I suppose it was always going to end this way. Just me and James, walking quietly down the street we used to live on, past our old house –our first London house- and onto The Crown.
When we arrived in the summer of 2008 we would take a book down to The Crown and nurse a single ale or cider for a whole afternoon, following an unsuccessful job hunt or job interview. Anything not to return to the house in failure. Again. Staying out all afternoon meant that we at least reclaimed some of the day for ourselves, rather than rendering over the whole thing to failure.
This time was, thankfully, very different. The opposite, even. The place looks much the same, however. We even sat at the same table we used to sit at all afternoon, although they’ve moved it from the corner to beside the door which seems like anarchy. Otherwise it is the same lovely old Victorian wooden pub with the sunshine pouring through its enormous, etched windows.
We ate, we drank, we reminisced, we planned. And then we left.
We walk back down the road we used to live on toward the AirBnB that we have been staying in for the last ten days. I keep looking back. “Oh James, you used to live here.” One more look. One more.
I am secretly a bit proud of my ability to be in the moment, to be observant, to be attentive. So when I am trying to dial it up, trying to soak in as much as possible, it gets a bit overwhelming. And melodramatic. Like Oscar Schindler at the end of Schindler’s List. One more.
On the walk back, the heavens finally cleared for the first time in more than a week (longer?) and so we watched the solstice Moon on a secret little balcony, Nigella-lit with fairy lights, drinking a bottle of Veuve I had been given to me as a surprise by a friend visiting from Abu Dhabi the day before.
More reminiscences, a few tears. Occasionally we look up at the little planes dotting the night sky. Big day tomorrow.
Spirits and Ritual
I am sorry I told so few of you about the plan. But I had enchantments crawling all over it like bugs on a junkie and that’s just how it goes. Each move is more complicated than the last and besides, you shouldn’t be yammering your plans all over the internet anyway.
The last few months in particular have seen me running a sort of clandestine civic calendar, visiting power places and certain spirits, plugging in, unplugging and saying goodbye. I want to say more about the astonishing syncs and results that accompanied this individualised ritual perambulation but there are a couple of chapters in Pieces of Eight that give the necessary context first. So perhaps save that for a TARL question or something.
What I will say here is that ritual meets you half way. And then some. As you no doubt know, the space weather has been about as bumpy as this Indian Ocean turbulence is as I type these words right now. Just awful. Mercury and Mars retrograde was bad enough, but it has been these last few Mars retro weeks in Scorpio that have been the killer.
Everything takes one and a half times the work during Mars retro. I was rushing to complete Campfire’s Edge, Pieces of Eight, keep to the weekly podcast schedule, post to the blog and… you know… secretly move across the planet.
An example. My workspace went from extremely messy to filled with boxes which made it impossible so I had to move into living rooms and the kitchen to try recording. Then the boxes were gone and my landlord immediately brought his painter in who would either paint about three feet from my face in the upstairs office or about three feet from my downstairs bed when painting the back alley. And he would alternate multiple times a day. I was never alone to think and none of the other rooms even had furniture. Let me tell you, thirteen hours of working from bed causes pretty bad insomnia. I knew this. Couldn’t be helped.
So these were the conditions against which some really astounding alignments happened. For instance, My Mother the Psychonaut was walking the Camino while we were all moving. She completed it the instant we sold our beloved little car… a hard point for me because it was my first big purchase with my acquisition money and was my little module for many a trip to tomb and circle. As I took one last look at it in the grim little carpark out by Heathrow I pull out my phone to get a map for how to walk back to the tube. MMTP had messaged from Santiago di Compostela. Pilgrimages done.
My parents were planning to spend a week in London after completing the pilgrimage anyway, so they coincidentally showed up the day James was serving food for the Queen at her 90th –he got pulled into the ritual orbit himself, you see- and then the four of us had an AirBnB and a week to literally sight see. Interestingly, my parents were visiting Auckland the week we moved to London as well. Both times not planned that way. At least not by humans.
Speaking at the Occult Conference was my departure ritual, given it was two days before leaving and was held smack in the middle of where we first landed and very much stuck our landing. Here I was in the same place closing an Occult Conference, talking about one of my books.
That’s sort of what I mean about the ritual meeting you halfway. You do half of it and it arranges the conditions of reality to do the rest, or to make it really work. It was interesting over the last four weeks to have smaller and smaller groups of people we were saying goodbye to until it just got down to the two of us. And each farewell was peculiarly resonant. It felt like a well-written season finale or something.
We planned none of that. It all came through out of sequence through some combination of triggering the ghost in the departure machine by purchasing the tickets in early January and running some kind of alternate universe civic calendar.
My Heart, My Mother London
How can I possibly tell you I will miss this place and have that be enough? It feels like a death. It is a death. (Pro tip: If you ever write a post like this on a plane, wait until they dim the cabin lights because you will very definitely cry.)
There is a whole genre of ‘I’m leaving London/New York because when I was here it was cool and now it isn’t’. Shakespeare himself may have thought that. I won’t ever do that. That’s not the case here. I will instead share this music video instead because it is accidentally smarter than all those New Yorker or Guardian pieces. Please watch it. I promised her you would.
Not usually my music but the sentiment is more nuanced than most farewell songs.
I may not be able to tell you about all of London, but I have to tell you about Chiswick. If you have never been to London then Chiswick is the London of your dreams. The schoolchildren are absurdly polite and adorable in their little uniforms and hats being walked two by two to school. Cheese mongers come over from Normandy to sell cheese each weekend. There are rowers on the Thames you can watch as you drink in its grand old pubs, themselves filled with friendly faces. There are genteel Victorian houses. It has book fairs in its parks and the first of the season’s French wild strawberries or Wye Valley asparagus in among the bakeries and specialist butchers of its High Road.
Few people even seem to be able to locate it on a map, much less come visit. I am not kidding when I say it is a Rivendell of Englishness and for us it was our stolen season. We were so lucky to live there and leaving Chiswick in particular feels like being wrenched out of heaven and cast to earth.
The taxi from our AirBnB to Heathrow ended up being diverted by three different accidents or sets of unknown roadwork and ended up taking us almost back to our house on the way to the airport. Like I mean it went in between my house and my local pub. As we slowed in front of the pub to turn at the roundabout and drive past one of the parks filled with happy locals enjoying the sun that was the first time I wondered whether I could even do this.
The Lounge and the Plane
I was expecting to feel a bit more emosh in the lounge or upon take-off but airports are airports and you quickly just slip into the mindset that ‘this is just a long haul travel’. Which of course it is. But your thoughts are more about free booze and earplugs and antacid and a change of underwear and how charged your phone is.
Dubai is as shit as ever. One thing I definitely won’t miss is where Qantas breaks up its flight for refuelling these days. Cheap bastards.
I get really tired as the plane experiences hours and hours of turbulence over the Indian Oean as we hit the 18 hour or so mark. Can’t sleep when there’s turbulence. So I listen to audiobooks and take more painkillers.
MMTP is waiting at the gate, despite living two hours north and despite our arrival time of 5:10am. She didn’t need to, obviously, but I left Australia when I was 22… so I haven’t ever lived here as a proper adult. I think we both have interrupted calendars in that sense.
We race the peak hour traffic north, up the coast, past the lake and out across the harbour and the ocean. The winter sun makes them glow so you cannot look at them.
The car pulls up out front of my parents’ house. The smell of eucalyptus and cool morning. My laptop still remembers their wifi from Christmas so I open it up and hit publish on this post.
“Well, I’m back.”