I haven’t written much through the course of 2011 as it has been a year of massive change. As I type out these words, I’m living in a different home than I was a little over a week ago. On Monday, I’ll be starting a new career with a new company. And all this is taking place 300 miles (a massive distance in British terms) from where I began the year: I’ve traded the chardonnay coast of Southern England for the more rugged beauty of Yorkshire. Last Monday, I returned a rental car in Leeds and boarded a train home: I passed scenes which hinted at both post-industrial decline and nascent regeneration (some of it funded by the European Union). It was rather like seeing flowers emerge from between the cracked concrete of a demolished factory.
But I like it here. I was taken aback when I went for a walk the other day and strangers were bidding me “Good morning”. My new local GP’s office went out of their way to be helpful in registering me, even though the proof of my new address was slight. My local city council provided recycle bins without the hint of a moan or a demand for a fee. Such courtesy isn’t abundant in the South from either people or institutions. People here tend to be more patient as well; in the process of moving up here, there was a fraught late-night drive which ended at 2:30 AM at a Travelodge along the M1 motorway. The man at the desk had waited for us; the room I’d reserved was still there for me along with the extra towels, tea and coffee that my girlfriend had requested.
This area is more ethnically diverse. A recent ride in a taxi was considerably enlivened by the fact that the driver had on Vibe FM, an exclusively Asian music station. The bouncy anthems were punctuated with advertisements for solicitors and property companies which were read out in a combination of English and Urdu with such passion that it was easy to forget what they were selling. “Yes,” I thought, “this is a much different place.”
There have been changes in other respects. If I had been told a year ago that I would be moving far away from the South Downs, I wouldn’t have been much surprised. Nor would I have been shocked or daunted by the prospect of having to begin again in the information technology industry; academia is convulsed by change at the moment and the tremors have yet to subside. I would have been delighted to hear that I would find a new partner whose personality matches my own far better than anyone I’d previously met and with whom love became something warm rather than something tense. However, I would have been dumbfounded if I had been told that I’d co-own two cats. First, I have been allergic to cats: however Piriton and time took care of the problem. Second, I would have been daunted by the prospect of cat care. It’s certainly true that it can be challenging. For example, on the long road trip to Yorkshire, our cat Amelia took fright at being confined in the car: it meant that an emergency stop off at a veterinarian for cat “happy pills” was required. A rescue cat that my girlfriend and I adopted, and subsequently named Sarah Jane, has had her share of troubles: this has meant anxious visits to the vet, careful monitoring of diets, and acquiring special food. Nevertheless, life is so much richer for having them and I’m grateful that my girlfriend has opened my eyes to this. I often awake in the mornings to find Sarah Jane awaiting me, purring loudly. She wants food, of course, but the way a request is couched can diminish the burden of being asked.
There have been political changes as well. At my previous location, I was very briefly involved with my local Green Party: however, when I attended meetings, I felt like I’d turned up at the wrong address. This sense of displacement didn’t fade: my thoughts on the world and what’s wrong with it remain the same, it’s just a question of finding a suitable method by which I can express myself. I am taking a breather at the moment, or perhaps just taking a deep breath before we plunge into yet another American presidential election year. If the Republicans pick someone as tepid and inoffensive as Romney to be their nominee, they may cruise back into power next year. If they pick someone more lively and erratic, such as Perry or Cain, then President Obama is likely to remain where he is, albeit it will be a bumpy ride.
As for British politics, I think the coalition is going to hold; while my heart was with the students who marked the year’s anniversary of the Demolition protests with yet another demonstration against tuition fees, I have to say that the ship has sailed. No likely political configuration is going to reverse the changes. Indeed, Labour hasn’t even yet found its feet; the idea of Ed Miliband as the successor to giants like Attlee and Wilson is laughable. Nor is he credible as an opponent to fiscal retrenchment. The “cuts consensus” has only been helped by the turmoil in the Euro countries: those nations which eschewed austerity appear to have been punished by the markets and Angela Merkel. Meanwhile, the illogic of the markets has meant that Britain’s bond yields have been pushed down to just above 2 percent, which has helped the government’s balance sheet.
It makes one’s head spin. At the end of the day, there are home comforts. As I type this, the sun is setting in the Yorkshire sky, the clouds are flame orange which contrasts with the deepening cornflower blue. Sarah Jane is out in the hall, curled up and asleep at the top of the steps. My girlfriend, her golden hair freshly cut and her blue eyes looking at me expectantly, and I will likely select a takeaway dinner shortly from the many fine Indian restaurants in the area. Politics may not have improved over 2011, but the biggest change is having reached the end of my rainbow and found a life more fulfilling, a life more interesting, a life more loved.