A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about migration experiences

Europa, quidnam es vos?

Thoughts on what Europe is, leading me to think again about why I am here.

overcast 6 °C

I am a Canadian living in the United Kingdom. I am a Canadian living in Europe. I am not a European citizen. I am not a British citizen. In fact, I haven’t even really been here long enough to be a British resident, but I will be by the end of the year.

I recently went to a event which was a discussion led by Simon Glendinning, the director of the Forum for European Philosophy at the European Institute within the London School of Economics. The discussion, entitled Is Europe a Place or an Idea?, put on by Big Ideas, who host events that are set up as a casual discussion, starting with someone with knowledge setting up the subject, and then the floor open for discussion.


Mr. Glendinning started off by setting three possible ways to define Europe.

The first was geographic. It seems a simple way to define the continent, but is a surprisingly complex definition. The oldest known map of Europe, the Noachide map from the 7th century, defines Europe as being bounded in the east by the River Don in Russia. Nowadays, most folks would define it as being at the Ural Mountains, further to the east of that definition. How far off-shore does Europe reach? Is Iceland European? Greenland? The Azores? It’s fuzzier than one would think.

The second definition was based on a cultural progression, that Europe is a group of national states that have been and continue to be working towards a better world, that Europe is a global leader and the vanguard of human society. I’m probably not giving this idea a very good explanation, as reading that back it sounds very arrogant, but if you look at this definition within the historical context of moving from barbarism towards enlightened free societies, you can see what the definition was trying to communicate.

The final definition looks at the history, and defines Europe as being the areas where the main base of thought, laws and morality are based on the amalgam of Christianity and Greek rational thought. In fact, prior to the Reformation, it was easy to define Europe as those places where intellectuals all spoke Latin.

(An aside: the title of this blog is, I think, Latin for “Europe, who are you?” But I don’t speak Latin, so it was translated using an online translator. It might actually say, “Europe, pork yellow chariot.” I wouldn’t make a very good pre-Reformation intellectual.)

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What is interesting about the last two definitions is that without the bounds of geography, there are suddenly lots of nations that could be considered “European” without being anywhere close to geographic Europe. Most every country in the Americas, as well as New Zealand and Australia, are “European” when you consider that their populations and governments are based on the systems and people put in place during the period of European colonialism.

After the floor was opened for discussion, a few other potential definitions came out, including a political definition (i.e. whoever the EU says is European), places where there was an intermarrying of Royal families and even a definition based on any place that takes place in the Eurovision song contest, though I think that last definition might have been a joke.

Some may ask why this question is important. The answer has to do with Russia and Turkey. Both are being considered for inclusion into the European Union. Geographically, both have small regions within Europe. Turkey is especially controversial, because despite having a secular government, they have a large Muslim population. Turkey’s inclusion has become a major point of debate. One of the key criteria for joining the European Union, known as the Copenhagen Criteria, and set out originally in the Maastricht Treaty, states that “Any European State may apply to become a Member of the Union”

About half way through the discussion, we had a quick break to use the facilities and refill our glasses. Upon return to the discussion, Mr. Glendinning asked a question to the group.

“How many of you would have defined yourself as primarily European?”

Interestingly, I’d say most of the folks put up their hands, though people who come out to a discussion entitled “Is Europe a Place or an Idea?” probably aren’t a representative sample of the entire population of Britain, especially seeing as a number of the people there weren’t British, but rather from other places in Europe.

While the sample may not have been representative, Europe is a place that does define itself as more than a collection of countries. I think you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of people who would say “I am a North American,” whereas here in Europe you’d find that close to half of the people would define themselves as “European”.

Mr. Glendinning went around the room and asked those who didn’t put up their hands how they would have identified themselves. Some defined themselves are British or English. One guy defined himself as being from London, dismissing the idea of national identities altogether.

When he asked me why I didn’t identify as European, I answered, obviously that I am Canadian.

Secretly, though, I really did want to say that I was European.


As I said in my entry back in September on Brussels, “...one of the reasons I moved out of Canada was to be part of something larger. I wanted to be part of the international community, be part of something that was happening. Europe seemed to be that place.”

