Leaving Milton Keynes was tough but not just because of our emotional ties and the people we were leaving behind. Packing up and moving a house is hugely disruptive as you’ll know, despite us having the services of a removal firm to take it all away. Unlike many movers, we were spared ushering it all back into a new house several hours later. That time will come, but for now most of our worldly possessions are being kept in a warehouse somewhere for when we’re ready for them.
When you leave, even the most banal moment, object or place takes on monumental significance – at least for a sentimental old fool like me. Playing tennis in the local club, smoking my pipe in the garden for the last time, turning the key in the door and joking ‘I’m home!’; these things and those we do most days were the source of sadness for me before leaving, since I doubted I would do them again there, or in quite the same way. More than once I thought something silly like: ‘This is the final time I’ll come down these stairs’ or ‘How odd that I won’t be walking this path again, the path I’ve taken unthinkingly so many times!’ It was saying goodbye to the banal, the everyday ritual and place that pricked the eyes and brought me up short: would it ever be the same again?
The excitement of doing these things, and others that were impossible or very difficult, in a new country, a new home, tempered the sadness and it’s true that for every moment of looking back there is one of looking forward. That would characterize the experience of leaving; an ambivalent one, swinging pendulum-like between excitement and concern, expectation and nostalgia, and security and challenge.
And so the more we said goodbye, the more we said hello. Buying a one-way ticket gave me a frisson of excitement; as did closing the car boot door on our possessions, a distillation of what we thought was essential to live and work in a new country. Later, when we had spent a week in Geneva, Jennie would gently rebuke me for bringing only a handful of underpants at the expense of including the Complete Works of Shakespeare and Wisden’s Cricketing Almanack.
We left not because we didn’t like Milton Keynes, or Buckinghamshire, or England come to that. We left because we felt that we had, at least for now, and for us only, exhausted their possibilities. That is – there is nothing wrong with any of those places, save all those things we love and hate about them. I love them all. But that it was simply time to taste a new life, to embrace a new culture, to shake us awake from our too-comfortable life and see what it was like to live elsewhere, fresh and new, with all the challenges, problems, differences, energy and hope as anywhere else; but new to us and we new to it.