I’m writing this in the departure lounge at Heathrow, en route to Milan, because the prospect of my imminent departure for Canada has not stopped my employer sending me abroad from time to time. To be fair, I more or less send myself abroad these days; my job changed dramatically in the last 18 months of its existence, and I’m more of a frequent flyer than I ever expected to be.
I’m proceeding on the assumption that you all already know that the frequent flying is shortly going to stop, and that we will be heading off to the Great White North (as I believe I’m supposed to call it) of Canada in – let me see – 7 weeks from now. If not, let take a moment to explain.
It’s not something done lightly, moving ourselves to the other side of the world, but it’s something which we have thought and dreamed about since we were first married, so it feels to us that we have been waiting for nearly 20 years for the right time, and it certainly now feels to us that we have reached that time. How, you may ask, does anyone decide to change everything in their lives? For me, it’s always been a question of being in a comfort zone – I think that once you get to a certain place, it is too easy just to stop trying; to settle for what you have, and I think that’s dangerous.
In my head, I am still about 17 years old – it comes as quite a shock to see a balding, overweight, middle-aged man looking back at me from the mirror - and I often approach situations as that 17-year-old would do. Therefore my first reaction to the idea that we might move to Prince George, a place which most people in Britain – I’d suggest many people in Canada – have never heard of, was to say “well, why not?” The journey from there to here has been longer than we anticipated, and probably just as complicated and difficult as you imagine it has been, but this close to seeing it come true, it feels right, which I’m taking as a good omen.
So why Prince George? Well, it’s not just a leap in the dark; we have friends who have lived there for many years, and who have always been enthusiastic about the lifestyle and the standard of living, and it was talking to them about that perennial Home Counties subject, house prices, which actually sparked the idea off as more than just a faint dream.
We could see quite clearly from that conversation that it would be perfectly possible for us to walk away from our heavily mortgaged lives and live more freely; to do things we’d always promised ourselves we would do. In particular, I was very clear that I was heading along a long road to retirement without any opportunity for remission, and that perhaps the chance to learn new things, to go back to doing drama, or playing music, or learning new things was already in the past. And I wasn’t particularly comfortable with that assessment.
It is too easy – way too easy – to become engrossed in one’s work; to see it as a raison d’etre, rather than a way to fund the kind of life you would actually like to live, and I know, because I’ve lived that life. I’ve worked 12 hour days; I’ve got into the position where I spend 2 hours each day just getting to and from the place where I work; the journey stretched to that length because it is only by living so far away that one can afford to be comfortable – if living with a mortgage which takes around half of one’s net earnings per month can really be said to be comfortable. If you look at it dispassionately, it’s madness. Yet it’s a madness which afflicts a good many of us, and we don’t really see how it works, let alone understand that there is another way.
I’m not advocating a return to living in caves, and hunting for food; we will live very well indeed, probably better than we do now, and we’ll still have to do all the mundane things as well, but we’ll do so knowing that we got out; we did what we wanted to do, and that when it is time to look back at it, we won’t have regrets for things untried.
And I know it’s not a bed of roses, either. This will be hard – it already has been. We’re going to be living a long way from all our families, all our friends, and all the things we know. We’ll go through periods of wondering what on earth we’re doing, and periods when we are sure we’ve made a big mistake. But the fact that we know that now is surely going to help us get to where we want to be. And right now, that’s a city in the middle of British Columbia where they have proper winters. And bears.
So, with you permission, I’d like to keep you up to date with our progress as we go with these messages. They will, I hope, chart our adventures and our reactions to living in a new place; give you a feel for where we are and perhaps begin to explain how we got here, and how we are making it all work. Because the truth is, we will make it work. We have too much invested in this – our hopes and dreams as well as our bricks and mortar – to let it slip now. Before we go, I’ll try to bring you up to date with what we have been doing to make it happen; then, with any luck it will be ‘home thoughts from abroad’ for as long as it takes to become ‘abroad thoughts from home’.
Wish us luck, won’t you?