I moved to the United Kingdom for expediency and ease, but really I would have been happy to have moved anywhere in Europe. One of the good things about the UK Ancestry Visa which I have is that after a 6 year period of residency in the UK, I can get a UK passport which will then allow me to work and live anywhere in the EU.

I have a definition of Europe. Not what it is, but what it isn’t. It isn’t Canada and it isn’t North America. It isn’t, in short, where I have lived before.

In my entry back in September, I said that, “Europe is coming together. The European Union is growing, the coming together of nations to form a larger community, an international meeting place.”

I was sitting in a pub last night, eating dinner, ruminating on the talk on Europe, and I heard something that made me realize that it was that last point that was the real driver of why I came here.

There was an Aussie and his girlfriend sitting at the bar, chatting with the bartender. I overheard him say, “...and so I wanted an international experience, and what is more international than London?”

That thought triggered in me a realization that is why I am here as well, for the international experience. Not just living in a place that isn’t my home country, but living in a place that is an important international city.

My old home of Toronto is very multicultural, but it isn’t very international. Toronto is important in Canadian business and politics, and has a mild importance to North American business, but a lot of it doesn’t look out beyond the borders of North America. That happens in other places in North America - New York for finance, Houston for energy, Los Angeles for shipping, etc.

Living in London, you don’t just have a meeting place for international citizens, but you also have a lot of international business and politics interacted from here. I realized that London is not just my gateway to Europe, not just my chance to live abroad, but it is my chance to look further afield too. It is my chance to be an international citizen.

I am a Canadian. And some day I hope to say I am a European, and I am international.


Posted by GregW 06:08 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

Am I In The Right Place: The Post-Trip Doubt

Trips to Paris and Brussels make me question my move to London, but I am hoping that it is just post-trip blues and not a symptom of a real doubt.

rain 15 °C

I have had a rough week. I have felt frustrated and angry all week, and have been filled with some doubt that I made the right move in coming here to London.

It’s not that I am thinking that I shouldn’t have moved, but rather that I should have moved somewhere else.

The weather has been bad and job hunting has been really frustrating me. I’ve been in London for a little over 3 months now, and if you include the month and a half that I was looking for work before I came over, that’s almost 5 months of looking. I have been getting interviews, and at one point almost had a job, but it was snatched away at the last moment due to a hiring freeze implemented because of the downturn in the world-wide economy and the credit-crunch.

Part of the reason for my foul mood though, I think is my recent trip to Brussels and returning to London. I experienced something similar on my return from Paris after seeing the Bastille Day celebrations.

As I wrote about in that entry, Paris is one of the prime reasons I moved to Europe, and when I was there in July, I couldn’t help but keep asking myself the question, “should I have moved here instead of London?”

I spent 45 days in Paris back in 2005, which added with three days in July means I have spent a total of 48 days in Paris. Coincidentally on July 19th, 2008, just after my return from Paris, I celebrated my 48th day in London. There’s nothing really special about the number 48, other than the fact that I had spent 48 days in both places. So I sat down and wrote about it, though never published it as a blog. Here's what I wrote at the time:


On Saturday, July 19th, 2008, I have spent 48 days in both Paris and London. 48 days. An equal dose of both cities. After my trip to Paris, I have been wondering if I made the right choice or the wrong choice in moving to London. If Paris is what made me want to move to Europe, why London? Because it was easier hardly seems like a great reason.

As I wrote in my little notebook in bold letter when in Paris

Q: Did I move to the wrong city?

It’s a good question. Every time I wander around in Paris, I feel a sense of awe. Any sense of awe quickly faded about London.

I remind myself that I have never “lived” in Paris, never had to do the things I’ve had to do in London, like banking, job, place to live. As well, my experience with Paris has always been at the heart of it, within the city limits. If I lived in Paris, would I live in the city, or would you find me out in the suburbs.

Perhaps the charm I feel in Paris would not be so strong if I had to do these things?

Perhaps not, though. I have always been enchanted by Paris. I’ve never really been grabbed by London, even during my vacation time here in 2007.

