30 January 2017

Sweden is the Reason

The false January spring did seem to come like it always does about two weeks ago, when you went outside and thought that the winter hadn’t been that bad this year. Then, like always, the cold snap came and everyone is bundled and walking up Warren Street, smoking or wearing big cheap headphones. I was up at 3:30, and made coffee and hard boiled eggs and half of a bagel, before standing out, waiting for the 4:38 bus, the 23, to New Street. I had another cup of coffee and then fell asleep on the Virgin Train into Euston, waking just as we passed Wembley and everyone looked the way they do on the train after you’ve woken up suddenly, like they have been staring at you the whole time.

With the visas and passports back, life had permission to continue on, and I sorted out the rest of my trip to Sweden and started thinking about the semester in front of me, like it might actually happen and we wouldn’t be on a plane to some other place on 15 February, when our previous visa was up. Now it was at least another three years, even though no one seemed to pay any attention to it but me. I want to keep talking about it, to keep bringing it up causally in conversations. It was £6,441, and I had to pay none of it out of pocket. I say this proudly and whomever I am talking to has a blank look on their face. It’s remarkable, isn’t it and they take my word for it. It’s remarkable.

My obsession with Sweden has been ongoing. I cornered a man once at a conference, a British man living in Gothenburg, peppering him with questions, It’s a socialist utopia, isn’t it. Everything is great there, right? and as he tried to dissuade me, it only sounded like everything I imagined. I was primed to only accepted the rosiest picture. And then, indeed, everything comported with what I believed, because it’s what I wanted. The buses run on waste, coffee is vitally important, the people are actually this polite, university is free. It went on and on.

I got off the train, in Växjö, and the air was clean — like it's been washed, Chris said. The cabin in woods where I stayed was also a part of the utopian dream, like Walden. No running water, and when you went out in the middle of the night in clogs, across the grass to the edge of the woods to piss, it was like whole darkness of the wilderness was looking at you. There was something about being taken care of, not worrying about what needed to happen next. Chris cooked and drove and took me around. I didn't need to do anything, just wake and go. I once talked about this in counselling, of a time I had been in Malaysia and Yoko and the girls weren’t there, and I had been driven around without having to make any decisions. It’s a utopia.

Now, there are any number of things to do. I was in London again, I was sleeping again on a train. I am going to Japan next, in April. Working on a book series proposal. Finishing my own book and beginning work on the third one. Watching people walk up and down the street. There is probably more to do and say. When I figure it out, I’ll do it and say it.

14 January 2017

Leave to remain

When the doorbell rang on Saturday morning, before nine, before everyone had woken up, I felt the same feeling I had in my stomach on Wednesday when the doorbell rang. Then it was the postman holding a box, and I was disappointed — yes, I would be happy to give it to the neighbour, but really, it was not what I wanted. On Saturday though, I opened the door, and he had his machine out for signatures and was holding a white A4 envelope. I signed, and held it and indeed, it felt like passports settled in the bottom and the address was from Sheffield. I ripped it open and read the first line: Thank you for your application which has now been approved. The letter was repeated five times with five different Pihlaja names. I whooped, as you do, for joy and ran upstairs, having fished the passports out, holding them, showing Yoko who had just woken up. She said, in Japanese, Yokkata ne which is what you might say when your partner found socks on sale or got a free coffee by chance. This was always going to happen though, wasn't it.

Three years ago, when we packed up and came back to the UK, I hadn't thought it would be like it has been. I'm not sure what I had thought. I thought it wouldn't be as hot and easier in some ways. It has been, to be fair. Naomi said last night, 'Was there a bee nest in the house in Malaysia?' and I remembered that yes, there had been. I remember that, she said. I do too, now that she says it. I remember the toilet we had out the kitchen into the back terrace. There was no water heater and it didn't really matter. I thought about that terrace, about Naomi and the cats that would come up. But then it fades away. The children need to go to things, the successes and failures are wiped out because we need to keep going. Someone needs to be somewhere, and we're late.