Who thought it would be a good idea to emigrate in the midst of a global pandemic? Oh yes. I did. Let me talk you through my final morning in the UK: Tuesday 9th June 2020.
– 4 am –
The day has come! The alarm went off unforgivingly early because there was still a plethora of things to do before I could leave York: I went for a shower and returned with all my toiletries; I had a cup of tea and then packed away all of my left over kitchen equipment; I removed all of my bedding and then did one final sweep of my room.
There was an undercurrent of excitement as I squeezed everything into the car, accompanied by the dawn chorus and a sense of the sun rising on a new chapter. My passenger seat housed a duvet and pillows; bags and bags of assorted stationary and other detritus I had accumulated over the years cluttered the footwells in the back; the boot was packed with boxes and suitcases.
My car was now bursting with my entire life (save for the things taken away by van earlier that week). I left my goodbye gifts for my housemates in the living room, removed my key from my keyring, and got into the car.
– 5 am –
‘Head west,’ the satnav said, the beginning of a very long journey west. Instead, I went east, for I was overwhelmed with a need to see the university for one last time. I was so overwhelmed that when I arrived outside Vanbrugh College, I didn’t even turn the engine off or close my door. I just ditched the car and walked over to the Vanbrugh Bowl. Even the ducks were not awake yet.
As I turned around to see the architecturally utilitarian University of York Music Department buildings, its glass glinting in the rising sun, a tear gently fell from my eye to the grass. This building – this empty building – standing as a stoic reminder of my recent past, all the memories and friendships made there, has been one of the most important places to me over the last few years.
The Foyer was our social hub. One would always be able to find meaningless chat, gossip, academic help, advice, friendship on those sofas. As a concept, a long room, which acts as a greenhouse all year round, and houses young adults in close proximity seems to be a recipe for disaster. And it would be remiss of me not to concede that the Music Department is arguably more dramatic as a result of this. However, it is also the catalyst for friendships which, I’m sure, will last a long time.
I used up most of my sentimentality in the previous post, so I’ll cut to the bit where I wipe away the tear, take one last look over the lake towards Central Hall, and then return to the car. I drove away, alone, without a final word or a goodbye, and headed for Liverpool Docks.
Although I am reliably informed that I have been on a ferry before, I don’t remember this. So for all intents and purposes, this would be my first time.
– 7am –
Following the satnav, I arrived at the entrance to the P&O port and was greeted by a closed barrier. The man in his security cabin was sitting at the height for a lorry driver, so I shouted up, ‘I’m here to get the ferry to Ireland.’ Without a word, he raised the barrier. I drove down this road, a huge articulated lorry behind and in front of me, and followed unnecessarily complicated signs to a place where there was a queue of HGVs. I joined the back.
This was the wrong thing to do. A person in a high-vis jacket came towards me and, in a Liverpudlian accent, shouted, ‘Come round here!’ This involved driving on the wrong side of a traffic island, around fast-moving forklifts and HGVs, cutting in front of a parked lorry. I, a fairly confident and experienced driver, felt out of my depth.
The high-vis man sent me in the vague direction of a building over there, from which I could apparently collect my ticket. I followed the road and it brought me, again, to a station where the window was at lorry height and, in front of me, a very serious-looking ‘STOP’ sign. There was nobody at the window, however, so I caught the attention of another high-vis man who told me to go inside.
My first Irish encounter! There was another person – an Irish man – trying to collect a ticket from the one worker behind the protective screens. He told me, enveloped in stereotypical Irish friendliness, about how he had tried to amend his booking online but failed. I am not particularly chatty in the mornings anyway, especially not at 7 am, on mornings when I move to a different country for the first time, so I would be lying if I suggested that conversation abounded.
Ticket printed. I drove back towards the gate, had my car checked for… I don’t know actually. I was made to open my boot and another high-vis man scanned the exterior of my suitcase and bedding, and decided I was fit for travel. Three other cars were in the queue as we waited in front of a very militaristic gate, topped with barbed wire and plastered with ‘unauthorised entry’ signs.
– 8 am –
The same news headlines were repeated on BBC Radio 4 for the third time on this journey. I zoned out and entered my own little world of worry called, ‘Oh no. What am I doing?!’
It all suddenly dawned on me. Yes, I had a part-time job in Dublin from September. But it’s June! I’ve got to pay rent and bills, feed myself, and somehow not drive myself insane in a place where I know nobody in a post-lockdown world. I would have to quarantine upon arrival for two weeks. I’ve only been to Dublin once before in living memory. Furthermore, what if I had been conned by a dodgy landlord? What if I arrived and it was all a lie? I would have nowhere to stay. My whole life is in my car and that is all I have. No ferry back. No house to live in over the summer in the UK. It’s a one-way ticket to the unknown.
As I phased back into reality, as the Radio 4 headlines came to another end, I felt physically sick. This wasn’t seasickness – I was still very much on dry land – but it was a sense of great trepidation.
