The last post

I wrote most of this in a local library, the same one in which I did all my A-level revision. Seems like only yesterday since I holed up in ART HISTORY chewing the ends off my pencils, gazing out of the same slender 1970s windows at the same traffic rumbling outside, same beechwood spiral staircase separating Lending from Read-only. Very possibly the same guy stretched out by the photocopier having a little nap, and same person pacing up and down in TRAVEL.

This time I chose a table in CRIME and started typing, distracted just a bit by a girl muttering into her phone (which I’m almost sure wasn’t on). It was an appropriate area to sit in as I’d come to the library to escape the sound of our patio being dug up – nothing suspicious to report apart from some stray ivy roots, now trimmed back (after a naughty five-year growth party) to make way for our imminent house renovation. I was happy to be sharing the library with a bunch of randoms, rather than stuck at home with the endless digging.

Libraries are such lovely places of refuge and I can see myself visiting a lot, and I even had a brief thought this summer about how they might be a great place to work in – you know, actual work. When we move into our temporary home so that our flat can be rebuilt, this library will be perfectly located right between both properties and I think I’ll get to know it very well.

After writing this entry I also started work on a potential new blog (don’t wait up, embryonic stages) and edited my CV, a first step in ensuring I don’t in fact spend the rest of my life hanging out in libraries. Of all the things I miss about Singapore, and there are many, work is a major one. I look out for office dresses all the time, seeking warmer fabrics and forgetting that in fact I really don’t need them at the moment. I don’t have a calling card to hand out and I don’t write up galleries, events or restaurants and if I did, well, who would want to know about the amazing burger I just had? (apart from Mr PC, of course, who always wants to know about amazing burgers).

You can always network, though, even without a card, and while in the library I drew up a list of all the new women I had met that week. When we lived in north London before, there was a formidable local ladies’ group in circulation, membership of which approximated to work for many of my mom [sic] friends. Most were members due to the expat nature of their lives and the group is known for being a brilliant resource if you are new. But those friends were all so likeminded to me that there was always a bit of a question as to why, exactly, they had joined. The club seemed wholly alien, full of strong and forthright women racing around being dynamic and Doing Things, and there was a lot of yoga, something I’ve only lately realised is not a threat or a social benchmark (it’s just a nice way of stretching, says my new OverseasSelf to my former DiehardLondoner, slightly patronisingly).

Anyway, that crowd of mom-friends were formidable and dynamic too of course, but they also shared my slightly slovenly approach to mothering and it was this common bond that drew us together. We did ‘Wine Before Pickup’ (not coffee after drop-off), gathered on Fridays at 3:30 to unlock the patio doors and let the five-year-olds play in the road as we ate Kettle Chips around a kitchen table. The Club had lots going for it, so those friends told me, but I never bothered finding out what brilliant things it did for the community, why it was such an awesome resource. Why should I join when I was a local girl myself, had lived in north London most of my life, had enough trouble juggling the friends I already had? I certainly wasn’t looking for networking.

Well now I’m the expat outsider, come ‘home’ to a completely alien land and reaching out for contacts, familiar stories, settling tips, new people with whom to share my new experiences. And so it was that I trotted downhill towards the pub in which several of these women would be waiting to greet new starters. I had told myself, before our re-entry to the UK, that I might need to find a whole new group of people in addition to those I was looking forward to seeing again – people move on, things change, timetables are so different now to those of five years before. And then I spotted this meeting on a local online feed and knew I had to go.

Any nerves about that initial attendance meeting were minimised by the thought of my SmallMonkey having to do his own brand new networking every single day in a class-full of total strangers at school, asking all over again where the toilets are, working out who to hang out with at break and what to eat for lunch. At the time of typing he had completed just four days and had been doing so amazingly well – a stalwart at this business of starting afresh. In comparison to his soldier-like social attitude, a morning drinking coffee in a pub really would be no problem for me at all.

It took me about ten minutes to sign up, swayed by a Wine & Chocolate night in October, winning quiz voucher for Kiehl’s and the promise of book, wine and writing clubs. A few days after that there was lunch in town with a different group, expats from Singapore, then another local coffee after that, finishing off on Friday with a school-mum coffee. After my summer of social tumbleweeds, this was just the kind of week I was used to, finally something amounting to life before Repatriation. Well, though, you know what it’s like. For every ten people you meet, three will end up knowing you and of that lot probably only one very well. Some of the women I met that week will become Friday night patio-sharers, some will just be friendly faces at Wine Club. Right now I’ll take whatever I can get.

I realise what I’m sounding like, and some of you – most of you – won’t recognise me at all, I’m just not sounding like the Mrs PartlyCloudy of Before. But this is the first shaping of the new sculpture, you see. To make the statue you have to start with a craggy block and get chipping. Hopefully I’ll begin to sound a bit more like myself some time soon, at least that’s the plan. So off I go, this time exploring my home town, my own country, with a massive treasured collection of friends and adventures in Asia behind me and new lands to discover ahead.

And that’s a wrap for Partly Cloudy, a blog that was always going to be about life as an expat family in Asia. I had no idea what was in store five years ago and now I’m none the wiser, but like SmallMonkey finding friends to eat lunch with, my library week of networking was a great place to start. Thanks to family and friends old and new for the loyalty, encouragement, and lovely words in response to mine. It has been so much fun. May the adventures always lead me to your doors.

This little elephant reminded me of the Singapore ones – tucked into a red-brick London garden, it really needs to get out more. Tempted to bring it back a Straits companion next time I go out east

NB After an hour in the library I had to move, what with the competitive muttering from another bloke, plus some belching, and I ended up hiding out in FICTION, which was much quieter. Am now no longer sure I want to work in a library when I grow up

PS thanks to my ex-Singers friend Karen Saull for being an unofficial editor. Because of a different edit by her, I have realised that the word ‘new’ appears no less than 12 times here. Says it all, really.