Friday, 24 April 2009

MULTIPLY United Friends Challenge #138: The Big Decision

Flowerchild3's Challenge

Think of a major decision you made in your life, or a major event in your life, one that changed the course of your life forever. Consider what your alternatives and life situation were at the time, and write a story about what might have happened if you had made a different choice, or if the event hadn't happened, or had happened differently. You may write it in poem form if that suits the situation better.

So where was I. It goes back many years and I am not really sure where it all started. It was not just one fine day when a bolt of lightning stuck and I thought this is it. No, it sort of crept in, slowly but certainly and through a chain of circumstances it happened. Well, I may have now caused your appetite to grow and all are wondering, “what the hell is she talking about”.

Being born in a poor part of London had its disadvantages, but also advantages. We were quite a cosmopolitan community, there were all shapes and sizes, colours, beliefs and if you dug into the past you would find that nearly all East Londoners had something foreign in their ancestry. Perhaps that was the trigger that fired my ideas. Great grandmother was discovered to be direct Huguenot descent, although I am sure she spoke no French, at least my grandfather could not speak the language, so I suppose his mother only spoke the local cockney dialect with him. Actually my grandfather did have a gift for swearing, but I think that was to be expected.

So where were we – ah yes, in the mixed backgrounds of East London. My school was at least one third Jewish, they had their own kitchen for their meals and their cutlery and plates was marked with a “K” (kosher) so that it would not be mixed with the others. This was quite interesting. You had a good insight into the Jewish customs, traditions and holidays. I remember we “others” were always a little bit jealous as we never got the free days for the Passover and new year. However, it was part of our East End culture and life.

I remember it was at this school that we learned foreign languages. The first was French and later I did two years of German. In between I decided to go to the local evening school to learn Spanish and afterwards even Italian. I eventually left school and worked in the City of London in an office. I was working temporary in London meaning that every week or month I was placed in another company. The money was good and it was fun. One of my jobs was for the Thomas Cook warehouse, where goods were exported all over the world. The correspondence was in English, but we had many people from Europe and Asia also working in the office. At last I could try out my foreign languages and they understood me. The seed was sown, I wanted to work abroad and use those strange tongues.

I found a job in Switzerland. It was an advertisement in the newspaper and I called and got the job. It was a small import-export company. My boss was from Pakistan, his wife was Swiss and they had three children. They owned a large apartment house in Zürich where I also had my own rooms.

Was my London mum happy? Not really. I think she had visions of her little girl (I was one of the tallest in the class!) getting married to a solid English person and settling down on the outskirts of London and having children. Ideas of working for a Pakistani in Switzerland were not really in her plans. My dad was happy when mum was happy, so he never really had an opinion, although I think after five years war in Italy, Germany and Palestine, he though it must be nice to see those countries in peace time. I know he just loved Italy.

There was another small problem. My mum was a lovely woman, as mums are, but we did not always have the same opinions and so now and again there would be a slight misunderstanding. I just wanted to try to live my own life. The day came and I left my English home with a work permit in my luggage for Switzerland. In those days flying was expensive, so it was the boat across the English Channel and the night train from Calais to Basel where I arrived at 5 o’clock on a winter morning. I did the complete journey alone, although mum decided that she and my father would accompany me to the English port of leaving.

I had to make a stop in Basel for my entrance medical – the Swiss do not accept anyone otherwise. It was a check on whether you had TB or any other contagious illnesses. They took my passport away until the results arrived and then I was allowed to travel further to Zürich. The rest of the story is that I am still in Switzerland after forty-two years, married to a Swiss and with two sons.

I remember once talking to my mother about the whole situation and she said she never expected that I would stay so long. She was sure that I would get homesick and return after a couple of months. Perhaps she was hoping that this would happen, who knows. A funny situation was when I really decided to leave my job in Zürich after two years and was thinking about returning to London. My German was sort of fluent, I also used my French and I thought I would have good prospects of finding a job. My chief and his wife understood that I wanted to change my job, but his wife said why not put an advert in the local Swiss newspaper; something like English secretary looking for position in Swiss company. There were many places that would be glad to have someone English speaking in their office. At the same time I called my mum to say I was thinking about a change. Now this is the hammer. She said to me on the phone, my mum that would have loved to have her daughter back home safe away from those foreigners, there is an advertisement in the English newspaper for a job with the Robert Bosch Corporation in a town called Solothurn in Switzerland. My answer was, give me the telephone number. My mum did, not knowing that I would call, get the job, move to Solothurn and within two years be married to a Swiss, who also worked in the same company. So now let’s think. What would have happened if I had not made that fateful telephone call and my mum had not told me about the job. By the way I also had two offers from Swiss companies.

She would not have had her two grandsons, a Swiss son-in-law and holidays in Switzerland from time to time. On the other hand, if the telephone call had not been made, then I probably would have returned to England, got married to someone local, and would have had my parents to dinner on Sunday at least once a month.

My mother died twenty-four years ago. She did not suffer with a long illness, a heart attack. I flew over to England and my husband followed a couple of days later: and dad – he is now ninety-four years old and still lives in London. I pay a visit once a year and phone once a week. He lives in his own household. Now I could say how it would have been if I had sisters or brothers, but I had none. I was apparently a difficult birth, so the decision was made no more children. Perhaps it would have now been better for my father, although he is not so much alone, thanks to the widow who lives opposite. She is a year older than dad, but they get on well together. Of course, they see each other regularly but are no longer so active to go on holidays together. When they were “younger” (around 75 years old) they often spent a couple of weeks in Spain together. My father visited me the last time when he was 89 years old.

In my life there are a lot of what would have happened when, but is it not the essence of life, that things happen that were not planned. Is this not what makes life worth living, the little surprises?

United Friends Challenge #138: The Big Decision