London seems like a “functional” place to me. It is laid out to function as a city, a place of commerce, a place to meet. It is clinical, though not soulless. It is designed to be an efficient machine.

Paris, despite Haussman’s massive renewal and the creation of wide boulevards, strikes me as “ornate,” a city designed to be a work of art itself. A place to be admired and awed.

Paris is art to London’s machine.

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Eventually that feeling faded as more realistic thoughts settled in, and the new adventure of moving to the Docklands and living near Canary Wharf came along.

Then I headed to Brussels, and was enchanted by a new city, especially an experience on Saturday night at my hotel’s bar.


It was Saturday night, and after returning from Bruges, I decided to have drink. As I was tired, I decided to have one close to my hotel, and nothing is closer to a hotel room than the lobby of that hotel.

I was sitting in the Schengen bar at the Renaissance Hotel. The hotel is a Marriott brand just a block from the European Parliament, so it gets a lot of folks from around the world who are doing business with EU. The bar was pretty busy, full of people speaking in different languages and accents. The TV played the Euronews channel, covering news from around the world with a European perspective.

It made me very happy to be part of something so international, even if it was just from the outskirts of the action, sitting alone at a bar while Europe’s and the world’s politics and business went on around me.

I will admit that one of the reasons I moved out of Canada was to be part of something larger. I wanted to be part of the international community, be part of something that was happening. Europe seemed to be that place.

As I left North America, Canada and the USA seem to be closing themselves off, fortifying themselves against the outside world and even dividing themselves into smaller bits internally - red vs. blue states, north vs. south, Quebec vs. the rest of Canada, east vs. west, Northern Ontario vs. Southern Ontario.

Europe is coming together. The European Union is growing, the coming together of nations to form a larger community, an international meeting place. Despite setback with the recent Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty to give the EU more powers, proponents of the EU want to continue to build the union, stronger and larger.

Sitting in that bar, I felt like I was somehow part of building that union, that I was taking part in the building of that international community.



I left Brussels on Monday on the Eurostar. About an hour and 15 minutes into the journey, we passed into the tunnel under the English Channel, heading back to the island that is England.

“Here I am, trying to be part of a more international community, and I do it by moving to an island?” I thought to myself, and a funk settled in.

So that’s why have been feeling frustrated with my slow job hunt all week. I don’t think it is the job hunting. I think it is the fact that I am suffering from post-trip blues. Even a short stint away makes the place you live seem a little duller by comparison.

After all, this week I have cleaned my bathroom, called my landlord about a leaky kitchen sink, did a load of laundry, shopped for groceries, talked to 5 different recruiters about 5 different positions and dressed up and went on an interview for a job that I realized two minutes into the interview I didn’t want.


How can that compare to sitting in a bar, listening to the world’s politicos discuss important things in many different languages and being awash with the feeling that you are part of Europe, that you are an international citizen?

If instead of the Isle of Dogs, I had found myself cleaning my bathroom, worrying about my leaky tap and doing loads of laundry while looking through the want ads in a Brussels flat, I wonder if I would have felt very much like an international citizen, or would have just felt like somebody without a job who had all day to do his chores?

Posted by GregW 09:17 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (8)

Half a pint of beer in a pint glass

Always looking on the bright side of life...

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A friend of mine recently wrote me and said that some of my blog entries lately had been "kind of down." I hadn't really thought they had, other than the one about crying watching Wilson the volleyball, but then I took a gander back at them and realized that it is possible to take away a certain negativity in them.

I sat at a bar last weekend contemplating this fact as I was having a pint. The bar was called The Crown, and is just down the street from my flat. It's in a beautiful and imposing Victorian building that now also holds a hotel.

Now, I was there for about one and a half hours, sitting at the bar and drinking two pints. The place was pretty busy. On a Saturday night the "it" crowd in Cricklewood seems to make their way down to The Crown to party. Despite there being a bar full of people, in that time, other than the bartender asking if I wanted a refill on my pint, no one talked to me.

