Four and a half months into living in a different country, I find myself on a plane back to my own. When I booked my flight, I booked this as well; it was a tad bit easier to leave the only life I’d ever known when I knew when I’d be back next.
So here I am, four and a half months into living in England. Here I am going back to Ottawa for a week.
Just under a month ago it was July 1st and I was killing time before a flat viewing. It was my first ever Canada Day away from home, and I had planned to go to the celebration at Trafalgar Square just as soon as I was finished. The flat had fairly recently been sold and, having not been supplied with a closing date, my flatmates and I had given our notice for July 13th (mainly for the reason that they were feeling pretty confident about a place they’d applied for, and our rent would’ve come out on the 15th). I was worried; I had less than two weeks to find a place, which was a nightmarish prospect given how strangely difficult it can be to rent a room in London. It had taken me a month the first time, after all, and even then I only got a place thanks to a chance meeting with Margie.
There was a short brick wall in front of the Manor House flat, and I sat in the sunshine and played with my phone as is my way. And all at once I no longer had a phone. Y’see, someone passing by on a bike had snatched it out of my hand. Yes, really. “Surely you didn’t stand for that?” you’re now asking me, and you might be pleased to know that I yelled obscenities at the bastard and chased after him.
I found my headphones on the ground. So… score?!
The lady showing the flat was absolutely lovely, though; she found me tear-streaked at her door and made me tea and asked me questions about myself to distract me from what’d just happened. Then encouraged me to go straight to the police station when I was done. She gave me directions to the nearest one, and I didn’t remember what she’d said so I just headed to Islington. Funny thing that the area where I vacationed in October 2011 is more familiar to me than anywhere else, including Willesden Green/Cricklewood where I was living at the time and had been for over two months.
My Canada Day was a little bit different than I’d imagined, with no way of telling the time or contacting anyone, spending time at the bank and the phone shop and then hours at the police station. Yippee!
But anyway, here’s a happy ending to that silly little incident: I’d very recently added tech insurance to my Barclays bank account at the time of the snatching, and after about two weeks my claim had gone through and I received a replacement iPhone 5. I was euphoric. Thanks, Barclays!
I did later that night make it to Trafalgar Square and was very happy to be able to spend time with my glorious friends Jaynie, who’s from Victoria, and Jenni, who’s from Australia but wanted to see what being Canadian is like. George Stroumboulopoulos was MCing the event, and it featured Jann Arden and the Tragically Hip. People ate poutine (though it was made with shredded cheese, and not the cheese curds we’d been promised) and drank Molson Canadian. There were fellows adorned in Canadian flag capes. We all sang O Canada together at the end. It felt a bit like home, really, and I think that was pretty important on the sort of day I’d had.
I whined a lot the next few days about being phoneless, but that was a surprisingly good week: Jaynie and I went to a watercolour workshop at Maison Bertaux the next day, then spent time hanging out at her place while she taught me how to proportionally draw faces. The day after that was one of the most genuinely funny comedy shows I’ve ever been to: Steve Oram and Tom Meeten’s Club Fantastico at Soho Theatre. It’s impossible to do any justice to it through explanation, but even now nearly a month later I nearly cry with laughter just remembering it. I’m glad to have had a few friends there with me so we can reminisce about it together every now and then. That night was also particularly amazing because of some of the people who were in attendance. Most noteworthy was Noel Fielding, but also there were: Lliana Bird (with Noel, of course); Dolly Wells; Nigel Coen; & Dan Clark. Of course you might need to care about the things I care about in order for any of these names to be remotely significant, but trust me. They’re significant.
(… I wanted to say something to Noel and I couldn’t think of anything particularly poignant or witty, so I simply stated to him “You’re my favourite.” Hey, it’s true!)
When I got home that night I was euphoric about life! and London! and all the insane and incredible things that happen to me! until I received a rejection email from the lady whose flat I’d viewed. It sounded like I’d almost been the tenant she’d chosen, which always seems to make things just a little bit worse. I started to feel incredibly panicked about things in the way I hadn’t quite done until then, and I spoke to my dear aforementioned friend Jenni, who incredibly kindly and generously told me that I could move my stuff into her place until I found something else. How amazing a thing to offer is that, you guys?
Even so, the next day I still felt panicked and unsettled with nothing in particular I could do about it. And since that was the case, I decided I needed to do something and I went and got a bunch of my hair chopped off. How dramatic, Leslie! I had been talking about it for ages, though, and I’m thrilled with the results!
And time passed, as it does, and I did end up moving all of my stuff out of the flat and, with Jenni’s incredible help, into Jenni’s place. It was a massive trek, but we managed it, and I had a place to be for a while.
The night of the 12th was a show I’d been excited for: Amanda Palmer at the Roundhouse. I’d never seen her before and had been a fan for some time. The show did not disappoint. From the moment I arrived (to find my friends in the queue already; I’d been working that day) to the bus ride back to Jenni’s place, it was a euphoric and incredible event. The other audience members were some of the greatest people I’ve ever met in that sort of a situation, all kind and welcoming and funny and amazing. Some shared tubes of glitter, others bought biscuits to share with the entire line. Glammed up strangers posed for photos together. Then the venue doors opened, and we were greeted by a busking act called Perhaps Contraption, playing their way through the stairwell and all the way to the back of the line. They kept us entertained once we’d got our spots (at the front, by the way), playing in the middle of the room. Then the show started with Amanda Palmer herself up in the balcony playing us Creep by Radiohead on her ukulele. There’s a good chance it was the best show I’ve ever seen, all of us crying openly at the more emotional songs, my friends and I sharing a big group hug for the length of The Bed Song. Amanda Palmer crowdsurfed. Amanda Palmer did this. It was pure magic.
