Let me just say this: I have the best mates anyone could ever hope for. Within 5 hours of my arrival on Saturday 11 August 2012, I was celebrating my return with Dan and Stan and Matt at an exclusive Olympic athletes party with free booze at the Roundhouse in Camden. Dan got us all in for free through his press credentials (ever read a review of Doctor Who on the Guardian website? That’s my Dan!). I got to see some actual gold medals. It was very exciting.
Within 24 hours of my arrival, I was in Hyde Park watching New Order with me auld mucka Lindsey who works for The Royal Parks. Free entry and, again, free drinks. Later that evening (and a little bit tipsy) I ended up randomly meeting Jude Law:
And have Damon Albarn practically sit on my knee to sing ‘Country House’ in front of 60,000 people:
When people say it’s good to be back, they’re lying. It’s not good to be back. IT’S GREAT TO BE BACK!!
My girlfriend of infinite patience, Mandy, arrived in the UK the following Thursday. She’d be back for two weeks in order to see me and attend a couple of weddings. So without further or do, and we headed straight over to Fallowfield in Manchester to see our friend (and Odyssey hero) Dino get like totally wedded to the lovely Ruth. Hail hail, the gang’s all here: Matt The Mick and his new wife Tiff, Dino’s bro Andy, Stan an’ Helen, Mary an’ Paul, Ben an’ Debs, Laura an’ Bri, Sam an’ Amanda, Michelle an’ Daniel, Dan Adams, Dan Banham… I hadn’t see most of these feckers in YEARS. But the crazy thing is your brain seems incapable of correctly processing time past – when you haven’t seen somebody for ages, after a few minutes you’re chatting like you saw them yesterday. Feels like you’re continuing the conversation from where you left off.
But that night I sensed a disturbance in The Force. I have an irritating habit of guessing the endings of movies before the end of Act 1. I knew there was a conversation coming between me and Mandy and I didn’t want any part of it. I wanted to carry on, business as usual, blundering my way around the world without a care in said world.
But the harsh reality of time and tide was soon to catch up and slap me in the face.
That weekend, friends and family from all over Liverpool came to see Mand and I. I’ve been back in the UK three times since I started The Odyssey. Mand hasn’t been back at all. There were plenty of tears and hugs and booze, everything (almost) in its right place.
One of the saddest things about coming home after all this time was the fact that since we left, so many of our friends have moved out of Scouseland. Stu’s gone to Bristol, Matt and Scott have moved down to London, Laura the Lovely Lesbian has gone back to Ireland… it’s as though Mandy and I were the glue keeping the L’pool scene together. I don’t want to sound arrogant (although I will) but I can only assume that Liverpool needs me as much as I need Liverpool.
While my ticket home was paid for by the collective efforts of my I-can’t-stress-this-enough *awesome* friends, Mandy’s was paid by her work. So work she had to do. From Monday to Friday I’d say goodbye and potter around my parent’s house pretending to edit videos and help my dad with eBay while Mandy travelled to South Liverpool for her job.
The following weekend we organised a huge meal for all our lovely chums, got wonderfully obliterated and took this photo:
On the bank holiday weekend it was time for wedding #2: Hugh and Gemma’s big day, and what a corker it was! The service was mercifully short, the grub was alright, but it was the live band – and the tunes they played – that made everybody’s night. Kicking things off with Smashing Pumpkins, things followed on with Blur, James, Pulp, The Beatles, Vampire Weekend, Franz Ferdinand, The Stone Roses… it was like Thursday night at the Krazy House. But live. And they were *really* good! After three and a half years of being aurally assaulted with the over-amped arse-cheddar that is Akon and the Auto-Tuned Legions of Doom, it was a delight like you would not believe. I was like a starving man at a feast.
We all danced the night away like it was, indeed, nineteen-ninety-nine.
But after everyone had gone and with Mandy’s impending departure from these fair shores looming, the elephant in the room couldn’t go un-noticed any more. It was just past midnight on the Bank Holiday Monday as we walked back to our hotel down the wet and lonely country road. Then Mandy said the six words I had been dreading…
“I think we should split up.”