Yet, when I walked out of the pub (finishing the last of my 2nd pint on the patio out front under a cloudy but warm night sky), I thought to myself, "what a good night."


What stuck with me wasn't the fact that I was alone in a big city with no one to talk to on a Friday night, even though I was surrounded by people. What stuck with me was two things:

Firstly, I was awed by what an amazing place, architecturally, The Crown is. It's got an amazing two floor bar area, and the bar I was sitting at (one of, I think, 6 bars on site) rose up two floors and was backed by amazing, huge mirrors.




The second thought, though, was how cool it will be once I've settled in and made some friends to have neat places like The Crown to come out to on Saturday nights. Not specifically The Crown, because I don't plan on living way out in the North-west sticks of Brent much longer, but places like it, preferably closer to The City.

As I thought it over, I realized that my optimism is one of the most important things that I have here. Bad things happen, as bad things are apt to do. In fact, the bad things will at times outnumber the good things, especially in these early days of trying to build a life here.

I truly believe though, that things will get better. There isn't a question in my mind that I will be successful here. That makes the tough stuff bareable. I also find that the tough stuff tends to waste away to the dark corners of my memory never to be recalled again, whereas the cool stuff - running down the escalators and feelings like I was flying, finding Roman ruins in the middle of a the business district of London, sitting in the yard of St. Paul's cathedral having lunch, even the fact that a computer crash meant free bus and tube rides things morning, those things stick in my mind, easy to recall and make me happy.

It's all about looking at my half-empty pint glass and knowing that not only is it not half-empty but really half-full, that the future holds the undeniable fact that the glass will be full again.


Posted by GregW 12:30 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (1)

Rain is good for Greenfields

Hullo for London

rain 15 °C
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So, a friend wrote me today and said that he was worried about me because I hadn't posted in my blog for a few days. I realize that I posted something like 20 blog entries in June, and I really didn't mean to post that much, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don't really think my life is interesting enough that people want to read a blog entry every day and a half. Secondly, I don't want people to become "overwhelmed" by the amount of stuff I am posting. Finally, because I don't want to set any expectations that anyone should expect that kind of frequency in the future.

Anyway, a quick blog entry to say that I am fine. I've been busy, but just not in a way that's interesting in a blog entry. I've been getting together with friends in town, friends of friends who live her, a few contacts from travellerspoint.com and even going on some interviews. In addition, I have been looking for a new place to live, watching both the British Grand Prix and the final of Wimbledon and checking out a couple new neighbourhoods for future living.

Two things to say.

First, if I had any illusions that I was Ra, the Sun God, and thus not going to get any rain in London, that has been destroyed by the past 5 days. A note from today's paper:

As much as half a month's rain fellon London last night, leaving it awash - and weathermen have warned there is worse to come. The deluge was so severe that flights at Heathrow were grounded, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Met Office forcaster Barry Grommett said showers would continue to drench the capital throughout the day and added, "It's going to be pretty wet tomorrow too, I am afraid."

Rain? In London? Who would have predicted that?



Secondly, I have always admired poets. I think I am an okay writer of prose, but when it comes to being concise, I am not. If it can be said in 8 words, I'll find a way to say it in 10,000. But I wanted to try and capture that feeling I had when walking through those greenfields in Eynsford, so I attempted to write this poem.

If you have read the entry, let me know what you think. If you haven't read the entry, read the poem, and then let me know if the poem captures the mood the entry.

Dark day, all closed to me
Sit under clouds of grey
Where does the sunshine?
On the fields in the distance
Field of green
green wheat, not yet mature
sways in the wind
I touch it, feel it's impermanence
sway with it, young myself
born again, a field of green



Posted by GregW 14:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (3)

Lullingstone & Greenfields

A story of comedy and hope in two parts

sunny 22 °C
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Part I: Lullingstone: A Comedy of Errors (Some of Them Mine... Okay, Most of Them Mine)

I had planned to write a blog today about ruins. Roman ruins, to be exact. I had stumbled across some in central London a few weeks ago, and after some research found out about a rather well preserved Roman villa just 45 minutes by train to the South-east of London. For reasons I can't quite explain, the concept of the Roman ruins fascinated me. I was going to chalk it up to them being so old, but then Stonehenge is older and I didn't find it that interesting. I wasn't sure what it was the grabbed my attention about Roman ruins, but either way I decided I was going to see them and write about them here. I had pictures of Roman sights in London (the wall, the Temple of Mithras), had done some research into the period of Roman control of the Britain and was ready to put together an entry jam packed with interesting pictures and descriptions of the villa placed within the context of historical fact.

