One of my best friends gets married this week. Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the wedding. While writing a letter to be read out at the wedding reception, I am transported back to all the ridiculous memories of our years together at school, university and later in London. And the one consistent thread throughout all those memories, and in fact all my travel experiences, is laughter; that deep rumbling laughter or that infectious giggle, the laughter that comes from a place of sadness and the high, cold cackle of desperation.
My gap year(s) in England (well, mostly London) provided endless opportunities for all kinds of laughter. I arrived at Heathrow Airport in 2009 amid the great recession, a bundle of nerves, excitement and great aspirations. The nerves and excitement remained whilst the aspirations fled rather speedily as I began to realise that there was hardly any work for an inexperienced university graduate with only a one-year working visa.
The jobs that ensued were both wonderful and awful. They ranged from working at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships for two months (dream come true) to taking calls from worried human beings about their Swine Flu Symptoms on the weekends (a definite low point). There was also my stint as a receptionist at a probation centre in one of London’s “finest” suburbs where the predominant parolees were sex offenders (I sat behind a cage) and working as a teaching assistant for behaviourally-challenged boys at a state school (this work experience has helped me more than any other). And I will never forget my six months of caring for the elderly in south-west England; I stayed in some magnificent country houses, on the Canterbury Cathedral grounds and walked a very old dog across the freeway to Gatwick airport daily for two weeks.
In between, there were many days spent on the brown couch searching for jobs, endless cups of cheap English tea and stay-in Saturday X-Factor nights. Many of my housemates and I were in the same boat and the giggles were contagious. It must be said that I managed to experience moments of great class and sophistication in my time in England and I was fortunate to travel some of Europe and the UK. I was greatly fortunate in and amongst the ‘brown couch days’, as my friend and I call them. The stories I relate to my family members and friends from this time still bring me to tears of laughter. I’m not sure about anyone else.
When I look back on my years of living abroad, it is with absolute positivity. A smile spreads across my face and I remember the good and bad times with humour because in hindsight, even the difficult moments are terribly, even hilariously, funny. Milton Berle, the American comedian and actor, once said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” And I couldn’t agree with him more.