The Remorseful Day

I was listening to a phone-in on Radio Five last week that was discussing the merits of a common retirement fantasy: emigrating to live abroad. Although many of the people calling in seemed to be retirees, the show wasn’t aimed exclusively at them, but I soon tired of smug pensioners calling in from Europe to tell us how wonderful life was in France, Spain, Portugal, wherever. “Good. Effing well stay there”, I barked at the radio. “And don’t come running back here when you need our Health Service”, I added, only to be told by caller after caller that European health care is so much better than our own.

As far as I am concerned, Jeremy Clarkson summed up everything about emigrating that I could possibly want to say:

“In the whole of human history, nobody has ever woken up and thought, ‘I know, I have a wonderful family, lots of money, a great job, and an active social life. I shall therefore move to Australia.’

Australia is where you go when you’ve made a mess of everything. That’s why the 1.3million Brits who live there are known as whingeing Poms. Because they’re all failures.

Another popular destination is Spain, which these days is home to 761,000 Brits.

Are they all brain surgeons? Inventors? Did Sir Christopher Cockerell invent the hovercraft and then move to Porto Banus? No. Spain is where you go when you’ve sold your taxi.”

There are countries in the world that I love visiting and, at the top of the list, is the USA. I’ve been there many times and studied for a year in South Carolina (I know, being a student isn’t actually real life.) But one of my strongest memories of America is of being on a California fly drive holiday and arriving at a hotel after another long day filled with sunshine and open roads. As I settled down for the evening, I put the TV on to the public service station to see they were showing an episode of Morse. It was actually the final episode, The Remorseful Day, and the scene I’d tuned in to had Morse sitting with Lewis, enjoying a pint in an Oxford beer garden as the sun set over the Thames Valley. I instantly was washed over by a feeling of sentimental homesickness, way, way stronger than anything I’d ever experienced before. I suddenly realised, in that single moment, that Britain was always going to be the place for me.

I’ve never been able to forget that time and place and emotion. It was stronger than I can say and has stuck with me over the years. Much as I love America, I’ll not be emigrating there or anywhere else. Okay, I might decide to spend winters, or January to March at least, on an extended holiday somewhere a bit more sunny and warm, but that’s about as far as it (or I) goes.

As the ‘phone-in went on, people who had emigrated and then returned to the UK started to call in with their side of the story. When asked why they’d come back and what they’d missed about Britain, many could only state that it was “the culture”. This was often a much bigger pull than the “family and friends” they’d left behind, but many couldn’t put their finger on what exactly they meant by stating what it was about the “culture” that they missed. I knew what they were getting at though. Culture isn’t a single thing, or a collection of many single things. It’s a blend. If a country could have an emotion then it would be expressed as its culture. And Britain’s culture is, I think, undeniably deep. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Billy Britain saying we’re superior to everyone else, it’s just that our heritage and history is something worth acknowledging as part of who we are. It’s not about pride, but it is what it is, warts and all. As Rudyard Kipling said:

If England was what England seems
An’ not the England of our dreams,
But only putty, brass, an’ paint,
“Ow quick we’d drop ‘er! But she ain’t!

I used to think that where you lived could have a big effect on your happiness and well-being but, over the years, I’ve decided that happiness has little to do with a physical place. A metaphysical place though, that’s a different story.

On the whole, I think, if you’re miserable in Britain then you’re probably going to be miserable anywhere else. And, incidentally, being miserable in Britain is infinitely better than being miserable than anywhere else, as Jeremy Clarkson demonstrates. Being miserable is one of our strengths. Ask Morse.

Remorseful Day jpg

California Lewis? You can stick it.


19 thoughts on “The Remorseful Day

  1. Weirdly similar to my world view, except that for me, and my family, there is something sinister about November that has us wanting to get some warmth on the skin in a sunnier clime. Albeit we usually end up with the Canaries week in February!


  2. There’s nothing quite like Old Blighty, I’ve lived abroad a few times in my past, but there’s nothing quite like home. Like you, I can see myself doing extended breaks during the winter months to sunnier climes, but I’ll be keeping my roots firmly in England for my main residence!