This blog entry, however, is not about Roman ruins. This blog entry is about things going wrong.

The day started off okay. It was supposed to rain (which would have been fine because the villa is covered) but turned out to be sunny instead. I was starting to think that perhaps I am the reincarnation of Ra, the sun god. How else could I explain the fact that I had been in London for one month and only seen a day of rain. I got dressed, brought along an umbrella and rain coat just in case and headed down to Victoria station.


Trains to Eynsford, where the Lullingstone Roman Villa is located run from both Blackfriars station and Victoria station. The train from Blackfriars is direct, but the train from Victoria is quicker, even though it requires a change, so I decided to go with Victoria station. That's when the trouble began.

I had a piece of paper on which I had copied down the name of the town I was going to, "ENYSFORD." I went to the automated ticket machine, and there was no Enysford as a destination. I went and looked at the route map and it didn't list an Enysford station either. I contemplated getting into the line up for tickets which was very long and very slow.

I was very confused. Had the website lied to me last night? Did trains not leave from here for Enysford? Finally I found a different route map that showed a more central view of London and the surrounding area. Apparently the route map I had been looking at only showed major stations. I found the place I was going on the very edge of that map.

Did you catch it, what I had done? Look back three paragraphs, where I said, "Trains to Eynsford, where the Lullingstone Roman Villa..." and compare that with the station I was looking for in the preceding two paragraphs, "Enysford." Apparently I had suffered a temporary case of dyslexia when coping down the name.

"Well, no harm, just a few minutes wasted," I said as I purchased my ticket and grabbed a timetable so I would know when trains were returning to London. I thought it would be the last gaff of the day, but it was only the first.

Next up, figuring out where to go. Ticket in hand, I stood staring up at the board. Eynsford wasn't listed anywhere on the board. I went back to look at the route map, trying to figure out what the terminal destination would be, but it was hard to do as the lines criss-cross each other all across the map. I wandered around aimlessly for another 10 minutes, staring up at the board listing departures, feeling like a complete moron.

"Damn man, you can't even figure out how to take a train?" I scolded myself. Finally I clued in. All the trains listed on the board were departures on Southern railways. I looked at my timetable. South-Eastern Rail.

Sighing, I headed to another part of the station that listed South-Eastern departures on the board.

"Ah well, another little gaff, but all's good now," I said to myself, as I boarded my train for the uneventful ride to Swanley, where I switched for a train to Eynsford. It was a nice ride through some pretty English countryside scenery. Just after passing over this viaduct bridge (dating back to 1862)...


...the train pulled into Eynsford station.


Next up, a short stroll to the Roman Villa. I had checked out the location of both the train station and the villa using Google maps last night, and I knew that you left the train station, when down Station Road to the main road, turned left and then a little ways along there was a footpath on the right side. No worries, no problems.

The station had a map of the local area, so I thought I would confirm my directions. I looked at the map, got completely confused by what I saw, and determined that I should turn right instead of left at the end of Station road. My confusion was further enhanced by the sign at the end of station road saying that the villa was to the right. So I turned right, which was wrong.

I knew it was wrong almost immediately as there were way too many houses along the side of the road and the villa was out alone in the country, but kept going anyway. Soon I found myself in central Eynsford. It was very picturesque, but I had come to see a Roman villa, not a picturesque country village. I took some snaps anyway.




I consulted a map I found nearby of footpaths in the area. "Aha, I may have taken a wrong turn, but all is not lost. If I follow this road I'll hit the Roman villa in no time," I said. So, of course, I didn't follow the road.

