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It Was 10 Years Ago Today: Bye-Bye Britain!

Never look back, walk tall, act ‘fine‘…

Ten years ago I finally said Bye-bye to not so Great Britain and started my long journey (via Qatar, Thailand and Singapore) for a new life in Australia, with France to follow.

My decampment from the ‘United’ Kingdom had been a long time in the planning stages. In fact, having lived in The Netherlands from 2002-2003 I’d tried it once already, and knew upon my return to Blighty that my days residing on the septic isle were numbered.

However, when the news guy told us to prepare for the longest, coldest snowiest winter for many a year in 2014 I made a snap decision to bring forward my abscondment at the earliest opportunity, and left the majority of my possessions in the loft of my London house to be retrieved at a later date.

I arranged a multi-stop ticket through the delightful Nathalie at the Ealing branch of STA Travel and on 14 January 2014 (yep, 14-1-14) after a gym and boxing session Alan Ezen, my personal trainer at Fitness First and master of the measure-off (he‘s almost as “blessed” as me), was kind enough to drive me from Teddington to Heathrow, and even become custodian of some shirts that I wear when my luggage was bursting to buggery.

At the gym with Alan Ezen: Teddington, Turkish, hung.

With a haversack and some trepidation, at 15.05 I took off on Qatar Airways flight QR8.

Never no turning back, right?

Though it hardly got off to the best starts when the Sikh guy directly behind me kept complaining to the stewardess that I‘d put my seat back. Noneplussed, she just keeping repeating almost mantra-like but always the epitome of wide-smiled politeness, “You can recline your seat too.“ Eventually he got the message, probably around the same time he realised he wasn‘t taking the train.

It’s not as if I don’t get back to visit. Pre-Covid, I made some long-haul returns in 2016, 2017 and 2019, and ’m not entirely sure why but in the middle of 2018 I actually spent more time in the UK than my summer house in the south of France, when it was of course winter in Sydney.

It’s often fun jetting back for little cultural trips and to catch up with old friends and family in that damp and grey place I used to call home, but as a country to live in? Are you mad?

Of course, there’s been some pretty gargantuan ch-ch-changes since I left. In musical terms, several of my teenage pinupsTina Turner, Prince, David Bowie, Steve Strange and Pete Burns – were very much alive, as were George Michael and Aretha Franklin, one whom I knew personally and one I admired from afar, though I was lucky enough to witness her on stage in one of her final concerts.

And as if by magic, here it is.

Margaret Thatcher looked like being the only female PM forever, leaving the EU under this bonkers Brexit plan looked like a pipe dream by a narrow bunch of silly little Englanders, and my father – an unshowy, lifelong card-carrying Labour man and former union rep – would never have voted Conservative in a million years… or driven a swanky Mercedes.

The changes? That don’t impress me much (ok, the Merc kind of does). But one thing remains the same, Rip-Off Britain often doesn’t work very well, and the glums that live there put up with lousy weather and lousy service at hilariously inflated prices.

Anyway, we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. Quelle surprise.

Steve Pafford

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