By Nina McGrath
LAST year, Blue Monday – the ‘most depressing day of the year’ – fell in the same week as Australia Day. It was a combination of which that caused me to wonder whether it is time to think about heading home.
Blue Monday comes about apparently from the grey weather, high debt, long time until next Christmas, freshness of failed New Year’s resolutions and low motivation. Even the sunniest optimist would be muted by the cold, grey London January, and in particular I noticed a fog of discontent permeating the Antipodean population.
A Kiwi friend rumbled her discontent on Facebook unleashing an avalanche of comments from her friends and family back home; ‘it’s warm, it’s sunny, come home, we’re here, we miss you’. One or two ex-Londoners piped up that they wished they were still here in the UK and current Londoners urged her to think of the travel opportunities but these comments were buried in the torrent of well wishers from back home.
Just two short days after Blue Monday it was Australia Day. I looked at Facebook over breakfast and it was alive with talk of sun, sea, sand, steak, salads, sheilas, beer, BBQs, blokes, cricket and a day off. I pulled on my green and gold for Australia Day in London and tried to think warm thoughts as I struggled into my winter coat, pulled on my hat and wound a scarf around my neck. I shoved a brolly into my handbag and couldn’t help but wonder ‘what am I doing here?’.
Unexpectedly, London responded as if I had spoken the thought aloud. I was amazed to see an almost empty tube pull into the station to take me to work. I wasn’t crammed into a hot and malodorous carriage and jolted back and forth, I was seated, and my adjacent commuter even gave me the armrest. I enjoyed the smooth, efficient ride to work and thought how I really hadn’t missed owning a car.
Australia fought back via my iPod, which shuffled to ‘I Still Call Australia Home’. It’s a stirring, patriotic song, bringing to mind images of children clad in white standing in dramatic international locations. However it doesn’t exactly call me home, in fact it encourages more travel, hence its use by Qantas to get more “bums on seats” of international flights. Wherever I live, I can still call Australia home, with the added bonus of not calling Australia home for taxation purposes.
Undeterred, my iPod shuffled to The Waifs’ ‘London Still’. The mournful Australian accent describing retail therapy at Camden market being totally ineffective against homesickness saddened me, but it was the line ‘I wonder what I’m missing, I think of songs I’ve never heard’ that really struck a chord with me on that Australia Day last year, as Triple J’s Hottest 100 blasted from radios across Oz. When people talk for years to come of the 2011 Brisbane floods, my version of the shared experience is based on online news sites, emails, Facebook photos and comments. I lost nothing and I wasn’t there to help with the clean-up. What I was missing was shared experiences; at a national level, the swearing in of the first female Prime Minister; at a state level, the flooding; and at an individual level, birthday parties, engagements, weddings, not to mention the minutiae of everyday life that is deemed not worthy of mentioning to a friend who is on the other side of the world.
For now I am trading travel opportunities for shared experiences, but maybe I can have a little of both. A trio of Australian wedding invitations arrived this week, and I’ve resolved to attend at least one of them, to share the experience in person and to catch up with all the family and friends from back home. I am elated at this thought until my iPod shuffles to The Ramones ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, which always reminds me just how long and horrible the kangaroo route flight home is. ‘Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go, I wanna be sedated’. Hey, least there’s always a sunny Australia Day to look forward to!