Actually, I followed the road for about 200 metres. Then there was a footpath off to the right. "Well, it looks like it vaguely follows the same path as the road, and is probably more scenic," I thought. So I took the footpath.

It was very scenic. First I walked through these red flowers.


It made me sleepy, so I lay down. When I woke back up, my companions the scarecrow, lion, tin-man and that little girl from Kansas were gone, but no worries, they were headed somewhere different anyway.


I carried on over a pedestrian crossing on the rail tracks, which amazed me. Trains are electric here, and get their power from a third-rail on the ground. The third rail is discontinued at the footpath crossing, but two a few feet on either side is a high voltage electric rail. I can't even imagine this in North America. Somebody would wander over to their right, get electrocuted and sue the pants off the rail company. Europe is a different animal than North America, with their off piste skiing and high voltage footpaths.

At this point I noticed that the path had diverged quite dramatically from the road. If the road was heading east, I was heading north-east. I considered my options - onwards and hope to find a path back down to the road, or turn around and backtrack. The sensible thing would have been to backtrack, but I carried on. I walked for another 20 minutes, by which time I was sure that not only was I far from the road, but I would have passed the Roman Villa. Finally I found a path heading towards the road, so I took it.


The path was very overgrown and closed in around me. Leaves and branches brushed against my arms as I walked, which wouldn't have been a problem if it wasn't for the fact that some of the plants had thorns. A thorn managed to dig it's way into my left hand, stinging ferociously and causing a pool of blood to cover the top of my hand.

I finally emerged on the road. I was sure that the Roman Villa was to my left, so I went right. I went right with reason, though, as there was a sign that said that the Lullingstone Castle was to my right. I figured I would go and see the Lullingstone Castle, and then double back to the ruin.

I wandered down the road, a nice, winding country road with little traffic and scenic farms and fields off to either side. Perfect for a walk, and these two gentlemen would agree.


Now, as I hadn't planned on seeing the Lullingstone Castle, I hadn't done much research on it other than to know that it existed. I had browsed the website and knew the basics. Lullingstone Castle is a family estate built in 1497. Its present owner is Tom Hart Dyke, who is a plant hunter. He was once taken hostage by FARC guerillas while searching for rare orchids in the Darrien Gap between Panama and Columbia. While as the FARC's prisoner, he decided that if he got home he was going to plant a "World Garden," that would "contain plants from around the globe planted in their respective continents of origin." And so he did, and he opens the estate and garden up to visitors.

Only, he doesn't open it up every day. That was the part that I failed to notice when I had browsed the website. The site isn't open to visitors during the week, only on weekends. So the best I could do was take a few photos of the gate and turn around and head back towards the Villa.



I had fumbled getting my train ticket. I had turned the wrong direction. I had taken a footpath to nowhere. I had gotten lost. I had seen a castle that wasn't open to the public.

All that didn't matter, though, because I had only come to see one thing. I turned a corner and saw the large aluminium building which covers the ruins of the villa to protect them from the elements. I developed a spring in my step as I approached the front door. I turned the corner and saw perimeter fencing blocking the entrance.

"What the heck?" I said, walking closer. Workmen walked in and out of the building, covered with dust and dirt. A large sign was posted on one of the fence panels.


Closed, until mid-summer 2008, whenever that is. All that trouble, all the things that had gone wrong, they all caught up with me. My day turned dark.

"Damnit," I said to no-one, though a few of the workers turned and looked at me, "you think that's the kind of thing that English Heritage would have mentioned on their website." The workers shrugged and walked away, exuding an air of indifference.

I was left to stew in my own juices.

Part II: Green Fields: A Fresh Start (To More Than Just the Day)

I walked back dejectedly to Eynsford, where I took the advice of the closed sign and saw Eynsford Castle. Unlike Lullingstone Castle or Lullingstone Roman Villa, it was open and free. Also unlike Lullingstone Castle, this castle is a ruin. It dates back to around 1100 and was used by the Normans until it was abandoned in 14th century. It saw some use later as a stables (which included knocking some holes in the walls to bring hay in and out), but now the horses have moved out and it's a dedicate tourist site.


