Home from Abroad

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Cultural & Political, Swedish Living

I’ve been back. Back to my old life for a weekend. Back to a fabulous costume party with an old and loved school friend. Back to a beautiful monied suburb of London where tastefully decorated shops ooze the abundantly quirky habits of our civilised society. A dressed up fish and chip shop juxtaposed with a colonial interior design shop. A highly sought after sanctuary spa next to an art gallery filled with landscape paintings of the River Thames. And lush cocktail bars crammed side by side with cheese delis and organic pharmacies. It’s been just over a year and a half since we left London for our tiny island with no shops and no cars. At the time, I feared I would miss the high life.

Before I went, I dug out the clothes I never wear anymore. My old uniform. It was fun to wear and even more fun to shock my Swedish neighbours who barely recognised me. Given that I only ever wear wellies and jeans nowadays, my faux fur coat, brocaded dress and high heeled boots were a stark contrast. I fit easily in the patterns of my old life. Picking up tailoring, going to the chemist, browsing jewellery stores, sipping coffee, amid the tinsel and sparkle of money. Catching up with my friends who lean forward and ask me in concerned tones,

‘Don’t you miss it?’

They are afraid that I have isolated myself. They are right, in a way. But it’s better for me.

I have amazing friends, and although I don’t see them as often anymore, I prefer to appreciate the time I am with them, than grieving the time I am not. I miss them. So I loved my weekend away, the first since my son was born 7 months ago. But an undercurrent of longing pervaded everything I did. My longing to be surrounded by nature instead of seeing it in paintings. My longing to participate in my joyful life with my family instead of watching self destruction enacted out by certain drunken party guests. For once it wasn’t me. My longing for my children which got so bad that buying my daughter a souvenir double decker bus made my eyes fill with tears as I imagined her delight (at its wheels going round and around …20 times a sodding day).

In my old life I was constantly distracted. My preoccupation with consumption, money to live and struggle to achieve in my career despite the recession. The battle to live in our beautiful city and sustain our way of life blocked my ability to be open. I was fighting. Always fighting, to survive. We had lots of money but where we lived meant that we were still poor. I love the utopia that I thought more money afforded me. My life was full of strategy, management and control. The need to get money. It was battle and yet I never even realised it. And because I so easily absorb my environment, I became all its contradictions, elegant constructs, hard work and brittle yet timeless beauty. Absorbing my environment is like my kryptonite. It means I’ve been able to survive but also it means I’ve lost myself on several occasions. And that means that I have to be careful what I surround myself with. What. Who. Where.

I’m not the woman whose possessions would fit into a backpack. And I still love money. It’s great to receive and a recognition for how I support others sort through their pain. But I’ve lost my patience with the pretension I once had, even if sometimes I like to affect it for shits and giggles. More often though, I drink wine I truly like instead of by name and price. I don’t pretend I can eat sushi with chopsticks so instead of doing a tense balancing act through the whole meal, I ask for a fork. I readily admit I still love mainstream pop, that I still don’t get jazz and still scream along to glam rock from my teenage years… when I put my cassettes on at 2am.

In my home, I have beautiful silver photo frames and cut glass vases. I have ornately carved wooden and leather chairs. I have hundreds of books full of words and wisdom. But none of the photo frames shine quite as brightly as the panoramic seascape that shimmers at me daily through the window. Nor do the vases sparkle like my daughter’s eyes when she lights up to see me. My wooden armchairs are beautiful, but seat only one. I never sit on them anymore because my lap and my arms hold my son who struggles to get as close as he possibly can to me by mouthing drool all over my neck. And none of my books have ever taught me anything like the immense depth of love I feel when I look at my boyfriend. The incredible father to my children.