It’s strange how one little thing can have a knock-on effect and send your life snowballing. My one little thing was knee pain.
I’ve been having problems with my knees since I was about 35. According to the experts – who offered the only logical explanation for their deterioration – being knock-kneed and pigeon-toed as a child with a love of ballet and gymnastics may have been the start... inwardly turning toes being forced into duck-footed turn-outs for 12 years was probably not ideal. Add to that the years of desperately trying to correct the way I walked (teasing was merciless), endless twisty-turny sports like hockey, trampolining, tennis and skiing, plus early onset arthritis, and you have massive wear and tear, displaced kneecaps and no cartilage. I sometimes wonder if I had been forewarned as a teenager – that my knees would be buggered by the time I was 45 if I carried on doing what I was doing – would I have done anything different?? Well, I’m not one to be told what I can and can’t do (family and friends would concur strongly with this!) so I’m not sure it would have made a difference. I suppose everyone does things that might be risky or lead to injury down the line... but would you change your life and lead a safe and sedate one because of what may possibly happen years later? I doubt it.
I do, however, remain incredibly humble and grateful for all the treatment I have had over the years and have never ever taken that for granted. I’ve had several surgeries over the past 12 years but the ‘big one’ was always imminent. They wanted to catch my knees at the perfect time, when the tissue was still healthy, the lower part of my knee could still be used, I was young enough and strong enough for the physio, but when my pain was no longer tolerable. So with the date set for November 4th 2015, I knew I had to put my life in order. I had 6 months to do it.
I was told that I would need to take 2 months off work, post surgery. Then I would be on crutches for up to 6 months and at 12 months I would hopefully be walking and doing everything else normally, well as normally as you can with a titanium lower thigh and a plastic knee. My original idea was to work my bum off until surgery, save enough money to be off work for 2 months and still be able to pay my mortgage and bills. I would stay in my London flat surrounded by flowers, welcoming visitors from my luxuriously adorned bed as I lay in state in a pink silk kimono. I would have my groceries and everything else I needed delivered, and I needn’t leave the flat. My surgeon smiled as I told him my plan and said one word. “No!”. Under no circumstances would he let me return to my third floor London flat alone. I needed to be somewhere that preferably had no stairs and I needed someone to look after me for at least the first 8 weeks. I would have to come up with a plan B.
Plan B was to stay with my mother and father down in Hampshire. I had had a trial run of staying with them post-surgery after a knee operation in September last year, when I was with them for a month. You may remember the blog!! House rules and my parents quirks were quite something, so the thought of doing the same thing for 2 months, and being totally incapacitated this time, filled me with a wee bit of anxiety. Would I go stir crazy in the quiet of the countryside? Would I get used to the volume of their TV, the numerous night-time loo excursions, the early evening meals, the obsession with Australian Masterchef and the unbelievable cheeriness in the mornings? Would I drive them mad asking for ice-packs, painkillers, glasses of water, cups of tea and hot water bottles all day and all night? There was no way of knowing of course, until I was actually there, but they selflessly said they wouldn’t hear of me convalescing anywhere else but with them, and that was that.
So with my recovery sorted out, I then began to organise my work. I needed as much design and copywriting as possible to cover the two months I would be out of action. It was approaching May and my bookings were looking good. I had 3 weeks at one company with the promise of a 3-month booking over the summer period. Brilliant. But the day before I was supposed to start, the project collapsed and I was told I wasn’t needed. Oh. So I phoned and emailed all my contacts and waited. Dribs and drabs came in, a few days here, a week there, but not enough to sustain me. It was weird. Summer is usually my busiest time because of holiday cover but for some reason, studios were keeping their work in-house and freelancers weren't getting the projects. I decided to contact some design studios I knew down in Bath and Bristol and suddenly I had a months work in a gorgeous studio in Bath. My sister said I could stay with her while I worked there, as she only lives 20 minutes from Bath, and so I breathed a sigh of relief. I absolutely loved working there, and I loved being with my family. Long beautiful summer days in Somerset, driving through the Mendip Hills to work, and coming back to lazy evenings and cooked meals courtesy of my sis. It was quite heavenly. I was going back to London at weekends but I wasn’t missing it as much as I thought I would. I then got more work in Bath, followed by a few weeks in Bristol. I was staying in B&B’s and lodging with a family in Bristol while working there, and staying with my sister or a friend of hers, when working in Bath. June and July went by in a whirl... new faces, new studios, new places to stay. I suddenly found myself looking at Somerset property websites during my lunch hour and going on drives with my nephew at weekends, through all the pretty villages around Bath. I began contacting old friends and family in the area and visiting them. I got on the books of more studios in Bath and Bristol and went on numerous interviews... and I suddenly realised that I wanted to live there and not London any longer!! What?? It came as a shock to me too. All my friends were in London, all my passions... so why did I suddenly want to leave? I thought of Samuel Johnson and his famous saying, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life!” But I wasn’t tired of London. I was tired of working in London.
Coming to the conclusion that if I never had to work in London again I would happily stay for the rest of my days, made me sad, because I adore everything about London but working. When I have days off I can potter for England. I can spend hours in bookshops, walk around Soho finding the perfect expresso, pop into the Curzon for a foreign film, see the latest exhibition, grab a bite to eat from any world cuisine, shop until I drop and still have time to see the cream of the acting world on stage. My flat is surrounded by beautiful green parks and the largest open-air freshwater swimming pool in Europe is only minutes from my doorstep. I know all my neighbours and am on first name terms with most of my local shopkeepers. I have great friends and a really really good life in London, I just don’t want to work there any more. Many of the studios have become too big. And as they’ve expanded, their personalties have shrunk... the personal touch diminishes. Freelancers rarely get the thanks they used to or are made to feel part of a team. And more often than not, studio managers think it’s ok to cancel you at a moments notice and seldom give you a reason or a heartfelt apology. It’s stressful and unstable. There are too many designers and not enough work and it suddenly feels like a giant hamster wheel, with everyone chasing the same jobs, nipping at each others ankles. I have also come to despise the tube and the necessary crushed commute every morning, seeing a sea of bland unsmiling faces. I get claustrophobic and clammy, and I wake up with a sense of dread every single morning at having to do that journey into town. It sounds silly but it’s the little things that get you down. Combine all the little things and you suddenly have more reasons than not for making a change.
I love London. But I want to keep on loving London, and I realised the only way I could do this was to leave.
To be continued…