“… I have a dream to follow my heart to the sea, to write, to teach, to love, to cycle, to swim, to jump off rocks into the water, to stretch on the sand, to have endless visits from my lovely London friends (please), to have more spare time, a slower pace of life, more space to create and to make my heart and spirit sing – in a small or a big way – every day” – Ode to London, I love you … but I’m leaving, October 10, 2013
I’m here. It’s happened. That dream has come true.
Two weeks ago, I packed up my lovely little London flat, put half of it in a storage cupboard and squashed the other half into a small car and headed south to the sea.
Since then, I’ve swum off fabulous sandy beaches – once at night under a full moon – I’ve jumped off rocks into the water and I’ve stretched out on the sand in the sunshine. I’ve spent lots of lovely time with my boyfriend, I’ve worked on my book most week days and I’ve experienced a slower pace of life. I have some teaching work at Bournemouth University lined up for the Autumn and four of my London friends will be visiting here over the next few weeks.
It’s a year and ten months since I wrote on this blog that I was leaving London, so the move took a while, but as I write this today, I’m a little bit amazed that my dream to live by the sea has come true. For a long time, I think I assumed everybody else’s dreams came true, but not mine. But now I know my dreams can come true too. And I understand the importance of having dreams, of writing them down, of drawing pictures of them (which I did – I have a number of pieces of A4 paper with colourful drawings of me living by the sea) and of taking small steps towards them, little actions to make them happen.
It would be easy to dismiss or ignore my efforts in making this particular dream come true. I’m good at that – good at not celebrating my successes. But I had the courage to dream, to write that blog post, draw those pictures, to put the ad on Gumtree to rent my flat out for six months and, when a good tenant came along, to say ‘Yes’. I drew up the contract, sorted all my flat safety certificates, had the cracked windows fixed and did all the other grown-up admin – reams of it – that comes with being a landlady. I arranged a room to rent down here so my boyfriend and I could have a little bit of space apart from each other and I managed to pack up 13 years of London life and all the mementos from years before into large plastic boxes and, with the aid of my very helpful and patient boyfriend, squeeze a lot of it into his car. I knocked on the door of Bournemouth University’s Media School, a number of times, and found some teaching work, and, once here, I got myself out of the house in the early morning and at night under the full moon to go for a swim in the sea.
Sea swimming makes my heart and spirit sing. When I plunge my head into the cold water, something lifts inside me. I skip on the inside. I smile. When I lie on my back, looking up at the sky, or when I explore a little bit of the world under the sea, everything is put into perspective. No matter what day I’ve had or what worries I’m carrying, everything seems brighter. And the other day, when the wind was up and the waves were bigger, I went body boarding, which was such a giggle. My inner kid loved that. She felt truly alive.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. Packing up my flat, separating the things I wanted from those I didn’t (I seemed to want and need everything with me – it was painful to let go of anything from my past), journeying through 13 years of notebooks, diaries and photographs as well as memories from my childhood, my university life or the days I spent living abroad, was hard and brought up lots of feelings.
Giving up my safe haven has been hard too – that space where I can be completely alone, where I can shut the door, pull down the blinds, eat whatever I want and watch whatever I fancy on TV; the first home I’ve ever owned and the first place I’ve invested in and made my own. It’s been tough to leave my cosy flat and divide myself between a rented room in a friend’s house and my boyfriend’s place – neither of which is my own; I can’t do exactly as I please or shut myself away from the world anymore.
And although living at the beach is a dream come true, there have been times in the past few weeks when I’ve felt all at sea.
I’ve felt grief, grief for all the things I’ve left behind. I’m missing my London friends a lot and all the networks I became part of over those 13 years – church, my recovery meetings and the huge number of relationships that sprang from those. I’m missing the Southbank, the Thames and St Paul’s, Clissold Park, the fab grocer’s on Newington Green and the buzz of Upper Street at all hours. Sometimes I cycle, scooter or drive around my new home town and ask myself, “Where has everyone gone? Where are all the people?” And I see my London friends’ photos on Facebook, of them out enjoying London things, and feel a pang.
But such a big change was bound to throw up grief. Choosing to come to the beach meant choosing to leave London. Every choice involves loss, leaving something behind, and if we’ve experienced a lot of loss in our lives, loss is going to be especially hard. I’m also still in transition mode, finding my feet, exploring friendships, groups, activities and meetings, discovering a routine that works, working out how to get around.
It’s early days.
The good thing about this particular decision, though, is that I’ve never really had second thoughts – and for someone who finds decisions so hard, that’s amazing. I’ve felt grief and sadness and experienced loss, but I don’t want to change anything. All I want to do right now is to get more involved here, make more friends, find networks that feed my soul and places that bring me peace and joy.
So far, I’m pleased I’ve found a lovely working space for a few days a week (The Old School House in Boscombe) and my Vespa is back on the road, so I can work in my lovely shared office – or at home – and then nip for a swim at lunchtime or in the early afternoon. Going forward, I’d like to buy a new (or second-hand) mountain bike, a wetsuit and maybe a kayak or a paddleboard (all of which involves finding more work and increasing what I earn, so that’s my next big challenge); and I’d like to make sure I swim in the sea as many days as I can, with or without sunshine.
Moving hasn’t been easy but it’s definitely been the right thing for me right now. It’s a fresh start, a move towards a lifestyle that I think suits me better than the big city. It also gives my relationship the space to grow, which is a good thing.
And if I ever do have doubts, I can jump on a train to London, which is only two hours away, and spend time soaking up the buzz and seeing my lovely friends. Or you can come and visit me, we can get up early, scoot to the beach, dip ourselves in cold water … and smile.
Let’s keep dreaming. Dreams, I reckon, are good for the soul.