It’s strange, going back to a place you’ve been before, but years later. The most extreme example I have of this is going back to Hong Kong after seventeen years. Coming back to live in the UK, after a nearly eight year hiatus, generates many of the same weird déjà vu and “I feel like an old man” emotions.
The last time I lived in the UK was between October 2000 and February of 2001. Things were very different in my life then. I had moved to London as part of the “international expansion” of my start-up company, Xlibris. I was living in, what I didn’t realize, was a huge two-bedroom flat in Chiswick, a pretty suburb to the west of London (Zone 2 on the tube).
This time around things are very different: I’m living in a beautiful, new, two-bedroom apartment… in Godalming. Now, I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about living in a place with “God” in its name, being an atheist and all, I thought it was a bit hypocritical. Godalming is about 38.2 miles southwest of London, it’s so typically quaint and English it’s almost a cliché. There are about twelve cute little stone churches, rolling hills, canals with longboats, a cute High Street which is largely pedestrianized and satisfies all middle-class shopping tastes.
Godalming is a rather rich town. In that way it reminds me of Princeton: lots of made-up older ladies in expensive looking clothes, lots of older men walking around in sport coats and button downs, even on the weekend, a preponderance of luxury cars in all the car-parks, manicured lawns. If there’s a downside to Godalming, other than the fact that its not London, it’s that it’s an old-person town. You have to be old to live here, because it’s too expensive for anyone young to afford. As a result, the nightlife leaves a lot to be desired and it’s a bit difficult to meet people.
Of course, the upside to Godalming is that Lynn lives here, in a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment, just a two-minute walk from the High street and right across the street from the Sainsbury’s and Waitrose (both food shopping). The apartment is new, the building is only a few years old and there’s only been one occupant before Lynn. The kitchen has a nice black granite top with a lot of space, it’s attached to a large living room which houses Lynn’s beautiful but oversized designer furniture. The rooms are nice-sized, there’s adequate closet space, the bathroom has a walk-in shower. Frankly, after my crap-ass apartment in New York, it’s heaven. And then there’s the cooking! 😉
But let’s get back to the weird feeling of being somewhere again after having spent a long time away. Probably the nearest feeling I can compare it to is coming back to Princeton after going away to college for four years. Yes, Princeton was a little different, but what was more different was me. I couldn’t enjoy the same things the same way, I wasn’t the same person. It’s true what they say, “you can never go home.”
I’m a very different person now from when I was here before, but I still love the UK. I love the whole experience. It helps in a way that I’m living in very different circumstances, because it gives me an entirely new experience which I can enjoy and not be constantly comparing to “what it was like last time”. But what I’ve discovered, is that I really really like living in the UK. It’s fun. It’s different, but still familiar enough to not feel like a complete alien. The people are ridiculously nice (especially compared to New Yorkers). Although people give the Brits a hard time for their cuisine, I’ve found that the general rule that European eating is better than American eating is still true.
I’m very happy to have this opportunity to be back in the UK, living in a wonderful home environment and working in one of my favorite cities in the world (even though I have to commute an hour and a half each way to get there). It makes me feel old to think about how long it’s been since the “last time”, but the feeling of being given a second chance, of getting to enjoy one of the great cities of the world a second time, is very fulfilling.
This is why I love being a global nomad. I think life’s more interesting when you change the scenery on a regular basis.