It's very odd to be, as I currently am, in my last week at Kew. For all its peculiarities, for all the stress and pressure it's put me (& many others) under over the years, I have loved working here and have been deeply committed to the place. Up until just a few months ago I honestly thought I'd be here till I retired. The evening of the day I accepted I would have to leave, I cried for hours (all over a very patient friend whose forebearance and loving-kindness I aspire to have one day). It seemed beyond belief; and in many ways it still does now. Yet at the same time, part of me just wants this to be over now.
This last week is so weird. Each day, when I go out at lunch for a stroll, I know I am saying goodbye. I am losing my connection to these places, these trees and flowers and historic buildings; when next I see them I will just be another visitor, no longer one of their people. I am saying goodbye to little hidden corners, to short-cuts behind the scenes, to all the secret places that have given me refuge and a moment of peace on hectic days.
And, of course, I am saying goodbye to people.
Many of my friends have left already (or been made redundant); many others are away on annual leave at the moment. Yet others do not work on Fridays; and still others for various reasons I don't see often to begin with. By now it's very likely I won't see them again before the end of the week. And I finish on Friday.
I'm trying hard not to get depressed. I'm also trying not to brood over-much about what will happen, going forward, to this venerable place as it struggles to modernise without killing itself. It's simply not my look-out anymore. I have to let go.
But I look at the big, bountiful shapes of trees, cushiony with foliage, delicate with their many-textures of leaves large and small and bark silken or rough; I smell the perfume drifting down from the lindens as they flower in the midsummer warmth; I see the Rose Garden at last really come into its own, six years after being completely replanted; I talk to people I'm fond of, people I've never told how much I like them; I listen to their sense of humour, I laugh and hear their laughter rolling along with mine. And I miss everything that has been good about Kew.
I won't miss the stress; I have to be honest about that. I won't miss some of the really arcane and circuitous decision-making practices, either, or the frankly lousy internal comms. I won't miss waiting in fear to see if the next difficult, business-essential round of cuts will hit me. But I will miss the place, I will miss knowing I'm contributing to something of real value in the world, and I will miss the people.
Well, very soon now my life is my own again, to do with as I will. And who knows what the future holds? Not me.
My week in Crete, last month, was so blissful and restful that I'm sorely tempted to do it again. There are (unsurprisingly) some very good special offers around at the moment for trips to Greece. I'm sure foreign tourism is too important to the Hellenic economy for them to risk anything impacting on visitors from overseas. I would take cash with me because I always do take cash anyway. And I could be sitting on a terrace somewhere with a good book, with a long swim in the sea already done and a good supper of fish and salad to come, putting all this behind me for a week. I know my few hundred quid of spending money is a microscopic drop in the ocean of the Hellene economic woes, but it would still make a tiny scrap of the difference to the individual restaurants and cafes and shops where I spent it. And I would have sun on my back and pine trees to walk under, the sea to swim in, and xiphias and sinagridha and horiatikisalata to eat and a glass of good wine or two.
On the which note, it's extremely silly of me, but I'm enormously encouraged to discover that the person in charge of the Greek Government's economic negotiations at the moment is Euclid Tsakalotos. I heard him mentioned on the radio a couple of mornings back and did a double take, and stood in the kitchen with a mouthful of cereal, and a silly grin spreading across my face as I listened.
A long time ago - a very long time! - I used to deal with him in my then job; he was an economics lecturer at UKC, and I was the economics buyer at the Uiversity bookshop. He was a nice man, always courteous and helpful, and friendly, even to a shopgirl like me (he was also terribly ornamental - I had a dreadful crush on him). I'm very happy he went into politics. The world needs politicians who have some empathy with people who work in dull jobs. I know it's completely idiotic of me, but I do feel reassured now I know that he's working on something so vitally important, for a place I love so much.
Go well and good luck, sir!