Various trailers were expertly loaded onto the ferry, before the barbed wire gates were (suspiciously easily) unlocked and flung wide. Fortunately, two cars were selected by high-vis man #4 to go before me. All I had to do was repeat what they did (as long as they didn’t end up in the water).
Reversing onto a ferry. Just think about that for a moment. I understand its long-term efficiency, but that was stressful, especially on only three hours of sleep, a two hour journey across the breadth of the country, one hour of negotiating the stressful freeport zone, and a brain on overdrive. I can report, however, that I did not reverse into the water, nor did I hit any freight vehicles. High-vis man #5 waved me into a space, packed in like sardines, and then we were sent up onto the higher decks.
– 9 am –
Ascending from the ranks of Jack to Rose, following various metal bridged rat-runs around this huge vessel, I eventually reached reception. I was given the keys to my complimentary cabin and told that breakfast would be served presently. Frankly, the thought of eating anything made me feel even more anxious, but I knew it would be good for me. So I went up to another deck, deposited my laptop and assorted things to keep me occupied for the journey and found myself in what looked a lot like a shared university halls room!
Breakfast was served from behind yet more protective screens. I pointed at what cooked food I wanted, it was placed into a disposable box, and presented to me through a huge hole in the screen. (Something about being only as strong as the weakest link in the chain springs to mind.) Hot drinks were provided by a machine. So I took my box of meat and my latte and went and sat in the corner of the restaurant area, awaiting the ship to set sail.
Now I learned why we were all given cabins for free: there were only about five people on board a ferry which could house dozens, if not hundreds. They would rather let us have our own space than make a few extra pounds.
At about 9:30 am, the ferry pulled away and made its way out of the docks and towards the Irish Sea. I watched, latte in hand, from the restaurant deck, my history fall away as I left England, as a resident, for the final time.
Quite by chance, my Spotify playlist decided to play a particularly appropriate piece. Whenever I have been on an aeroplane, since I went on a tour to the USA with Hereford Cathedral in 2016, I always endeavour to time the finale of Howell’s Collegium Regale Te Deum for the exact moment of take-off. It provides for an amazing musical climax, combined with the forces of acceleration and excitement, especially on the new orchestral recording by King’s College, Cambridge. This very thing is what Spotify chose for this moment. And although the speed of the boat was nowhere near that of a plane, the moment was no less special.
The final two lines of the Te Deum text spoke to me more than ever before. This move abroad was a completely unorthodox thing for me to do, yet here we are. Against all the odds, it seems to be happening.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us : as our trust is in thee.Book of Common Prayer (1662): An Order for Morning Prayer – Te Deum
O Lord, in thee have I trusted : let me never be confounded.
Goodbye the United Kingdom; hello the Republic of Ireland.
– 12 pm –
A goodly nap.
– 4:30 pm –
Lunch was served [at 4:30 pm… That, by any stretch of the imagination, is not lunch!] and then I sat alone in the restaurant area, helping myself to the free coffee. This was a wonderful time to think. Being in the middle of the Irish Sea, disconnected from any cellular service, and just the noise of the BBC News Channel coming from the other side of the deck, was quite relaxing [although by that point, I had heard the same headlines far too many times that day]. Fortunately, I didn’t think myself into another nervous frenzy.
As the shore grew nearer, my phone reconnected and a flurry of alerts arrived. One was confirmation of my degree safety net mark (which pleased me) and the other was confirmation of marks from a module from the previous term. This, according to the mark it received, was: ‘Exceptional first class. Exceptionally sophisticated work that could scarcely be improved upon. The work will be based on original ideas or research. It will be of professional standard and publishable without major amendments in the form, for instance, of an article in a scholarly journal.’ – I’ll take that!
– 5 pm –
Dublin was in sight.
The tannoy announced, ‘Please make your way back to your vehicles and prepare to disembark.’ Winding my way back down into the belly of this huge boat, I found my route to my car blocked by a huge trailer full of logs. Quite how they fit these things into such small spaces, I’ll never know. I managed to squeeze myself down the side.
As the sunlight (shielded by the rain and clouds I am sure I will get used to during my time here) flooded in, suddenly all of my fears faded away.
This was a brand new opportunity. The only way this is going to work out is if I grasp it, approach it head on, and make it work. You only regret what you don’t do. So let’s make this happen!
As I drove off the ferry, I was greeted by a very friendly Garda, who asked to see my passport and Public Health Tracing Form. He took the details of my new address and said, ‘Welcome home.’
Two minutes later, I arrived at my new home. The house is on the south side of the docks: ten minutes from the city centre. The landlord was there waiting for me. As I walked towards the door, he approached and put his hand out to shake mine. This was the first human contact I had experienced in weeks! Good hygiene on my side had been practised, so I was confident this was not a bad move. Furthermore, as I would soon realise, Ireland is significantly further along their road to recovery than the UK is!
Carrying all of my possessions from the driveway to my bedroom on the top floor was hard work. However, just before I settled in for my enforced two-week quarantine, I grabbed some essentials from the local shop and came across this sunset:
I think everything is going to be alright.