This time next month, we will either be sleeping fitfully or watching cable TV in hotel rooms somewhere in Los Angeles, en route to the Cook Islands and ultimately our new life in New Zealand. Actually, as things stand at present, it is far from certain that we’ll have even got that far on our journey by then. Currently, we find ourselves in one of those Catch-22 situations where everything hinges on everything else and no-one involved seems particularly bothered about the outcome. Therein lies the naked truth of the matter: this is our family choice, not the removal company’s; this is our life-changing decision, not the immigration service’s; this is our leap-in-the-dark, not the estate agent’s. The place we find ourselves in is one of our own choosing and of our own making. We have wished all the chaos and confusion, all the bickering and spousal frustration, all the endless sibling disagreements on ourselves. As I type, we are awaiting news from our prospective buyer’s solicitor as to the date when we might reasonably expect to exchange contracts and move out. This is an improvement on last week, when we discovered that the same person had not only gone on holiday but had done so mistakenly believing that we had chosen not to go ahead with the sale of our flat. In turn, this has meant that we have had to delay the two-day pack and load session by the movers who will ship our belongings to New Zealand. As a consequence of this, there is a very good chance that our provisionally booked flights and connections will now have to be rescheduled, assuming that we can find six seats on the same flights and the same routes we had planned but later in the week.
Sitting in the sun-dappled garden of our friend’s house yesterday, I listened, as if to someone else, as we once again explained why we have chosen to leave all we know and love to move to the other side of the world without any guarantee that we will still want, let alone be able, to stay there. An outside observer might have caught an exchanged look between our friends or heard a slight hollowness in the oft-repeated phrases we trotted out yet, with redundancy just weeks away and a home far too small for a family of six, it still feels like exactly the right thing to do. As I cycled through London’s Hyde Park on the way to work one morning last week, a persistently vague thought began to crystallise and come into focus. As with almost everything in our lives, soon this journey will no longer be part of my daily routine and, although it will be replaced with journeys and activities as yet unknown, there are only a handful of such journeys in London left before me. In recent weeks, I have often find myself thinking “This’ll be the last time I do this” or “I wish I had time to do that before we go”, not so much with sadness as curiosity, as if I’d not expected to feel this way which, if I’m honest, is the truth. I had not expected to feel so attached to places, so bound to people, so linked to things around me.
Is this then an integral part of many an emigrant’s experience, a longing for things not yet lost, a mourning for an old life not yet finished? For me, it is not unlike the feelings I experienced when I knew a friend was losing his battle against cancer; bereft, disbelieving, empty and with so much to say yet unable to find the right words in the short time left. Now, almost a year after his death, I still keep his name and number on my mobile phone, as if I can still just call and talk to him. So, with the time for our departure coming up fast, perhaps I am seeking the emigrant’s equivalent of my friend’s telephone number, a talisman of my old life that I can carry into my new one. For me, with this thought comes a pleasing connection to a small act of kindness by a Kiwi friend a couple of years ago. She was travelling home to see her family before emigrating with her partner from the UK to Canada. Amongst her leaving gifts and good luck cards, I placed a small envelope which contained a small, faded yellow and green friendship bracelet which had recently worn through and finally snapped. This I had worn since the day my daughter made it and tied it around my wrist so, whilst I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, I was unsure of what to do with it. My friend’s departure provided inspiration and so, in the accompanying note, I asked that she bury the bracelet somewhere in New Zealand to act as a ‘magnet’ which, if the attraction was strong enough, would draw us there. I’m not normally given to such gestures or talk of destiny and usually find such sentiment mawkish in others. However, there’s no denying that I find myself more than tempted to believe that that small tattered bracelet, made with a daughter’s love and worn with a father’s pride, beckons our family southwards and will do so until we answer the call. It seems that we simply have to take this step to continue our journey as a family, no matter where it takes us.