At the time I figured this was going to be my only adventure of the day, so I put on a brave face and took this shot, with me trying to look like a majestic explorer.


Inside though, I was pretty bummed. Eynsford is not a big place, and so other than the 3 attractions I had come and seen, there is little else for a tourist to do. I went across the street from the castle to the Five Bells pub and had some lunch, contemplating what to do next.


I perused my train timetable. Trains back to London left every 30 minutes at 17 and 47 past the hour. I could be back in London by 3 o'clock.

I couldn't let myself do that, though. I gave myself a pep talk.

"No, come on, Wesson. Don't let this day defeat you. If nothing else, you've come all the way out to the country side. Why not take a look around. Surely there must be something worth seeing."

So I headed out, off the main road, up past a park and into a large field. Here in England there are public footpaths that criss-cross the country, many of them cutting right through private land. This was one of those paths, cutting through a field of green wheat off into the distance.


It immediately reminded me of the movie trailer for Toys, the 1992 comedy staring Robin Williams, where he walks through a field of green grass, just like this one.

I didn't know where the path led, and debated turning around and heading back to the train station instead of taking a path that might get me lost in the middle of the English countryside, but I carried on. I reasoned that going home would be tantamount to admitting defeat, and I already spent one day last week sitting at home looking up sad clips from films on YouTube and crying. I wasn't going to let that happen again.

So I followed the path.


I walked through the field, letting my hands brush the wheat. It reminded me of another movie. This time Gladiator, which uses the image of walking through grass to symbolize Gladiator moving into the afterlife. I laughed. "I don't want to go into the after life today," I said.

At the top of the hill the path cut through a stand of trees and into another farmer's field. There the path rose a bit more before cresting a hill and providing an amazing view of rolling hills of green off into the distance.

"Green fields," I said to myself.


A memory was triggered at that moment. The term greenfield is used in IT to signify a project that is going to be built from scratch. It signifies that you have a blank sheet of paper with which to start, and you can design the project anyway that makes sense. You don't have to worry about any old bits of technology, wonky bits of old code, out of date software modules or licensing agreements shackling you to a specific solution. You can do anything. It's a fresh start.

"Yeah, that's what this is. It's a fresh start. Forget about earlier. We start right here, right now," I said, and started to laugh.

When I said that it was a fresh start, I had consciously only been thinking about that day, about putting the mess up at the train station, the wrong turns and closed villa behind me. But then I realized that I wasn't just talking about that day. I was talking about everything.

I worked on one massive greenfield project once, building a call centre with 300 agents from nothing. We started with 3 floors of an empty building, nothing but concrete floors and elevator shafts, and built it into a show piece of technology and people. It was one of the toughest things I have done. We were installing servers on one side of the floor while workmen were putting up walls on the other side. I spent a lot of late nights and 16 hour days dealing with schedule delays, software installations going wrong, power outages, failed integration tests and a million other problems. In the end, though, it was an amazing feeling to see it finished. I took a lot of pride in the work I did there, that I was part of the team that built that place up from the greenfield of those concrete floors.

It hit me in that field that was what I was doing here in London. A fresh start on my life. It was greenfield. I came over to the UK with two bags of clothes and an Apple MacBook, and that was it. Everything else was left behind. I have a blank sheet of paper to design my life on.

I don't know how long it will take, maybe months, maybe half a year, maybe years, but at some point I will "settle" in here, and I can take pride in the fact I did it all from scratch.

More importantly though, I now had an image. An image I can use to pick me up in the interim when things were going wrong. All the days that want to bring me down, the tortuously slow interview processes, the confusing adminstrivia of trying to get bank accounts, health coverage and taxes set up, getting lost on the streets of the city I am supposedly a resident of. For all the times when I want to go home and watch Wilson float away on the sea and cry, instead I can now think of green fields, and remind myself that it may be slow and hard and painful at times, but that I am building something from a blank sheet of paper here and eventually my new life will get built up into something special.

From nothing more than a greenfield.


Posted by GregW 00:42 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (4)

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