This is an edited version of the first article published after I retired and returned to Britain after 35 years away. It gives a sense of how I felt at the time…
I’m no longer an expat; I’m a repat. I have returned to Blighty, from whence I done came from originally. I spent the first few weeks in London in a hideous mental fog. What was I doing here? Why couldn’t I go back to my spider-hole in Bermuda? Where could I buy the food and goods I was familiar with? And why was it so unbelievably cold?
And then I discovered thermal underwear.
Let me tell you a little about thermal underwear. If everyone believed in its powers as I do, there would be no war. Mankind would turn its attention to making even better thermal underwear. I have a dozen sets, good at varying temperatures down to minus 100, which is roughly what it was for the first several months I was back.
On its own, thermal underwear will keep you from dying, but only for a few hours. Indoors, an accessory is required: a portable oil-fired radiator. Chain yourself to it.
The exact number of people I know by name here, and vice versa, is three. A Gavin lives downstairs and a Mac runs the shop where I buy my newspaper. Of the other eight million people in London, I know only one dude, a few miles away, and he sleeps 24 hours a day. Unlike my time at work, I am so anonymous, so wraith-like, wrapped in everyone’s indifference, that I could rob a bank, let everyone and the cameras see my face, and then calmly walk out into the street. People would ask: “Who was that unmasked stranger?”
Plus, and this is ugly: in Britain, I am old. I was old overseas, too, but never felt it. Here, I am one of several million codgers, useless, washed-up people who drift around like zombies. I carry as proof of my senility a “Freedom Pass”, good for free transpo on the bus and the underground train. “It’s only fair, dear,” the woman at the Post Office shouted at me when I went to register for the Pass. “Old geezers like you, you’ve given everything you have.”
I had something left to give her, but they had her behind glass, so I took the Pass anyway. Never look a bus pass in the mouth.
I should mention some of the other benefits of living in London. I live almost bang in the centre of town, but it’s quieter than the grave. Great food of all varieties can be delivered to my front door in all weather conditions. Activities are available 24/7, I’m told. I haven’t been out at night for 35 years.
My family is here. Groceries are laughably cheap. I haven’t yet been able to spend 30 bucks on a week’s groceries, including visits to Selfridge’s Food Hall. Lord’s, the sacred home of cricket, is two blocks away. I plan to visit Lord’s. I might even join, just so I can wear the tie if I get arrested and have to appear before a judge. That will happen sooner or later, no doubt. It always does.
My working life is over. The fun starts here.
Roger and out.