ROOTLESS IN BEIJING

London, 4 May 2014

I like George Orwell. His novels are good, no doubt about it – some of them, like 1984 and Animal Farm, are classics – but it is really his non-fiction work that I appreciate the most. When I was young and going to school in the UK, I particularly liked those books of his like Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier in which he excoriated the smug, self-satisfied, class-ridden Britain of the 1930s, a Britain which still existed, albeit in a milder form, when I was going to school.

Orwell had a particular animus against colonialism, in part no doubt because of his first-hand experience with it as an officer in the Burmese police. But he still showed a certain compassion for the colonial administrators. I particularly remember his description of one of his superiors who had spent his whole working life in the colonies, who by necessity believed he had a deep connection with the Mother Country (wasn’t he out there on His Majesty’s Service?), but who in his rare visits home would sit friendless and familyless in his Club in London, looking out at a country he no longer recognized or felt part of, nursing a gin and tonic while waiting for the boat to carry him back.

I am not a colonial administrator but I have been out of the UK for nigh on forty years. I didn’t mean it to be so. When I left after University I was quite expecting to come back, but you know how it is, life just takes over. And now, on one of my rare visits back to the UK, I too, like that colonial administrator of long ago, no longer feel any connection to the country. I too sit there, not participating in the social, economic and political life going on around me, but merely observing it. Even my own language is becoming foreign to me. I don’t get many of the jokes any more, referring as they do to situations I am not familiar with. Much of today’s slang is a closed book to me. I’m even beginning to experience difficulties in understanding some of the stronger British accents!

This alienation from Britain sometimes fills me with melancholy, as it did today walking around the streets of London. Where do I belong? I am just a stone rolling around the world gathering no moss. I am Rootless in Beijing today, I will be Rootless in some other city tomorrow.

It’s not as if I can even mourn the loss of British roots, because I’ve never really had any. My parents left the UK before I was born and I only went to school there. When I tell people I’m British, they normally ask me where I’m from in Britain. I just say London. Everyone has heard of London and I did spend some time there with my grandmother. But I’m no real Londoner.

To make it all worse, I’m only half British, with my other half being French. At school, they sometimes called me froggie in that way children have of unerringly picking up differences and using them to pick on you. The fact is, I did feel different from most of my schoolmates. They were so much more English than I was! But my French side gave me no comfort. I was even less French than I was English. I just spent summer holidays there.

When I was younger, I didn’t mind my rootlessness. In fact, I was quite proud to be a citizen of the world, of belonging nowhere and everywhere, and I quite liked the fact that I could often ignore the social conventions of the places I lived in because I was foreign and not expected to conform.

But with age, I feel ever more urgently a need for roots. I want to have a place where I can say, “here, I will lay down my head; here, I will lay my bones to rest”. Luckily, my wife has given me strong roots in Italy. That is where I will finally come to rest when my tour of duty in Beijing is finished.

Goodness me, what is all this maundering self-pity? Time to pour myself another gin and tonic and discuss with my wife what we shall do tomorrow.

Published by

Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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