Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I hate packing.

I can’t do it, I can’t organise all those things.

And yet I’ve spent the past year living out of an increasingly high number of backpacks, boxes, carriers, cartons, lockers and lunchboxes.

Three nights ago (that's the day before yesterday) however, I was trying, somehow, to squeeze all of my NZ belongings into just four of these containers, and my pockets.

I was in my room in Howick, Auckland, trying to sort the past year out, so that I could go home to the UK to visit my family and friends for a month.

I would be leaving two of these bags behind. In the unexpected event that I did NOT return to NZ, then David was under instructions to ship one bag to me, and to throw the other out. Nothing can possibly go wrong with that plan, eh? :)

I remembered, 18 months earlier, sitting in the UK watching someone else similarly pack-up at the end of their year abroad. They’d said something rather beautiful about wanting to be wherever in the world God wanted them. Now I understood how they’d felt. What on Earth could possibly be better about being somewhere else?

Anyway, as I was packing my bags, my other flatmate came in.

“Steve, just letting you know, three bombs have gone off on buses and trains in London, it’s on the TV now, they’ve closed all the airports, there are no flights going in or out of Heathrow.”

Typical, absolutely typical. Out of the whole of the last four years, the terrorists had actually decided to pick the day before my flight on which to wage an organised bombing of London.

I could just picture them all sitting around in their balaclavas, diaries open, plotting “Okay, now Goble’s flight date is July the 8th, so we all need to make this thing happen sometime on the 7th.”

And then it hit me. There were a heap of people dead. Some might be people I knew.

Fortunately, my flatmate then fell apart laughing. “Nah-nah-nah, not really mate, I’m only having you on!”

A smile flooded across his face, and then across mine – it was all a wind-up! Laughing, I shouted at him in mock anger “I believed you! You totally had me!”

“No, no, not really, I’m only messing with you,” he chuckled, “they haven’t really closed the airports.”

I froze. Those people, who in the last few seconds had been alive, dead and then alive again, now once more hung helplessly between death and life on the next words of the guy standing in front of me. “Whoa whoa whoa, have bombs gone off or not?”

Seconds later we were standing in his room watching the live pictures on TV. It was about 9pm for us, therefore about 9am in London. It was real. Those people were dead. Who knew how many more bombs would go off today?

But it was worse than that – the terrorists had learnt their lesson from the World Trade Centre disaster – if you want to be noticed, now you have to let off multiple bombs simultaneously.

This was now officially the future of terrorism.

48 hours later however, Heathrow Airport still looked very much as it had done when I’d left it a year ago.

Getting through UK customs was a lot easier than getting into NZ – no thorough searches, accusations or failed attempts to build baseless cases against me today. Perhaps Satan was relieved to get me back in England – well away from NZ.

The thing I always think of when I picture Heathrow is that massive rotating aerial-dish with the giant microphone in the middle.

That was still there, endlessly revolving like a shocked triffid on a record player.

Inevitably, my mind compared Arrivals at Heathrow Terminal 3 to the last time I had come back through here – back in March 2004.

That time, before leaving Auckland, I’d met a guy in the express queue who was flying to London in the opposite direction to me. 26 hours later we’d run into each other again at Heathrow. We’d chatted for hours by the taxi rank. He’d seriously encouraged me to go back, and indeed all I had wanted to do for the next 4 months was turn around and do just that.

Today, I had been expecting everything to look somehow smaller, but it didn’t. Everything just looked unimaginatively the same, apart from a few token police.

All was normal - but had my perceptions of normal altered?

I had planned to save money and get the bus home, but after 24 hours in the air, I decided to treat myself.

A year ago, as I’d left home, my mum had thrust a £20 note into my hand. Even though, thanks to Freakazoid at ACB, the Queen had since grown a biro-coloured goatee, I now planned to finally spend it.

So away I headed in a cab, passing as we went a red bus coming along in the opposite direction.

...a red one! (you don't see many of those these days)

But more was to come. With traffic jams alarmingly bumping the meter up, we took a detour through Hampton Hill. Now this really was normal. I’d worked as a Purchase Ledger here for 4 years, but these days I found myself in Hampton Hill…ooh, I’d say about once a year. The last time I’d come through here had been during a driving lesson – a year ago. Being here today, then, was normal.

And then, out of nowhere, I spotted someone I knew.

I mean that proves it, doesn’t it? I don’t know him very well, he’s my mum’s friend’s husband, and I only glimpsed him, he certainly didn’t see me, but whizzing past old friend Franz on the pavement proved beyond any doubt that I must be back home again.

It was so normal, yet it was a normality that had been impossible for a year.

Eventually the streets became more and more familiar, and the memories more numerous, until we turned down a very familiar road indeed. A road that, more than anything else, meant my mum, my dad, my sister, our cat Lucky and lots of cracked paving-stones. Some of them would never be there again, but that’s what that road still says to me.

We pulled-up, no-one heard us.

I climbed out and swung open the gate.

I headed up the path to a familiar painted green door, rang the doorbell, waited a moment, and then, seeing my mum for the first time in almost a year, said the words that every son returning home after a year says.

“I need to borrow some more money.”


2 comment(s):

At 5:07 pm, Blogger Rhett said...

I hope you're not going to make us wait months for another update Steve! It was great to get back from honeymoon and find a slew of new updates :).

I'm hooked.

At 6:07 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Cheers Rhett - I'm looking forward to your tales of your new life as well!



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