My patent classification system is failing me today. What am I? 50% London and 50% Belgium? 83% partially metabolised alcohol? 100% confused?
Confused, certainly. In the last 2 days I've been from Brussels to Marylebone, to Notting Hill, to Covent Garden, to Beckenham, to Clerkenwell, to Bloomsbury, to Islington, to Shepherd's Bush, back to Notting Hill and finally back to Brussels. One pocket of my handbag has tram tickets, euros, crappy Belgian phone and house keys with a cheesy photo of the Fingers and me at Mini-Europe (I have a hunchback, he's glowing with weird delight); the other has a selection of Oyster cards with no credit, a crumpled fiver, a crappy UK phone and Papa Waffle's key (with, appropriately enough, a bottle opener on it). There's even a third pocket with a Paris A-Z and a carnet of metro tickets in it. I say 'sorry' and 'merci' to the wrong people, look the wrong way when crossing the road and engage in inappropriate conversation in shops. I am lost.
Tired, hungover, wearing stupid shoes, full of substandard cream tea (with above standard company though, I should say, in the form of brain twin M) and twenty minutes late, I was hunting for a taxi somewhere between Russell Square and Holborn yesterday, when my phone rang. Fingers.
"Maman, je veux que tu rentres".
(Mum I want you to come home)
Stab to the heart. He's not usually like this at all. I've been away for far longer stretches and he's barely noticed. I tuck my phone between my ear and my shoulder and hail a taxi who rolls his eyes at me for stopping him in on a zig zag line thing. He does that grumpy 'get the fuck in, hurry up and don't talk' gesture.
"I'll be back really soon, sweetheart. Not when you wake up tomorrow, but I'll be back to pick you up à la sortie de l'école".
"Are you sad, honey, est-ce que tu es triste? Est-ce qu'un cadeau ça t'aiderai?"
(Would a present help?)
"Essex Road" I tell the cabbie who looks daggers at me, quite rightly, for being a pretentious arse.
"Well, I'll be back really really soon. And I'll bring you a little surprise".
He seems mollified and wanders off. Next I have an absurdist conversation with Fingers where he puts on a deep voice and pretends to be the CFO.
"Bonsoir papa. Est-ce que les enfants sont sages?"
(Hello papa. Have the children been good?)
"Tu sais que tu peux les fouetter?
(You know you can whip them?)
And eventually we hang up and I go and meet people and drink and talk, endlessly, with the mad, gibbering relief of one who doesn't get to speak their own language, or get out much. But it's a wrench. I come to London as often as I can and I play at being free and irresponsible; I see my friends and drink too much and wander in a nostalgic bubble around my old haunts. It's an idiotic, but fun fantasy. I daydream about moving back eventually even though I probably couldn't afford to live in a discarded Ikea cardboard box anymore, let alone anywhere like Papa Waffle's amazing zen palace, which just encourages my insane fantasies. And then something like this bursts my bubble, reminding me how very much more complex it all is and I feel as if essential parts of me are being stretched all the way from St Pancras to Bruxelles Midi. I am leaving more than just the odd adapter plug, t-shirt, or bottle of cleanser behind when I leave London, but I'm going back to, well, something as essential as my lungs. What to do? Enjoy, regret, plot, get wistful, get homesick, accumulate Frequent Traveller points?
So I got back this afternoon, hopped on my tram in the underground station that smells so particularly like Brussels (waffle and pizza and some very specific kind of dust) and so unlike London (burnt rubber and Lynx) and threw a ball for the weepette for ten minutes before it started pouring. Then I collected the boys from school and Fingers hugged me so hard I fell over and scraped both my knees and then he got sad and anxious he had hurt me, so we bought Kinder Eggs and I made a shitty job of putting the toy together, watched bad cartoons and had pizza for dinner. The weepette has graciously accorded me about a square inch of comfy chair to perch on to write this, and the CFO has made me a cup of tea. I'm home. Sort of.