It was a good trip; I embarked upon it on something of a whim and with the unfailing support of my wonderful partner in life. She is a wonderful woman. I digress, but then, don't I always? Our trip was undertaken with one main goal, which was to meet up with the men with whom I joined the ranks of the UK police force back in 1984. Our meeting would take place - ideally, anyway - on the actual anniversary date (June 4th), and I hoped that we would be able to reminisce and share our thoughts. In someone else's words, it was a dream that I had - not a very ambitious one perhaps, but I really hoped that it could come true. For reasons that are deep and meaningful to me (and therefore likely to be very dull to you), this trip was important to me, even to the point of necessity. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to try to get to the end of my rambling on this subject.
As the title photo at the top of the website hints, I am forty nine years old. Thirty years ago, when I was but a young lad of nineteen, I embarked upon what I anticipated would be a thirty year (or more) career with the police force. It was a hugely emotional time for me, although in the moment I just tried to plough through it all with the feeling that I was only going through the same doubts as everyone else, and ought to suck it up and press on. Eighteen years later I made the rather monumental decision to uproot my family and move to Canada to seek out whatever else there could be sought in life.
Twelve years after that, I found myself experiencing feelings of loss for old comrades' friendship, regrets for not fulfilling the expectations that I had set for myself, and a sense of needing to put such ghosts to rest. A commemorative trip five thousand miles across the continent and one ocean seemed to be the only way to deal with persistent thoughts about my past and my future. Being in a relationship with a quite wonderful woman who supported this financially barmy idea helped immensely. I will never forget her generosity of heart over this one matter, even though she demonstrates her love for me daily.
To avoid boring you with the details, we went, we saw, we chatted, we laughed, we sort of conquered, and we came back home.
There are many thoughts about our trip, some of them trivial in the extreme; for example, just how did I get myself stuck between that street light and a garden wall one drunken night thirty one years ago? Some are less trivial; my elderly mother is enjoying a new lease of life after finding the perfect environment within which to enjoy her golden years despite losing the love of her life only two years ago. Some are - and here's the good stuff - life-altering.
I love my old country, but many years ago now, I began to feel that I was unconsciously rejecting the way of life there. I love the landscapes (if not filled with people or cars), I love the seemingly constant wind, the smell of the ocean where I grew up, much of the culture and all of the history and relics of such. However, Britain is also busy, cramped and a little bit frazzled. Many people move through their lives with retirement as some kind of altruistic goal, and as something over which to fret. Many of the people I interacted with during my visit seemed to be wishing away time so that they could grasp retirement by its scrawny neck and hurry up to wring as much out of it as possible before shuffling off this mortal coil. I used to follow this path, and very fortunately I found it within me (without really knowing why) to jump ship. It seems, to my sadness, that many of my friends and acquaintances may still be on board.
Britain is a wonderful country and I will gladly argue that point with anyone, but in the same breath I will argue against nationalism. Some might say that my country made me - I would deny that. My country is an unconscious 'thing', an environment, an abstract concept made almost real by rules, institutions and my immersion in its history. My country, since it is a thing and not a person, cares nothing for me or my life. It doesn't miss me, even though I miss aspects of its physical reality and its culture. My country is not my own; it is a thing I borrow, merely something I wear as a badge, as part of the overall puzzle which makes up my identity. I'm proud of that badge, but I am neither possessed by nor possessive of it.
People are the important things in my life. This is the profound and life-changing confirmation that I have taken from my trip. It's an unexpected conclusion, mostly because I thought that I already knew this, but mostly because of the emotions I experienced as I tore myself away from very familiar faces, family and friends alike. My interactions with people - whether direct or indirect - have shaped me, have nudged me along the path that I have shakily followed. People care, people either like, dislike, love or hate me - people are real rather than abstract, beings with thoughts and influences, beings who have guided, obstructed, supported and encouraged me. People, not places, are the really important influences in my life.
I thank them all. Whether it was the workplace bully who caused me to cry as I drove to work and face inevitable humiliations, or it is the love of my life who stands by me, alongside me, accepting of me and loving me unconditionally, I thank them all. Whether they be my parents who brought me into this funny old world and raised me from childhood to adulthood, or whether they be my adored children who know that they can rely on me as long as I draw breath, I thank them all. I wouldn't be the man I am without you all, and slowly, finally, as if sliding into a wonderfully warm bath after a long, cold and lonely hike, I am beginning to like this man I seem to be. I am beginning to (at last) grasp that not everyone needs to like me in order to be worth meeting or knowing....that it is, after all, really all OK.
Without them all, without YOU all, this journey would be somehow different, and as I become more and more content with where I am, my appreciation and understanding of what is important in life evolves. People, no matter what they do, make the difference.
So: thank you to the PEOPLE of Great Britain, to the PEOPLE of Canada, to all the people who have touched my life for better or worse so far. There's a lot of life in me yet; I wonder what do you have in store for me?