I have just been assuming that you all know we moved to Brussels because of me.
You would know, because I always assume you live in a corner of my head and therefore know everything about me. This gives you a tiny glimpse into the CFO's world, where he is expected, magically, by osmosis, to know what I am thinking at all times. If I say "not Tuesday", suddenly, one Saturday morning, him must know that I am referring to a conversation about when the plumber can come that we had last Tuesday night. I imagine psychiatrists have a name for this syndrome, where I expect the outside world to keep apace with my convoluted internal dialogues. Maybe, "fucking crazy".
Where were we? Oh yes. So. In a great act of empathy, I thought I should actually tell you that. We moved to Brussels in the summer of 2006 because I accepted a job here. I was just coming out of my Mad Period of sick leave from work, wandering round London, drinking too much coffee, going to group therapy and buying loads of thin clothes (that no longer fit and are being gradually sent across to Red Shoes), when one of the flesh eating zombies at my old job mentioned the position. I seized on it instantly, even though we had only been back from Paris for just over a year and we had just shelled out - in flagrant violation of my principles - a stupid amount of money to send Lashes to some basement private school in the City for posh trogolodytes with a nonsensical uniform the prospect of which was causing me physical pain. Shorts! A cap! Urgh.
I don't know why it seemed so appealing. We were living somewhere pretty wonderful (Spital Square, one of the only corners of the City of London that is actually lively at the weekend, and an easy walk to work for both of us). We both had good (boring) jobs, and despite my period of frothing craziness, my employers seemed committed to keeping me, which was nice of them. We had friends. But moving to Brussels, even so suddenly, seeming like the absolute right thing to do, for some reason. I mean, not having to send my children to a private school full of bankers' kids was obviously part of it. We both liked the idea of being somewhere that was neutral, where neither of us had to shoulder the administrative burden as a 'native', and take the blame for everything that went wrong. We wanted our kids to actually speak some French (ha - hollow laughter, now I want them to speak some damn English). But more than that, I do love Brussels. I first worked here when I was twenty, so it's the place I associate with some of my first 'grown up' experiences and freedoms. I love the architecture, and the bars, and hearing eight different languages in the queue for a sandwich. I love that we can afford a house I adore here, with a small garden. I love that this place is so laidback compared with Paris, so laidback, indeed, that it's like comparing marshmallow with cactus.
So, I got the job, mainly because they felt sorry for me, I think. The CFO gritted his teeth and agreed that it was a good idea to move before the children started school. I ran backwards and forwards on the Eurostar for 3 months schizophrenically trying to do two jobs at once AND buy a house, and eventually, we moved (third international move in as many years, not recommended). I promised the Belgian state that I would keep the CFO out of trouble and pay repatriation fees if I couldn't. He persuaded his employers to let him set up a Belgian operation (he is very persuasive). Happy end.
But now? Who is homesick? I am. I am so damn homesick ALL THE TIME. Not for England. England can sod off. For London. Oh, London. I miss you so. It's true love, because I miss the bad bits too. I miss the smell of you and the rudeness of the number 52 bus drivers who drive past the stop without stopping and cackle at you and old copies of Metro and horrible cups of Benjys tea lying around in the Tube and the crazy tapdancing man outside Pantheon Marks and Spencers. I miss the Barbican tunnel, which is disgusting, and the Old Street roundabout which is amazingly ugly. I even miss Liverpool Street Tesco on a Saturday night full of crazy drunks. I almost miss Camden Council's parking permit office. We have been here before, haven't we? Sorry. But I have to get out my Oyster card and stare at it with mute longing from time to time. When people (or 'lucky bastards' as they are in my head) make an offhand remark about somewhere they are going, or something they are doing in London, I make them give me every detail with near pornographic thoroughness, from what they will see and eat and do, to how they are getting there, to which streets they will walk down. I am craving London*. I want to be there so much it hurts at the moment.
I still love Brussels, don't get me wrong. I love the surreal, blue brain, orange rabbit element. I love the green spaces with creatures to poke and amazing, curlicued houses; the ice creams for breakfast and coffee at Au Vieux St Martin. I love the fact that the man in the menders was so kind today when I told him I had lost the ticket for my trousers, and that I had brought them in in December. I am getting used to seeing people I know everywhere, and the local policeman knowing exactly what our garden looks like (it's still weird though). It's a gentle, forgiving place to live in the main and I like that.
I think I am a bigamist. Bugger.
(*Things I am not craving, however: strident posh parents in organic farmers' markets, the Daily Mail, Boris Johnson's fat oafish face, the evil hags at Rigby & Peller, Greggs pasties, the Scientologists on Tottenham Court Road, the Disney Store, Leicester Square on a Friday night, trying to see popular exhibitions, the Rainforest Cafe, or the Science Museum on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Other suggestions welcomed).