Goodbye and Good Luck To An Old Friend and Fellow Ex-Pat

A leaving do for a mate becomes time for a reflection on why moving to New York was the best decision I've made, but also to take stock on what I miss about Blighty...
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A leaving do for a mate becomes time for a reflection on why moving to New York was the best decision I've made, but also to take stock on what I miss about Blighty...

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Sometimes I think emigrating was the best choice I ever made in my life, though, if I’m totally honest, moving to New York felt just like that, moving. People emigrated to Australia didn’t they? Australia sounded fantastically complicated and final. I just got on a plane in Manchester and eight hours later arrived at JFK. It all seemed so easy. As long as I had the money, I could catch a red eye anytime I wanted, sleep my way over The Atlantic and be sat in my Mam’s kitchen eating bacon sarnies and drinking tea for breakfast  the next morning.

Aside from the obvious, my family, friends and football team, there’s really nothing I miss about ‘home’. America’s easy, there’s no new language to learn; you’ve just got to remember to drive on the right side of the road and that’s about it. You’re not expected to live off roots and berries, they do spuds and roast beef and with stores like Myers of Keswick, Butcher Block and Brooklyn’s Chip Shop on hand, any Jonesing for a taste of home can be quickly assuaged. There’s so many English and Irish people out here you don’t even have to mix with the locals, though I suggest that you do. There’s football leagues to play in, rugby clubs, bars where supporters of any given football team congregate to shout at the telly and have their hearts broken on a regular basis by their teams back home and gigs to go to every week. Bands want to play New York, it’s not Cleethorpes. There’s also local sports teams to get into, art and museums and things I’d never have gotten into back in Leeds. No knock on my hometown, it was me who was narrow minded but I’ve been more receptive to new things over here than I might have been at home given that my life revolved around the local and culture was buying the 12 inch version of a single.

Bands want to play New York, it’s not Cleethorpes

Sometimes, however, I question my decision to emigrate, move, leave Dear Old Blighty and all her many charms - and she has many charms. Sometimes the intangibles, the things that aren’t easily expressed, the things you can feel as a dull ache rather than as a sharp stabbing pain, the things you can usually suppress, keep down, but once in awhile  manage to force their up to deal with. The trade off between the hope of a better future - for me one of steady employment versus the endless wheel of crap jobs and bouts of unemployment that has become depressingly typical of the UK - and the things you give up; the contact with your family (maybe not a bad thing for some people but for me, well, I love my family, I love knowing the tea never runs out and there’s always another box of Jaffa Cakes in the cupboard) and the life long friendships put on hold, the friendships with history, the friends  you grew up with, the friends who know you well.

Right now I’m taking stock. I know I’ll never go home. This is my home now, I’ve built a life here and it’s not bad. My kids were born here and, while they are aware of their Yorkshire (Me) and Irish (Mum, or should that be Mom?) roots, they are 100% American kids. Sure they’re in tune with the humour of their parents, they get sarcasm, for example and their musical tastes extend a bit beyond that of many of their class mates (Black Eyed Peas!), class mates I imagine who would never sing Dirty Old Town for their Grandma, or have Shack’s Comedy on their i-pods, but their lives are fundamentally that of Americans. They play basketball for their respective school teams, they love going ‘Down The Shore’ in summer and like nothing more than tucking into pizza at Grimaldi’s over the Brooklyn Bridge. I know I’ve made the right decision. I have a decent job, something I never had back home and I have the opportunity to progress. The really important things are all in place.

I have some good friends too. Not as many as back home but then again, that would be an unfair expectation given the number of years those friendship have invested in them but I have friends I can depend on; friends who make me laugh, who I enjoy going for a drink with, or to a Ranger game with, or a gig. The key difference though is that a lot of these friendships are transient in nature. And that’s something I’ve come to terms with but it’s still quite sad.

There was a fantastic cross section of people too. The football crowd, the fashion and advertising crowd, the expats, the natives...

I went to my first leaving/going back home do in years last night. I’m out of the loop these days, my life is that of a married father of three not an out every week wildman so my circle of friends is smaller than it used to be. It’s as it should be I reckon though. Nothing worse than a dad who’s never home. It was a stunningly well attended affair. Testament to the popularity of my mate who’s returning home. There was a fantastic cross section of people too. The football crowd, the fashion and advertising crowd, the expats, the natives, black and white. Loads of people I knew, loads I know to nod to, loads I’ve never met before in my life and maybe never will again but all of us saying our goodbyes and good lucks, if only by coming out and drinking in the same bar, to a friend.

I don’t like these dos, they strike me as wakes for the living, but I had a great night. I didn’t even drink but had a blast. Conversation ranged from wrestling a bear in Boston (long and very, very funny story) to drug use, to sexual preferences (at least one person is going to wake up this morning and think ,‘Oh no.’) to (inevitably) Leeds United’s crap season, to doing charity work for the Arsenal based David Rocastle fund - well done that girl! -, to fudged numbers on the stock market, to the latest Luscious Jackson album, to, our kids, to the New York Rangers play-off chances, to work (yawn), to mixed media art (they weren’t too big on that back in my local I can tell you), to flat caps and the beautiful women who wear them so much better than our grandads ever did, to our grandads, to taking the piss, to who’ll be next to go home (two more good lads in the next year so far!) , to “You’ll never go back will you?” “What me, what for, sod that.”, to betting when the man we’d all come to say goodbye to will be back.

Selfish get that I am,  I hope he does come back because he’s a great lad New York’s a better place with him in it.

I think you come to accept the inevitability of people coming and going in your life when you up sticks and move abroad. People pass through your life and you enjoy their company for a while and just accept that it’s most likely temporary. Work moves people on, some don’t settle, some push on further for pastures even newer, you wonder if they’ll ever settle or if they have gypsy blood.

I’ve known some good people and some right oddballs. A Dub who rode everywhere on a bike because the concept of subways scared the crap out of him, a Mancunian computer programmer who thought he was on good money until he saw how much the bloke he worked beside, doing the same job, earned, a lad who borrowed from everyone and then skipped town (been a few of those), a bloke from Stoke who, judging by the names of people he said he knew in Leeds, was, I can only assume, a drug dealer, a lad who met some woman on an internet dating site, married her and then found out she was worth a few mill (fair play), a lad who walked from El Salvador twice and oh, you get the picture...

I wish my mate, Wes is his name, all the best back in England. He’s a good lad, talented and, given a break, I know he’ll do well. But, selfish get that I am,  I hope he does come back because he’s a great lad New York’s a better place with him in it.

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