity of friends here in the UK that I had back in Canada.

Hardest recently has been the fact that you are far away from family and friends. I must admit when I left Canada, I think I subconsciously thought that life would just stay still in Canada. That things wouldn’t change. But they do change. People get married, people get divorced. Children are born, and then grow into adults. People grow old, people get sick, and people die.

Being in London is being far away from it all. I am not there to give the level of support I’d want to give to those who need it, nor can I get that level of support from those back in Canada. Email and international calling provides some value, and my family has been excellent about keeping in touch, but electronic communications can’t replace seeing someone, feeling their touch or having a good hug.

Recently my father had surgery. Luckily I was able to take a week off work and fly back to Canada to be there for the surgery, but in the run up to the decision to have the surgery, and now I am back in London and he is recovering, I feel the distance strongly. Often, I wish I could be there in Canada with him - both to offer support to him and the rest of my family, but also so I was closer to what was happening, and to draw some comfort with being involved and fully informed of what is occurring. I find myself suffering from the stress of feeling impotent - of not being a part of what is happening back home.

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Despite these struggles - excluding a few times when I thought that perhaps I would be better off packing up and heading back to Canada - I find myself bonding more and more with London. In the past when I lived in Toronto, when I suffered from hardships, I found myself turning to travel as the escape. Getting on a plane and heading somewhere new, I would find my worries floating away as soon as the cabin crew shut the main cabin door.

Now, though, when something in London is getting me down, I feel myself retreating not to another place, but to something different within London, be it a nice walk along the Thames, or a wander through the historic streets of Westminster, or a night out in the vibrant night life of this city.

Whether it is London itself, or just the experience of living abroad that is providing this comfort, I don’t know. Either way, it makes me feel good to be here.

So tonight I will raise a glass to my Linen Jubilee, and to London. To the last four years, and to many more ahead of me.

Long live the immigrant in me, and long live London.

Posted by GregW 06:46 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged migration_experiences migration_philosophy existential_migration

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