It’s not often that I am moved to nostalgia by Euro-disco plinky-plinky music. It’s not as if it all doesn’t sound the same. Rather anodyne melodies following a tried and tested formula to get people to dance and invoke euphoria as the music forms a crescendo, usually based upon lyrics from songs that were popular before many in the target audience were born. Not my cup of tea most of the time.
Due to…ahem…a few resource-sharing experiences, I have a plethora of almost every variety of music in my MP3 collection. And occasionally, I just set iTunes on shuffle and see what it plays for me.
This morning a plinky-plinky Euro-disco tune came on which caused a reflexive lump in my throat and brought me back to a little more than 12 years ago when things were a bit challenging, to say the least, economically.
I made the mistake of thinking a move to Dublin with my future wife and seven-month-old daughter was a good idea, as I was frequently getting calls from recruiters there, and there appeared to be a lot of jobs there due to the last gasps of the dot com bubble, but no one wanted to do any interviews unless the candidate was in-country. And I wanted to get the family out of London as it didn’t seem the right place to raise a child, particularly as I couldn’t see myself being able to earn enough money to afford private school.
So my devoted significant other consented – after much ill-informed persuasion by me – to the idea of uprooting ourselves and seeking our fortune in the Emerald Isle. I had seen the girls around us in London, in their early teens, who were practically hard little adults, and didn’t want our daughter growing up to be like that. It also helped that I had some extended family in Northern Ireland and we would be closer to them, and I had observed a couple of my cousins there who still managed to be girls – and not hardened little adults – and thought there could be worse fates for our own daughter.
We went to Ireland. I occasionally see the photos of us from that period flashing up on the iMac’s screensaver. How young and positive and hopeful and confident; there is a fantastic photo of the missus on the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin, holding the baby on her cocked hip, with Liverpool harbour behind her and her smile is divine.
We lasted about two months in Ireland, and the money was getting short. So her parents assented to letting us stay with them until I found more work in London. This was some time around April 2001. After a lot of job-hunting and working on an MCSE qualification, the only role I could find was actually in Germany where I was hired by a British boss to move to Frankfurt to head up an IT support team at an investment bank branch. With the impending move to Germany, and the favourable German tax system, we got married a week before I shipped out to Germany to set up work and house. (Due to the haste of our wedding celebrations, our cake was made in the shape of Bart Simpson’s head; the only thing that could be secured on such short notice.)
In Germany, we tried hard to learn the local language, but given schedules and budgets, it was difficult. Living in Germany was difficult. We ran through our savings paying what I call “the Expat tax”, wherein everything is at least 20% more cost for expats living in a foreign country in their first few years because they haven’t figured out the cheaper ways of living that the locals know as a way of life.
Our rent was very expensive because my London-based boss told me I only had 6 weeks to find a place, so I had to find the first flat that was available in that limited time; it is not very easy in Frankfurt. (I was told by an outgoing HR director a year and a half later that it was a lie, that I had up to 3 months but that the boss had squandered our team’s budget on travel around Europe doing troubleshooting on behalf of the client – outside of the scope of our company’s activities – where he eventually secured a permanent role when the outsourcing contract dried up.)
It was a real adjustment, trying to conform our Anglo sensibilities to German sensibilities. There is a lot to admire about the German way of life – the Germans get many things right – but there is a lot that we had real problems with; we reached a point where we could not reconcile those issues. I am firmly of the belief that if an immigrant cannot adjust to, and embrace, his host country’s culture, he should go back home. And we did eventually, but not until after what ended up being major trials of our characters as individuals and as a couple. (Photos taken of us after our return to Blighty after 2 ½ years show us apparently having aged by about 10 years.)
Working for an outsourcer, my income was guaranteed only for the next three months, especially if there were no other suitable roles in Germany for me to move to when the contract was finished, which was highly likely, because working at an American investment bank and the sort of unpredictable schedule that entails, I didn’t have much time to learn German; and we were living more or less payday-to-payday – I was not on an “expat” contract. So the prospect of not knowing where our next meal would come from was very real for us.
My wife had shown how devoted she was to me by following me to Hell and back with our daughter. We became even more of a unit than we had been and I am sure there is some appropriate metaphor about forged alloys that I can use here to describe our stronger bond. Germany brought home the fact that it was us – our little unit – against the world, and that made us stronger. I think weaker relationships would have buckled under the strain, but we became more devoted to each other, and our daughter, with the experiences we had. (I am also very lucky in that my wife can often see my redeeming features when I am incapable of doing so.)
We now know how to start from zero, which is essentially what we had to do when we moved back to Blighty.
The only thing we had to watch on telly, besides the various local German networks and a brace of Bollywood DVDs lent to me by a colleague of Pakistani-British origin, was CNN, MTV Deutschland and the German music channel, Viva.
And thus I am back to where I started. There was a lot of plinky-plinky Euro-disco music played on Viva, and sometimes it would just provide the background music. And the tune that brought me right back to those memories was “Heaven” by DJ Sami, the cover of the Bryan Adams tune from the ‘80s. Often we would stay up late with the various financial and existential worries on our minds, and often that song, among others, would be the soundtrack in the background.
Baby you’re all that I need,
When you’re lying here in my arms,
It isn’t too hard to believe
We’re in Heaven
She probably doesn’t rate the song at all, and frankly, I don’t find it particularly great. But it reminded me, that when things get really tough, we have each other and our little unit (with a recent new addition in our nine-month old daughter). And that’s all that we need.