I’ve been away from England long enough to have got over myself and my issues with the UK. Despite what I think about the place it will always be my ‘home’.
I wear the White Rose of Yorkshire with pride on my shoulder; it’s the symbol of my ‘tribe’, I proudly explain this to anyone who happens to see under my shirt sleeve and ask its relevance.
And I do love going back, regardless of how much I still disagree with, well with all of it. I guess I now look upon the UK as almost a foreign country. I didn’t approve with large elements of it before, and I disapprove with larger elements of it now. It has really changed (in my eyes negatively) since I left back in 2007; but having said that, it’s still familiar enough to feel welcome, and get a decent pint, despite how I feel about its politics.
One thing that remains the same, every time I return, is the inevitable conversation I always have, usually after alcohol, when I am in the company of someone I haven’t met before.
And bear in mind, I’m not a complete foreigner, I can still perform adequately in social situations, I haven’t completely lost my Britishness. I can do the conversational foreplay, that dilly dallying around the weather, dabbling in the dreadful traffic on the way to the party, and discussing the disastrous downfall of United. But that’s about as far as I can go, I’ve no knowledge of television or music, which means I always eventually fall foul of the:
“So what do you do then?”
(I do a lot of things, person whose name I immediately forgot as soon as you said it to me, sorry, but don’t worry I’ll perform that trick where I introduce you to someone without actually using your name, thus tricking you into announcing it and enabling me to forget it twice in one night. “What do I do?” Well sometimes I like to walk my dogs and sing Roxy Music songs to them. Sometimes I like to go running until I can’t run anymore and then get a taxi home. Sometimes I’ll sit on the toilet and think about Plato’s cave, and wonder if the real world exists outside my en-suite bathroom. I spend a lot of time, too much time, unravelling cables. Sometimes I pick at the stickers on menus to see what the price used to be. Ooh the list is endless)
“What do you mean? Do? I do a lot of things”
I usually get a blank stare here, often (hopefully) this is the end of the conversation. But sometimes the questioner, having glanced around the room and realised he/she knows no one else to move over to, tries a different tact.
“I mean, what you do for a living”
(Ah, now this is a more interesting question. Now you are talking my friend. What I do to live, to survive, to exist, is a great question. Well, to cut a long story short (because I need a wee) I live and work in an environment of incredible diversity and promise, I work and socialise with incredible people who all share my interests. Yet every day I am challenged and frustrated by barriers that prevent me achieving our targets, and every day I have to develop new and innovative ways of overcoming these. I get up out of bed with a smile on my face and (after a cup of cheap coffee and a bowl of expensive muesli) I battle through the bureaucracy and problems that contrive to complicate the amazing work that I am a part of. Work that makes an incredible difference to the lives of all involved. What I lose out in financial rewards, I more than make up for in the satisfaction and pleasure I receive from doing my job, and living in the amazing place I live. My job is awesome. Not only do I enjoy almost every minute, I feel that I am part of a change, a part of something bigger, and a part of a movement towards the human race becoming more humane.)
“I work in development, overseas, for an NGO”
“Yes NGO, it stands for NON-GOVERNMENTAL-ORGANISATION, like a charity…..like Oxfam or say like Save the Children”
At this point I pause as I see their eyes glaze over as they visualise me digging a latrine in the late (more forgiving for photographers) afternoon sun, or spoon feeding small African babies with large eyes, carefully wiping the flies from their face before having lunch in a sweaty tent squashed in between George and Angelina.
Eventually they focus back. They go quiet as they contemplate their answer. And it is without fail always either:
“Oh, good, carry on, well done, erm I need the toilet”
“I don’t agree with overseas aid. Charity should begin at home….”
For the former answer, I say goodbye and make my way swiftly towards the bar.
For the latter answer I have to make a choice on my response, and trust me I will always respond to this.
However that depends a great deal on the level of beer in my glass, and more importantly the amount of beer that I have consumed.
How do I respond?
Let me get another beer and I’ll tell you.
To be continued….