She’d said to me the previous September that it wouldn't happen, sitting in her flat in Balham, after too many bottles of red wine, that yet again I’d never go. We’d been ensconced there in her living room, Trivial Pursuit half finished, CDs scattered around the little stereo, and the rain beating at the patio doors; setting the world to rights for hours until the conversation had come around inevitably, to my planned departure.
Kendra sat on the floor, dark, curly mane of hair swept up into a knot, knees pulled up under her chin, wine cupped in hands made even smaller by the fishbowl glass. She looked her usual elfin self, and with a glint in her eye, as if to say, "OK matey, you wanna go? Let’s see if you've thought this through!” she was set to play her own impish version of Devil’s advocate.
She questioned me on my last trip, trying to ascertain whether I really understood the magnitude of my decision, while doubting it would actually take place.
“How much of Sydney, did you see? Who did you say you knew there? Where will you live? What will you do for work? Isn't the sponsorship thing supposed to be really difficult? Why so far away? Won’t you miss your family?”
There was never any hiding from Kendra. Although technically she knew my answers were sound, I think she also knew there was more to my decision than I was prepared to admit. Finally, “Well here’s to sun, sand, sex and vacuous conversation!” she raised her glass. “Vacuous. Ha! Even though it sounds like they’re asking a question in every sentence..." I rolled my eyes. "So you notice they go up at the end of their sentences? Don’t you bloody dare come back talking like that!” she laughed, “but seriously, didn’t you find that nobody really questioned anything, no-one wanted to discuss anything? I mean really discuss anything? Like, no one talks about... stuff! No art, books, music, no passion, certainly no questions, not like us, we’re always questioning things, fighting over it, analysing every detail, but never there."
A sigh and then with a shrug, “You’ll never go…” She gestured round the room, her scope taking in things far outside the four walls, “you’d miss this too much. And besides,” the final twist of the knife, “you’re always saying you’re leaving…”
And to be fair, there had been plans before to justify her statement. Plans to move to Edinburgh, to Paris, to Cardiff, OK not all of them as extreme as this, but they were plans that had never seen me actually go.
And yet here I was; going. I said at the time that Kendra was the final impetus for me leaving, that she’d almost challenged me, dared me to do it. And so I found myself reaching for my passport, about to clear security, about to fly 12,000 miles to the other side of the world for what I believed was for good.
Which was odd, as I’d never planned to go to Australia. If anything Australia was, and I quote myself, “the last place on my list”. It wasn’t that I had anything against Australia. I’d known some lovely Australians, watched some great Australian TV, who of my generation hadn’t, and after all they spoke English, an important consideration when you only speak a smattering of French as a second language and are planning to spend the rest of your life in a foreign country.
It was just so far away.
And they had no history to speak of, if of course you’re prepared to ignore 60,000 years of indigenous history, but hey if the country’s Prime Minister was prepared to do so… So for a history nut, with close family ties to a family with no intention of leaving England, Australia did really seem a bit of a long shot.
But then I hadn’t factored in fate and of course, passion.
Passion always gets me into trouble. It’s often passion for a person, but it can be passion for a cause, for a belief, even on occasion for a sport. I’ve had arguments, affairs, fights, tears, interviews, death threats and of course major relocations all due to me indulging my passions.
Admittedly the death threat was from a frustrated neighbour - “I don’t care how much you love that high heeled, purple obsessed freak, if you don’t turn it down I’ll fucking kill ya!” For a sexually tortured and misunderstood adolescent who was convinced that somehow Prince ‘understood’ and was communicating this to him personally through an album recorded ten years earlier, it counted as a genuine intention to end my life. I’d been known to wade into a punch-up with a group of cigarette smoking lads on a Tube train for my ‘passionate defence’ of a total stranger and her right to smoke free transport; throw condoms into Council chambers and appear on television and radio in my ‘passionate dedication to equality’; and sleep in a telephone box in six inches of snow down to my ‘passion for adventure’.
This time however, the passion lay in a belief. The belief that there was someone out there destined for me and that if I just put myself out there, I'd find him. This passionate belief was the cause of this particular escapade. Kendra had seen this, hiding behind the thin screen of my reasoned responses.
It had all started eighteen months before my departure, when I met Tom.