The other day I had the most unexpected – and more than a little frightening – thought: I wondered if coming home was a mistake.
I spent 11 years in London from 1998 to 2009, returning to Dublin that summer when RTÉ commissioned a television idea I’d had after coming across an Irish Times article online in January about Google’s biggest search terms in Ireland over the previous 12 months.
Using their similarly publicised UK data, I actually pitched the same idea to a couple of British TV production companies that spring but none saw its potential.
If they had I might still be there.
Anyway they weren’t, but RTÉ – very wisely, natch – were and that autumn I produced with the good people at Coco Television in Dublin, the awfully-named Ireland’s Greatest Hits 2009 for RTÉ One, the first of three one-off, end-of-year review programmes that cherry-picked the best of the news we searched for online during the year.
We had wanted to simply call it Googled but the giant search engine was understandably a little wary of having their brand name used in a show over which they had no control so they quickly put an end to that.
By the time we went into production on the follow-up a year later we’d come up with the still slightly clunky but much more informative Now That’s What You Called News 2010 which, with only the most minor of yearly tweaks, we retained for the third-and-final instalment in 2011.
During these first three years back I gradually got busier as some other ideas got green-lit here and calls came in to work on others’ projects so when in 2012 RTÉ couldn’t find the dosh to recommission another NTWYCN it wasn’t the end of the world.
In fact, from then until last summer I was lucky enough to become an ever increasing busier bee, so that for the last few years I continually moved almost seamlessly from one gig to another.
As any freelancer will tell you, this is almost as good as it gets.
It may not always be your first choice gig but I’ve yet to work on one where I didn’t learn some new stuff that stood to me further down the line.
But as I wrote about here before, about this time last year that all took a serious nosedive, partly because RTÉ radio rather sensibly took on a bunch of full time producers and partly because of Brexit.
It hasn’t been a good 12 months.
Now those of us who’ve been freelancing for more than 10 minutes know that this really is par for the course.
You won’t hear about it very often as we tend not to go round shouting about not working from the rooftops – a combination of a vague sense of (misplaced, obviously) shame, coupled with not wanting to damage our ‘brand’ – but we all go through such quiet periods from time to time.
There’s usually a lucrative project with our name on it lurking just round the corner.
Not always, of course, but if you wait long enough, usually…
Whether you can afford to wait that long is key.
And it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing since last summer.
They just haven’t been enough.
Of course I’ve been hustling some projects too and am still waiting on word on some specific TV, radio and online jobs, plus I’m about to pop back to London to pitch a few things – well, for a mate’s stag but never one to miss an opportunity while there…
If any of them take off, I might move back but in my head my plan would be for any move now only to be temporary.
But we’ll cross that bridge if and when.
In the meantime, the thing is there’s only so much pitching you can do; if all you get are rejections you eventually lose your enthusiasm.
I’m not there yet but you do regularly wonder just how long without getting some ideas away or without the phone ringing offering some worthwhile work you can keep up the pressure.
And it’s that ongoing continued frustration that I think prompted this should-I-have-stayed-or-should-I-have gone query.
The truth is, of course, that I had f**k all choice; the arse fell out of the media business in the UK in the wake of 2008’s recession and in September it put paid to two major TV projects I’d spent months developing with a major production company for one of the main terrestrial channels.
It was the last time I worked in the UK as it felt like the industry went into near shutdown.
And more experienced and established media people than me felt the full force of the economic meltdown so it didn’t just pick on lil’ ol’ me.
Coming back to Ireland then was actually a no-brainer – it wasn’t like I had any real choice.
So now I guess I’ve just got to be patient, hang in there and keep hustling.
But I left behind a lot of good friends in London and when I got back found that naturally most of mine here had moved on; they were now married, in long-term relationships and/or had moved out to the burbs and finding folk to do some spontaneous socialising like back in the day is now a rarity.
Maybe that’s called getting old…well, older anyway.
All said, though, I’m relatively lucky: in London in 2009 I was skint, now in Dublin having worked so regularly over the past eight years I’m not, so I don’t have to panic just yet.
Also, as the mammy pointed out, she’s happy I’m back.
Someone else suggested on Facebook that I’ve “missed out on so many terrorist attacks,” which is kinda true; I was there for the 2005 7/7 bombs but even though I also probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near any of the recent assaults, some mates were so you can never be certain.
And that’s before I even consider the impact Brexit already has had and will continue to have on the British economy over the coming years…
So no, coming home probably wasn’t a mistake, in as much as one can ever know what might have been.
Though it has all got me wondering about another possibility: should I have ever left here for the bright lights of London in the first place in ’98?
That, I think, we’ll leave for another day.