Tuesday 1st July
I have just got back today from 24 hours in London where I left behind 26 degrees and beautiful blue skies, the streets thronged with people sitting outside at cafes, bars and restaurants in the summer sunshine; I’m looking out of my windows now in the High Peak and it’s like something from a bad movie where there’s some bloke with a wind machine set to ‘gale force’ throwing buckets of water at the glass to recreate a winter storm. It might as well be December out there. N is in Nigeria (under armed guard apparently – for his safety rather than others’, I hasten to add, lest you believe he’s turned in desperation to drug running and gun crime) and I’m, frankly, feeling ‘a bit funny’. This could have something to do with being tired from walking miles with a pull along suitcase amongst crowds and hard pavements with arthritic aching feet in shoes that are meant to be comfortable (they’re Ugg for God’s sake); it could be something to do with being jaded after a shed full and a late night; or it could be the cold I seem to be fighting courtesy of one of the girls. Whatever, I feel distinctly in some bizarre other world, caught between two realities: my life here and my former life in London; my role as mother and wife versus just plain old ‘me’ (you know, that person who always gets forgotten that existed once as an independent individual with her own hopes and dreams); and me back in my home in the rain-soaked north while my husband, who I waved goodbye to in his black cab on a London street just 12 hours ago, is having dinner somewhere in Africa.
We went down for a huge bash courtesy of ‘The Firm’. 800 UK wide partners and their other halves (so an intimate little gathering of 1600 people then) celebrating 10 years of merger of the original firm with one of its rivals. ‘The Firm’ has not been known for its full appreciation of the long suffering ‘Other Halves’ – but last night they finally came good. Hotel bills and champagne in the room were picked up (N wished he’d known this was going to be the case – we’d have had another bottle), Jules Holland, Marc Almond (of Soft Cell fame) and Ruby Turner were the surprise entertainment at the dinner. There was something just a little sad in my view seeing all these 40 and 50 year olds still dancing like idiots (me included) to ‘Tainted Love’ and, worse, knowing all the words AND singing them at the tops of their voices as Marc (pint-sized and with gold fillings glinting in the lights) held the microphone out to the crowd (I’ve never felt older). But hey, they were having fun, so who am I to be a killjoy.
I’ll never forget the day, 10 years ago, that we learned of the merger: we’d just arrived in Milan and N went to the office to collect the keys to the apartment. I sat in the car outside and when he returned he told me that this merger had just been announced. Given that his remit in Milan was to win more telecoms business and the firm they were going to merge with already had most of those going, the raison d’etre for our move out to Italy was wiped out before we’d even begun. This was not an encouraging start. Still, we managed to cling on for two years out of the originally proposed three, but I’ve never quite forgiven them for sending us back to the UK earlier than planned. As with our enforced move to Manchester, we’ve always just been pawns in the political game. A tick in someone’s box. And I’m still not sure that creating such a global business monster was the right thing to do either, but that’s a whole other story.
I’m digressing again. All I’m trying to say is that I’ve come back up north today feeling like I’ve just been on the briefest of ‘city breaks’ to London. I realise I have now lived up here long enough for our capital city, my former home, to seem sufficiently unfamiliar that a visit is like a holiday rather than me simply returning to my old stomping ground. Indeed, before yesterday, I hadn’t been down for 18 months. Moreover, given the huge difference in the weather between north and south at the moment, it really did seem like another country. I remember returning to London from Italy and it didn’t feel as unfamiliar to me then as it does now coming down from my northern hills and my village life, despite there having been far less café culture back then as there is now. These days you can barely walk the pavements without tripping over chairs and tables every two paces. Indeed, it almost felt like I was back in Milan today as I wound my way through the back streets from Mayfair to Euston. Yet stepping off the train at Macclesfield you enter a whole other world again. Being whisked through some 200 miles of English countryside in a Virgin Pendolino, from huge city to small provincial northern town in just two hours, is not really long enough to adjust. My mind was in a world I used to know, but one which has also subtly changed in my absence. And I guess I’ve subtly changed too. My vowels are slipping slowly but surely into something vaguely northern, with my mind gently being shaped to reflect the world in which I now live. It’s a far cry from London. It’s a far cry from Milan. It’s certainly a long way from Nigeria. N forgot his sunglasses and his sun cream. Looking out of the window again, I can say for sure that I won’t be needing them here any time soon….