  3. I’ll respectfully disagree with some of your points here. I’ve lived on three continents, respectively in France, Japan, and the US.
    There’s always a phase as an expatriate when you feel homesick and think your homeland is the best place in the world. Then that feeling goes away. I’m a French dude living in the US, but I can’t wait to go back to… Japan, where I lived for 10 years. Had you asked me the same question when I had been living in Japan for a year, I would probably have replied “hell no, I’m going back to France any time now”.

    I think it’s all to do with your memories, friends, and family. Today my best memories are in Japan, and so are some of my best friends, and my family in law. I still have friends and family in France, but they feel more remote today.

    I also have a theory that it all depends where you spent the “best years of your life”, which for many people I know happens to be in their mid twenties. (When you start making a salary but are still as free as a student)

    My point is, if you haven’t experienced “living abroad” for a period of 2 years or more, it’s tough to know if you’d really actually like it.

    Also, you’re wrong, many people move to other countries by choice to see what’s over there, not only to flee from trouble (although obviously, there has to be a good reason for people to think they can stay away from their current life for a year or more). I’m convinced my life has been dramatically enriched the day I decided to move to Japan. That includes from a financial perspective by the way. I make way more today because of my expat experience, than I would if I had staid in France (or in the UK, for that matter, based on the salaries of some of my London colleagues)

    In your case, your best memories are in the UK, but how long have you actually lived in Spain, Australia, or the US? Did you give any of these countries a chance to give you lasting memories? One year is not enough, in my experience. 2 I would say is the bare minimum.

    also if you’re into movies, give a try to French movie “The Spanish Apartment” which to me explains a lot about why people like Spain (or living abroad) so much.

    With all that being said, I love your point about culture and the “soul” of a country. I think this is one thing that would be really tough to export, and I could definitely “feel” the soul of England as I walked by the warmth and joy of pubs in the evenings during my last trip to London 🙂


    • > you spent the “best years of your life”, which for many people I know happens to be in their mid twenties.

      Blimey. Where on earth did they go wrong?

      There does seem a big difference between emigrating before retirement and doing it on or after retirement. Those that emigrate before have to engage with their destination and its people, they are actually living in it, so there is the possibility for the travel to transform them. Whereas those who emigrate on retirement have the choice to live in an expat bubble, in which case transformation is optional.


    • Spot on, StockBeard!!! You should give it at least 2 years. It is a typical ridiculous oversimplification for Jeremy Clarkson to epitomise people in Spain as underachievers typically living on the proceeds of a taxi sale. There must be a huge variety of reasons why people decide to work or retire abroad.
      Personally, I was motivated by the longing to experience different cultures. This started as a working holiday but became addictive.
      Over 41 years, I have lived consecutively in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Taiwan, Slovakia, Romania, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong again.
      I am 71 and have a flexible attitude to retirement. I didn’t think simply in terms of working versus not working. For me it was simply the increasing freedom to do what I liked without the pressures of basic survival. I have been “retired” for sure in 4 of those countries and for my final move I’m mulling Malaysia or Blighty. But then again, who knows?


  4. I’d love to go live in Australia again,. but alas the soon-to-be-Mrs couldn’t part with her family over such a distance. I do agree with your point; If you’re miserable here, you’ll probably be miserable there.


    • Yes, heaven knows I’m miserable now – is there any other country in the world that could have produced a band like The Smiths? Although there is an argument that Australia did give us AC/DC, but I maintain that Angus, Malcolm and Bon Scott came from Scotland. They did give us Kylie though.


  5. A week in Madeira in January makes the British winter more bearable.

    Wise people wait for the easterlies to blow in May or early June and rush to the West Highlands. Chumps go there in July and August to look at the rain.


  6. (Hi StockBeard!)

    I think this depends on having roots.

    I was born in Germany, grew up in Spain, came back to the UK (have a British passport) for school, then moved to Japan 16 years ago and still live here.

    I enjoy visiting the UK and seeing people, but it doesn’t feel like home.


  7. I thought Britain was great when we lived there, but it was never a substitute for home. Not because it isn’t a better place, it’s just not the same place as home.

    I think you’re right with your theory though – running away to find happiness probably isn’t effective in most instances. There needs to be a better reason to leave than that you’re unhappy – you need to be primarily leaving to gain something rather than get away from something, at least that’s my experience anyway. And plenty of people from work have moved away all around the world, but they always come back for some reason!


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