There, I said it for you.
I also changed my title page tagline, did you notice, because we are no longer on a ‘two-year’ Singapore sling. Having had a wrinkle in his otherwise unblemished career path, Mr PC found himself on an extended holiday late last year and managed to push the edges all the way up to now – but the party’s over, so back into the trousers-and-shirts combo he goes and the house will once more be quiet. We’ll miss him, me and SM – he’s worked out all the meal plans, played endless football after school, and although his break coincided with one of my busiest spells ever, he was a great companion on my days off when all I wanted was to hang out with someone familiar. A special thank-you sandwich in his lunchbox on Day One, I think.
But to practicalities – his accepting a new role in Asia takes our family away from the homelands for longer than we planned. We always used the ‘two-year’ rule of thumb as a benchmark but I think we secretly knew that it would be longer – as did all of you, because you told me so left, right, and centre. What could I say at the time? While Mr PC was already off to the airport and living out here faster than you could say ‘removalists’, I was back at the ranch wrapping cups in newspaper, crying, giving away old books, crying, rehousing the cats, crying again, attending the last school assembly, doing the drinks and parties, missing you all so badly already. Saying goodbye. “Two years” was breaking it gently. In fact, as you all pointed out back then, two years is not a long time.
Who are we kidding, we love it out here of course. It’s not for everyone, some can’t wait to head back to the chill and reality of their homelands, and it has taken the full two years for me to get over the sadness of the move, to really get into things, but I’ve found as much peace as I ever will, with a good set of friends, places I love, and plenty still to discover. So of course we want to stay, it’s been a group decision and in some ways we could have been back in London by now. Still, having not been given the chance to get properly stuck in, one of our family needs a second run-up at living and working out here and so life really is a mixed bag, on the one hand I’m so thrilled for Mr PC and all that his new schoolbag contains. On the other, the heart-wrench of homesickness has never been stronger than this week.
A local friend, when reading something of mine that mentioned how my ‘head was in Singapore but heart in London’ took offence and told me so. I didn’t think that was entirely fair: more than four decades of being in love with your hometown is not going to fade overnight. I’m not a London snob, I don’t believe it’s the best and only city in the world and I hate some of its seedier, more sinister corners and I don’t miss the dog poo, but it is my home and I will always be committed to the idea of coming back. I just have no idea when.
One key person will dictate this, to a certain extent – of course he doesn’t realise it, but our son has the world at his feet out here. He comes home from school and goes running off outside without me having to heave myself off the sofa. I don’t organise playdates, kids just wander up to the door and ask for him. When we do go out it doesn’t take too long to get anywhere, and there is that small business of the tropical beach at the end of the line: privilege in a capsule. What he is missing, though, is crucial to me: two grandpas and an aunty, old friends with connections that matter, the responsibility of living out his life in a tough city that you don’t get when bouncing around on the soft surfaces of Planet Expat.
I won’t say “two years” again, but I must say it’s a timescale I’m curiously comfortable with – my life since leaving college has fitted into weird two-year blocks. Until I gave up the journalism career ToBeAMum I had moved jobs roughly every two years, and the first four years after leaving, oddly, took the same shape: two years on writing courses, then two years writing the phantom book (the one that’s now in the bin), then these first two years bedding in out here. As I mark off the calender days until our summer break to the UK, I am trying to look a little further down the line and can imagine the next two years coming in a tidy package as well and I wonder what they will bring.
Of course these days I know better than to put a timescale on things…