After the show, wanting badly to meet Amanda and knowing how wonderful she is with her fans, my friends and I hung out in front of the venue (where we were treated to a couple of songs performed on the steps by Bitter Ruin, one of the very excellent support acts), behind the venue (where a few of us searched for the stage door), then back around the front again. Eventually we saw Amanda Palmer through the venue’s bar’s giant windows, and she saw us, and we waved at her, and she came outside. She sat on the steps, and then she was handed a ukulele, and then another. At Jenni’s request she played us In My Mind, and, at several others’ requests, Ukulele Anthem. Then she stayed until she’d met everyone who wanted to meet her.
(Thank you to Wolfgang Von Gytfynger for taking our photo!)
On the 16th, my parents arrived from Ottawa to visit me. Mom had booked the very same Islington flat where Nidal, Jen and I stayed in October 2011, and that made an already insanely exciting thing even better. As I’ve mentioned, that’s the area of London I feel I know best, and so it was a good place to bring my parents. I met them at Heathrow at around 10:30 a.m., and we took a long tube ride into the city. I brought some of my things over to the flat and was there for the duration of their stay. We made many visits to the North Pole pub (no longer the North Star, much to my initial dismay), and I dragged them along to two comedy nights: a thing Joey Page was performing at, and Old Rope on Monday just passed. They did most of the really touristy things while I was at work, and on my days off I dragged them through Camden and Soho and all the places you’d expect me to like.
And imagine this: on my lunch break from work on the day after my parents arrived, I happened to be looking at Twitter when I saw glorious Sophie (same height as me! I do need to mention this! It’s worth mentioning!) talking about how she had a room available in her Tufnell Park flat. Of course I responded, asking her the details, and it turned out that not only was there the one room (which was out of my price range), but there was also her room needing to be rented. My parents and I went to view the flat the next night. It was gorgeous, and we had a great time chatting with Sophie. I agreed to take the room, a massive relief to both me and Sophie, and the next week we went to the agent’s so I could sign a contract. (This was also a massive relief, since there was a bit of trouble with the sketchy landlady about the last flat because she didn’t give me a contract.) So yeah! A home!
We also made a side trip to Spain! Me and Mom being who we are, we booked the trip around Rufus Wainwright’s 40th birthday concert in Madrid. That was a marvellous show as well, a full orchestra and the two female stars of Rufus’s opera Prima Donna and an absolutely joyous feeling in the air. I’d hate to have missed it, especially being such a long-time fan of Rufus and having seen him 15 times previous (nothing compared to some of the glorious people I know from Rufus shows), and was very grateful that I was able to go.
Madrid and Barcelona were both really gorgeous. I loved Madrid, but was especially taken with Barcelona and all its Gaudi architecture (we went to Park Guell and Sagrada Familia). Walking down the beach with my feet in the Mediterranean Sea was a particularly remarkable moment, as was having tapas for the first time (although in entirely different ways). I’d like to go back one day and get to know the public transit a bit; we didn’t really try.
It’s amazing, you know, to live in London and know that Spain is just a two hour flight away at any time.
And it’s amazing, you know, to live in London.
I had such a strange feeling this morning, because all the other times I’ve left London for Ottawa (all… two… other times?) have been these ridiculously heartbreaking occasions, where I’ve felt like I was leaving the place where I most belonged and all those things. My brain tried to default to melancholy this morning, and I had to remind it that this time is different. I can’t deny that it’s incredibly difficult to be away from so many of the people I love best in the world, but London is so essential to me that it makes most sense for my vacations to be to visit my loved ones, and my day to day life to be this astonishing thing in the world’s best city.
Where I have a flat.
In Tufnell Park.
Which is amazing.
This next week will be incredible, and every one of the crazy things that have happened over the last four and a half months will either sink in or I simply won’t believe they happened at all. If it’s the latter, please remind me that my life is real.
Please remind me that my life now involves meeting all my favourite people. Please remind me that my life entails hanging out every now and then with some of my favourite people. I won’t believe you, but I need the reminder.
Aaaaand I suppose I should warn anyone I’m going to see that I will ramble about it. But you’ll be expecting that anyway, won’t you?
As I write this, there’s just over an hour left of my flight. When I post this, of course, I’ll be in Ottawa.
The prospect of being in Ottawa has never been more exciting to me than it is now.
See you soon, my darlings.
And then there’s a bit more, hours after arriving back to Ottawa.
Because, you see, the cab pulled up to my parents‘ house and then my brother and sister-in-law walked out the door. My brother and sister-in-law live in Vancouver. My mother arranged it so that they’d come to visit when I was here. I screamed joyous obscenities and ran and gave them a billion hugs.
Weirdest bit is I had moments where I suspected something like this, but it was all wishful thinking. Our family, all spread so far apart nowadays, all under one roof for a week.
So there was that, and then my best friend came and joined us as well, and it was perfect. And then my dear friend David came over for a little bit, and that was great, too.
The strange thing, I’m learning, is how easy it is to forget when you’re at home. It all feels normal until you remember it isn’t, until you notice one tiny thing has changed and that’s enough to throw you off.
I’ve been awake for a lot of hours.
I’m feeling a lot of emotions.
I’m tucked into bed and I’m using my turntable for the first time in months. When I go back, I’ll bring my turntable with me. Turn my new flat into my new home.
Everything’s pretty goddamn wonderful, you know?