After nine years living in Belgium, my time as an expat is nearly up for now. Chairman Miao, my last companion here, has been taken off to what felt to me like a prison cell and I'm quite alone in a house packed of boxes full of my life, trying to list and prioritise the items to be taken and the stuff to be abandoned for the removal, strictly no more than 20 m3. The movers will be here at 08.30 tomorrow, so sometime this evening this machine, my lifeline and my addiction and my route to all of you and many others, goes into a box, and it will be in the hands of everyone's favourite telecoms provider as to when I will be able to get anything more than a fleeting borrowed Internet connection. Which might seem trivial touchy feely stuff, but it's also the only way I have of earning money and continuing to feed my kids, so wish me luck.
We realised rather late how stupid we had been. Problems with our dealings with the incredibly complex (and more complex because of its alien quality) Belgian tax system should have been clear even before the day that both my father-in-law and our accountant died, and the lingering shock of bereavement was probably a factor in our rather head-in-the-sand approach to finance. But even before that we had precipitately bought a house in order to remain in the same village where our sons had started school, a house that turned out to have more things wrong with it than we could count, a village in which, for all the amiability we were shown, we had no friends, and a school which, despite the initial promise, could not in the end provide proper care for Dan, who has Down's Syndrome.
The house will now, I guess, be fought over between the fisc and the bank; we will still be in debt to one or the other to more than the value of our assets, which is the definition of being bankrupt. But more important was the deteriorating state of family relationships, as my wife struggled to keep the ship afloat while I unhelpfully - in a household where we both live and work together, 24 hours a day in each other's pockets - retreated into myself and into the 1024x768 bright dots that sit between me and you. In January we realised that the situation really had become unsustainable, and that the two of us were both spiralling into what to our admittedly amateur eyes looked like clinical depression. So we're going back to Blighty, somewhere where there are old friends and new ones, networks of people who are at least a bit like us, and systems we understand, and a clean start. It will not be easy but it will be better.
Some of you out there who have been party to my mid-life crisis peregrinations over the last couple of months will be aware that the story is of course not quite that simple, but that is the gist of it. My elder son, aged 7, has already started at his new school, taught in English for the first time by someone other than his parents, but his French will I think always be better than mine; I hope I can help him keep in contact with the friends that he has here. His brother is in good hands. The new house has a little riding school at the back, and fitted carpets in that peculiarly obsessive British way that will undoubtedly be getting muddy already (priority item: vacuum cleaner), and plumbing that has undoubtedly been repaired since the war and walls that have probably never been damaged by shelling. I will no longer have the excuse of being a foreigner. There are many things about Belgium that I shall miss, but they seem to have got, if not fewer, less important by and by.
I'm on my way home. Maybe I'll see you there.