I’m reading Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer. It’s a good title, I think, Here I Am. I find myself wanting to say it many times every day. There’s a couple at the centre of the novel who collect objects that are bigger on the inside than on the outside; mirror-finish candlesticks that reflect the whole room, that sort of thing. On the Heathrow Express this morning it occurred to me that London, which is huge, is also bigger on the inside than on the outside. London, where I’ve lived all my life, contains everything, or, at least, everything that I want.
You may wonder, then, why I’m leaving. I wonder that, too. The answer I’ve been giving, including to ElAl security, is that I think I’ll be happy in Tel Aviv. Maybe I will. A succession of stuff led to my decision; I was given notice to move from my flat the day before I had a first meeting with Israeli immigration, estrangement from my family, you know, stuff. I’m writing this in Terminal Four, at Heathrow, waiting to board my flight. Everything I own, my stuff, is in a container in the Haifa docks, waiting for me to find a place to put it.
The month between my leaving do and my actual leaving has been, to say the least, a difficult one. The party was better than I ever could have wished for, one of the best evenings of my life. Everyone there was nice and funny and clever. Since then, moving six times, sleeping in six different beds, saying goodbye far too often, has been miserable. Once I was given a date to fly to Israel I drove to France to stay in Camilla’s beautiful house in the Charente. An hour out of Calais, at 130kpm, I lost concentration for a second and crashed into a lorry. No one was hurt, but my car was a write off.
It has felt like I’ve been set a series of tests. The hardest, though, has been saying goodbye; to places, to people, oh, to every last thing. Yesterday, my last full day in London, was the most difficult day of all. A barber shaved me. It cost £12 and wasn’t worth it. He used, I’d swear, a stanley knife. I emerged looking like George Michael, if George Michael was a Mexican porn baron. I went to have my haircut, but the man, my friend, who has cut my hair for nearly twenty years, hadn’t seen my appointment and left before I arrived. I’m having my photo taken later for my ID card and I will look like a porn baron with scabs on his chin and Philip Green hair.
I also saw my mother yesterday, likely for the last time ever. She was, too predictably, awful. Just terrible. A month of goodbyes has been quite enough. I’ve cried too often. There has been too much emotion. I’m not going to say it again. I’ve done with it. I’ve decided to say hello, instead.
After not having my haircut I went into Ottolenghi, in Islington, a place I’ve been, conservatively, a million times. The people who work there hugged me, both literally and metaphorically. They chatted to me and smiled sweetly and brought me nice things. When I left they stood in a line, waved, and called Hello. My month was turning.
Everyone has been amazing. Friends and strangers, Amanda and her mother, Naomi. Andrea, Richard, Jenni. Everyone I don’t share a surname with, that is. And now I’m really starting to say hello. To my new home, to the friends I’m going to make. To new experiences. I’m not going to drown, I’m going to wave, vigorously.
I saw Camilla in the evening of my last full day in London. We have eaten together, conservatively, a million times. You may think it fitting that we met at Bleeding Heart Yard, just around the corner from where my father worked for over fifty years, to share our bleeding hearts. We wanted to talk about everything, all the stuff we won’t be able to talk about, either side of a table, when I’ve moved. My stuff and her stuff. We laughed a lot. She suggested I name her as my next-of-kin on forms. Hearts can also be bigger on the inside than the outside.
Here I am and I have only one thing left to say and that is Hello.