It is a wet, wet day here in Birmingham, England. The rain is falling on the land with the enthusiasm of a lover too long removed from his beloved. The green of the grass is the garden is lush and vibrant, the flowers dip their heads to better show their new glistening adornment. The leaves of the trees are making their migration from deep green, through golden yellow to passionate reds and oranges.
Autumn is here with a vengeance. It should be; it always arrives with my birthday*.
I am back at my parents’ house, another swing of the pendulum that has taken me up and down the country four, five times already this summer. I am ‘working’ at the bureau desk of my grandfathers; the first time I have had a proper workspace here since my teenage years. I have a job application to fill in, for a job I don’t really want (but probably need).
This weekend should be my last one here for a while. On Monday I head back down to London where I will be house-sitting consecutively for two friends. This, I hope, will mark the start of my return to the Big Smoke.
I’m resigned to the change. Not exactly excited, but not disappointed either. London was my home for many years, and it is still home to a great many of my dearest friends. After plans of farms and farming have fallen through, it seemed best to be somewhere where I have real ties, and I have more ties there than anywhere.
I have been homeless for over two years now. It was August 2008 when I packed up my flat, quit my job and ventured into the unknown. That unknown took me to l’Abri and all the wonders of deep friendships that grew from there. But there was no home for me at l’Abri (in the stable sense), and there has been none in any of my subsequent journeys either. Birmingham last summer was a holding pattern, Chichester was a fun but failed experiment. America this summer was… many things, but a study in alienation in many ways. Beautiful places with beautiful friends, but ones that only served to emphasise my alien-ness.
And now? Now I am longing to unpack my suitcase, to open my boxes of books and find shelves to put them on. I am longing for a neighbourhood, for an address so I can get a library card. For friendships built around a regular pattern of life rather than occasional visitations.
London is no longer my favourite place in the world. But, for now, it is the closest thing I have to a home. I need to pull my heart away from a distant future and into material reality, and the best anchors I have for that task are the friendships I have in the East End. And the opportunities that come with them.
I don’t really know what life will look like. I don’t know how I will pay my way. The generosity of friends keeping a roof over my head is a start. A good temping agency and the odd application form will help. Most exciting of all is the possibility of helping a friend set up a consultancy firm, which actually looks like it will happen in the coming weeks. It won’t be a full-time job, but it will be something. A challenge. Something new. Something fun.
It feels strange, after the last few years, to be trying to return to where I’ve been before. But this isn’t reconvening after a hiatus. I’m not picking up where I left off. This is a new start, if one in an old place. I don’t know if this gets me any closer to a rural, entrepreneurial community or not. But it does ground me back in the reality of life. And that’s progress, is it not?
The rain is continuing to fall, heavily. I think I’m going to have to put the light on – the grey, leaden skies are letting too little of the sun filter through. Beside me my suitcase is still full of clothes, waiting to be repacked for me to hit the road once again. I wonder how long it will be before I can unpack it for the last time?
The rain falls so that the plants may grow. When it stops (eventually), the air will be fresh and the grass a deep green that only comes after rain. Life, in all of it’s fullness, goes on as it always has. Obviously.
* September 22nd: brilliant sunshine, above 20oC temperatures. September 23rd: heavy rain, temperatures in the mid-teens… Same every year…
Update: a poll (see comments below)