13 April 2006

The English Disease

I'm often asked how I wound up living in London, usually by British people who can't comprehend why anyone would voluntarily abandon sunny California in favour of this, well, not so sunny place. It's no use explaining to them that not all of California looks like Baywatch, that in fact San Francisco is nearly as damp, cold and windy (and that's just the social climate, never mind the weather) as London, and even more provincial.

If they continue to press me on the question, I'll feign bewilderment, telling them that I moved to London in much the same way Britain is said to have acquired an empire: in a fit of absent-mindedness. And there's a certain amount of truth to that; I certainly wasn't thinking very clearly, if I was thinking at all, when I decided that England was to be my new home. I mean, I liked the pub and club culture, and the fact that the streets - many of them, anyway - were filled with people and not just cars. I liked the sense of humour, and the newspapers, and the way it was possible to get around town without owning a car. Most of all, it was a good town to drink in. Not that San Francisco wasn't, but in London, there was none of that residual Yankee guilt that often left you feeling like you should apologise for being drunk or hungover instead of being out there scrambling for the big bucks.

However, it's now going on five years since I stopped drinking, and I'm still here. So what's that about? Inertia is probably a factor, but I've also come to enjoy London in new ways (by daylight, for example). But now the thrill seems to be wearing off, and for a while now it's felt as though my time in London might be coming to an end.

The clarity of hindsight has finally enabled me to see more precisely why I came here: I was attracted to the bleakness and gloominess, the idea that life in England was one long lament by the Smiths, nothing but endless rain falling on the humdrum towns scattered across the grey and sepia-toned landscape. And while that's a bit of an exaggeration, there is some truth to it.

The thing is, though, I'm just not that depressed anymore. In fact, I'm not very depressed at all. Or maybe I am and have just gotten so used to it that I don't notice it any longer, but in support of the former argument, I only occasionally listen to the Smiths anymore, and often find myself wanting to tell most people I meet, "Cheer up, it might never happen."

Is England really more depressed than most countries? Maybe not, but it's undeniably a rather melancholy country, and I think it's beginning to get to me. Or perhaps the melancholy has seeped into my soul, and that's why I now find myself growing dissatisfied. English people love to sneer at Australia, suggesting that it's a shallow, culture-free zone where the inhabitants have any sense they might have once possessed baked out of them by the relentless sun (Woody Allen exhibited a similar attitude toward California when he maintained that its sole cultural advantage was being able to turn right on a red light). But the more time I spend in Australia, the more I come to believe that if it's shallow to spend lots of time in the warmth and sunshine and couple that with a similarly warm and sunny attitude, then sign me up for shallow school.

Does that mean I'm ready to emigrate? Well, just about, but unfortunately, it's not that easy. Australia is very picky about who it lets in, at least once they get past a certain age, an age which I passed some time ago. And while Australia is my first choice for a new home, it's by no means my only one. I've long wanted to live in New York, and the constant slagging I give it, California still has its appeal, too, though that mainly consists of my family and a handful of good friends who still live there.

Extricating myself from London isn't the simple matter it might appear to be, either. I own a flat here, and due to certain complication that are too boring to go into here, I can't sell it any time in the immediate future, which kind of limits my options in terms of being able to afford to live anywhere else. So here I am, at least for another spring (which finally seems to be arriving, too). In a couple weeks I'll have to make what feels like a momentous decision: do i renew my season ticket at Fulham? It's provided me with enormous joy (and misery) for almost a decade now, but owning a season ticket is a serious commitment, almost like having a job. Travel and social engagements have to be planned months in advance so as not to conflict with fortnightly Saturdays (or Sundays, or Mondays). The past couple years I've missed nearly a third of the games I'd paid for, and if I spend as much time in Australia and the States as I'd like to, I'll miss even more next year.

So come April 28, ticket renewal deadline, I should have a pretty good idea about whether I'm just blowing off steam or if I'm serious about moving on. And as I won't even be in London that week (that week is pencilled in for some quasi-important goings-on in New York), I suspect it will be the latter.


peter forbes said...

Hi Larry

So glad to find your blog!! I've been starved for your writing and am enjoying reading thru your archives.

It's not clear (to me) how to email you.

Peter Forbes, Quincy MA
Former Lookout subscriber and pen-pal from Laytonville days; publisher of the short-lived and properly-forgotten Ann Arbor Aborigine

email: teenbillybaby@yahoo.com

Spoke said...

Why England? It should be clear!
Ruddle's Best Bitter (from Oxen) and LIVERPOOL FC.

JAB Seattle said...

or at least up the match officials who someone decided Cisse was not interfering with play.