I cannot deny that the six months I spent in Australia last year were some of the unhappiest of my life. As wonderful as it was to be back with Mandy, Australia itself was like a big function room with all the atmosphere sucked out of it. It was impossible to get drunk (when it’s £10 a pint, you only drink one), but even if you were a high-roller it was impossible to go on a pub crawl (you had a drink, sir?) and everything – except the casino and strip clubs – closed before midnight during the week. For a fun-loving hedonist like the chap what’s blog you’re reading, this was a cruel and unusual punishment. When you’ve had more fun in a supposedly ‘dry’ country like Kuwait, this is not the kind of place you really want to hang up your (albeit Australian) hat.
There are other things I disliked about Australia, but I’m not going to go into them here. Let’s just say I wasn’t made to feel very welcome and leave it at that.
But stronger than my dislike of Australia is my unadulterated love for my Liverpool. All of my future plans (for evil, I assure you) are tied up with this city and being the centre of things rather than out on the periphery. Video and film production in Australia has all but ground to a halt, stifled by the strength of the Aussie dollar. I don’t want to sound like too much of a twat, but if after all this, all I’ve seen and done and all I’m capable of, if I had to get a job in McDonalds I would quite cheerfully kill myself.
The deal was that when I finished The Odyssey I would live in Melbourne with Mand. But two things have changed that: the length of time it’s taken me to complete The Odyssey (it was supposed to take a year, right?) and my unhappiness in Melbourne last year. My batteries run on love and hilarity, two things in short supply in that barren, soulless place. Of course, I was willing to bite the bullet if it meant we could stay together. But I wouldn’t be happy. The devil being in the details.
You know that if one partner is unhappy, that unhappiness will eventually give way to resentment, and try as you might to battle that resentment, it will eventually engulf you and destroy everything you’ve worked together to achieve. Much like The Dark Side.
So, despite the fact we’ve been together for over 10 years, despite the fact that we both still love each other, fancy each other and are the best of friends…
I reluctantly agreed.
Mand and I could overcome everything for the sake of each other. But we can’t overcome geography. It’s time and it’s distance and it’s not very kind.
We decided to stay together until the moment she got on that plane back to Australia. The next three days were some of the most traumatic of my life. We played happy families, not letting anyone know that the gig was up. I kept telling myself that not that much would change between us. We’re almost always separated by distance and most of our interaction over the last few years has been via Skype anyway, plus neither of us are particularly jealous or paranoid. But when it came to writing our final joint Facebook message to all the people that we know and love, I couldn’t hold back the tears any more. Come on Graham, make a joke, make light of it, make it sound like that it’s not that big a deal. But this was real. It was actually happening. And no matter how much I wished it weren’t so, Mandy and I were finally, officially, over.
There’s no easy way of telling you all this, so I’ll just come out with it: Mand and I have decided to go our separate ways.
We’ve had a good innings, over ten years of the Graham and Mandy show. Hope we spread enough happiness and love to go around, we still love each other like crazy, we’re still going to be the best of friends forever, but we both agree that it’s time to bow out now while the going is good.
Fingers together, we clicked the message onto Facebook (much less traumatic than calling everybody individually). I turned my phone off and drove Mandy to the airport. I’ve never cried so much in my life. We hugged for 15 minutes at the Security Gate as I wracked my brain to think of our top top moment of the last ten years. She had already walked through when I shouted out ‘PARIS!’.
The night she had ‘Me Ne Quitte Pas’ sung to her in that little restaurant by the Seine…
She turned and smiled, and even through the tears, even across the departures hall I could still see the mischievous sparkle in her eyes that I had fallen in love with all those years ago.
That’s it folks.
My Penelope has gone and left this Ulysses all on his billy lonesome. Some Odyssey this is. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end. It’s supposed to end with fireworks and music and a proposal of marriage and some kind of happily-ever-after shit.
But the world, the real world, just doesn’t work that way.
I’ll be back on the road before you know it. But this time, for the first time I can recall, I’ll have no anchor to stop me floating off into the stratosphere. Although when you Google ‘Graham and Mandy’ we still come top of the world, it looks like we’ve made to the end of our journey together. For the first time since I started this madness, I will be truly alone. I’ve lost my Jiminy Cricket, my Albert Calavicci, my Pantalaimon…
In short, I’ve lost my better half.
You might not like what’s left.