On April 26 I celebrate an anniversary. Not a wedding anniversary, but the anniversary of my immigration to England. It will be 16 years since I packed up my life and possessions, what were left of them, to move to a Brave New World for me. I had never done anything quite so gutsy before or since.
My husband and I had a whirlwind courtship necessitated by long distance and the urgency to begin a new life together. He didn't want to move to the U.S., saying his career prospects were better in the UK. I hastily (perhaps too hastily) agreed to make the big move instead. Why? I had a solid career myself that was going places. But it was going places I wasn't sure I wanted to go to.
I had spent 11 years in journalism, worked at three newspapers in 9 different jobs. I understood the workings of newspaper journalism quite well, perhaps too well. In those 11 years I'd watched corporate thinking take over the management of newsrooms. All the news that's fit to print? Try all the news that can be crammed into the paltry amount of space left between the ads. News that was not event-led, but advertiser-led. Managers (any sort of editor) were forced to work longer and longer hours as the corporate honchos tried to cut costs by not paying the reporters overtime or letting reporters go. We editors were on a fixed salary and not eligible for overtime. In the discontented winter before I left, we were forced to take furlough days, days in which we worked but weren't paid at all.
Though the offer of becoming a publisher was dangled in my face, I decided that for once my personal life would take precedence over my professional life. I wanted to marry this Englishman, have his babies, cook his dinner. I didn't want irate readers phoning me at home over the weekend, incensed over a two-inch police report in which their (over 21) son was named. I didn't want to argue with a woman over whether it was THE Ukraine or just Ukraine. I didn't want a former colleague calling me up in tears because one of my reporters had found out he was having an affair and his wife had tried to commit suicide and please, please don't print this (of course I didn't print it and not because he was a former colleague). I didn't want to fire an incompetent reporter on my last day at work just so my successor could start with a clean slate (though that was the last thing I had to do on my last day at work).
I decided to give my employers six weeks' notice. That should give them plenty of time to find someone to take my place, I reasoned. It took them about six minutes. I should have just given them two weeks, and then the ambitious assistant city editor who took my place would have had less time to make me feel like a lame duck. But I was a responsible employee.
I needed six weeks to clear out my possessions anyway. I ran several classified ads and sold everything but my clothes and some family heirlooms. In retrospect I wish I hadn't sold quite so much, but my then-fiance assured me there was no room in his house for my bedroom furniture or my dining table and chairs. All electrical goods had to go anyway. I helped furnish one woman's holiday home. A Swiss engineer bought all my bedroom furniture, including my pillows and unwashed bedlinen (he wanted it that night).
I didn't get rid of my cats, Bubby and Otis. As the apartment became emptier, their hiding spaces became more creative. A basket. The radiator. The very top shelf in the closet. They must have sensed that their lives were about to change dramatically too, and not necessarily for the better.
There is a lot of red tape involved in moving to the UK. I made an appointment for an interview with someone at the British Consulate in NYC. He wanted to know why I wanted to move to the UK, how I met my husband-to-be, what HTB did for a living, would he be able to support me (for I wouldn't be allowed to work till after we were married and my husband had satisfied a Home Office employee that he was happy with the marriage). He told me I needed to apply for leave to remain as a fiancee. It was vital that I get this right because otherwise they would have the right to deport me if I applied in some other capacity. The form I had to fill in was peppered with questions about how I would be supported before the marriage because I would not be eligible for state benefits. Many of these questions seemed to be written for people from, say, Pakistan or Bangladesh. Hubby-to-be needed to show his passport. He sent me a copy. That wasn't good enough. He had to appear in person with the passport. So over he came a month before the Big Move. We took this opportunity to visit my family and introduce him. Fortunately, he passed muster with them (though I'd have married him anyway)
Then we needed to figure out what to do with the cats. The UK has strict laws about bringing animals in from other countries (though they've relaxed them somewhat since then for animals from EU countries). They have to go into quarantine for six months at government-approved catteries and kennels. HTB had the job of finding a decent one in our area. He found one on the other side of Liverpool, near Aintree. It would cost a fair amount of money. So would flying them over. On one of the many forms we had to fill in, we had to say what the value of the cats were. Well, they were rescue cats, so in money terms not a lot. But in emotional terms, quite a lot.
We chose to fly over with British Airways because they had a good reputation for dealing with animals. HTB had asked BA in Manchester how the cats would be put on the plane and was told we just needed to show up with them when we checked in. I thought I'd better ask the BA people in New York. It was far more complicated than that. They had to have a certain size box with a water container. We had to go to a completely different part of the airport and we had to give BA a lot of notice. Thank god I asked. We dropped them off on the day we were flying out before unloading our baggage and returning the rental car. I felt horrible about leaving the cats and tried not to think about it. As we sat in the departure lounge, our names were called. We went up to the desk, thinking it was about the cats. No, we'd just been upgraded to first class.
I settled into my seat, sipped champagne, and stared out the window searching for my kitties. I saw them being loaded on. I watched the tough New Yorker who had driven them there poke his finger into the box, obviously trying to soothe them. I turned away, tears in my eyes. They'll be all right, I told myself. The flight attendant came along and took our food order and poured more champagne. I was excited! I was sad! I was looking forward to a new life.
As I shuffled through the immigration queue at Manchester Airport, I realised that this was my Ellis Island. If only the short, grey-haired, humourless official had been more welcoming.
My next post may not be for a while as I'm leaving Friday for the skiing week. When I return I will write more about this.