Things I look forward to….

As the date fast approaches for our return to the UK I continue to put my head in the sand about us actually leaving. I love South Africa and our life here and if you follow this blog you know there are so many things I will miss (sunshine, wine, food, people, travel, wildlife, Channel 5 on the radio…)

But there is no point wallowing – we are leaving and I need to accept that. So in order to try and make things a little easier about the move home I have started to think not so much about all the things I will miss but the things I am looking forward to about being back in cold, damp, grey clean, safe, errrr, green Britain.

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So first and foremost yes I will appreciate being able to step outside my front door and simply walk. Walk whichever way I like, on my own, without thinking about whether my handbag is zipped up properly or if someone is following me. Even at night. Not only that but we won’t have to battle our way through a grill, double lock and security gates just to pop to the shops. Plus at night we can sleep without locking ourselves in a keep (which will be good for our dog, Cooper, in particular who resents being woken and dragged upstairs when we go to bed at night; I realise we could leave him downstairs and outside of the safe area but he is too precious to us to do that!).

Talking of dogs, and talking of popping to the shops, I am also looking forward to taking him with me. I am not yet sure if I will ever be confident enough to tie him up outside a shop like so many people do back home while they nip in for a pint of milk and a daily newspaper (ah yes! getting my news from a hard print copy rather than online, that will be a nice novelty too). But I like to think I will be able to take him out and about with me a lot more regularly than I can here. The Brits love dogs – they are even allowed in pubs. I will just have to remember that it’s an absolute no-no to leave any dog poo unbagged, even if he does it nice and neatly in a little bush out of the way where no-one can see it….

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And when I go to those shops I am looking forward to more choice. In all honesty, the food shopping in South Africa is fantastic and we really haven’t missed much. But there are some areas where they don’t do so well and where we in the UK seem to be world champions – like yoghurts and other desserts (so many types!), and bread. Ah, freshly baker bakers bread. And familiar brands that taste right rather than just slightly…wrong.

I am looking forward to seasons, to the smell of Autumn and the cold air of winter. To blackberries and apples off the trees. To watching our many excellent dramas or documentaries without having to download them first. Decent internet speeds. And lots more people to talk to about British politics.

There are of course many things I am not looking forward to (the rain, the lack of diversity, the expense of everything, the traffic….) but this isn’t what this post is all about so I will ignore all of those. In fact I will continue to put my head in the sand, my hands over my ears and say lalalalala for the next few months because otherwise I might just decide I’m not leaving.

And as nice as that would be for me, sadly for the reasons why we chose to go home in the first place it really isn’t an option.

Yup, the countdown is on – Blighty, here we come.

Photo credits: Green England – highlights6

Mini schnauzer – kawabata

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This is England

So many people think of rain when they think of England. Well, this was yesterday – and the day before….and the day before that….and today in fact…..

EDITED TO SAY: I CAN’T BELIEVE I PUT THIS UP AND FORGOT TO MENTION THAT IT IS ST GEORGE’S DAY! ENGLAND’S NATIONAL DAY. For years we have been made to feel ashamed of being English because the right wing parties like the BNP high-jacked our emblems and national-pride was associated with racism. Now with the rise of Scottish, Welsh and even Cornish nationalism, I think there is a move back to claim England, the English flag and all that goes with it (including St George’s Day) as our own. We live in a multi-cultural, tolerant, open and democratic country and I am proud to be English.

pink blossom blue sky

Photo101 – Water

Another picture for the Photo101 workshop. This time the theme is water. It’s a shame we don’t still live in St Lucia – I coined my twitter name @strandedatsea because every time I looked out of the window all I could see was the beautiful Caribbean sea. Water, water everywhere! But sadly I am still in blustery grey England where the rain hasn’t even obliged with my quest to get a photo of water today. Instead as I walked down the road on the way into town to buy cotton wool and pink leggings for World Book Day costumes (don’t ask!), I snapped this puddle scene.

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I love the way the bare trees are reflected in the pool – the leafless branches, the mud and the cloudy sky all sum this country up nicely. I think I am starting to see a theme in my photo101 posts – things that represent what I will leave behind when we move to South Africa. Some I will miss, some less so. I wonder if I will be able to continue with this theme through the workshop?

Show Your World: The Sculpture Trail

This weekend, the first weekend of spring, we spent as much time outdoors as possible. It’s still chilly and the new buds are only just starting to push through the soil, but there is definitely a change in the air. The mornings are lighter, there’s a smell of new growth on the wind and the lambs are starting to appear alongside their mothers in the meadows.

We chose to try out a walk in the Forest of Dean, about a half an hour drive from our house. The Forest has an old world quality to it, parts of the wood feel like nothing has changed since Henry VIII’s time and you half expect to see a tudor hunting party rampage its way between the ancient trees. But in the end it was just us, a few other walkers and cyclists, and the peace of the English country side.

Ancient tree

We spent about two hours walking the trail, which incudes more than a dozen sculptures by artists interpreting the local countryside. It made for a more enjoyable walk, spotting each sculpture as we made our way along the muddy paths. But we also took the time to stop every so often and just listen. Once the sounds of the children laughing and whining (there was both!) died away, we realised there was a gentle cacophony of birdsong creating a layer of noise – a noise that would have been the constant backdrop of sound to the people of ancient tudor times.

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Further along the way we came into an area dominated by fir trees. Here, the sound changed again to one of the wind in the trees, sounding all the world like the rain on a roof or the sea crashing on a beach. It’s funny how nature can disguise itself if it wants to.

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Not fir trees – but I loved the shapes these branches made against the sky. The stuff of nightmares!

We took the short cut back to the start, where we sat down in the cafe for a welcome lunch, feeling we deserved it after our long walk. The sounds of the forest were once again drowned out by children’s voices and dogs barking.

This post was my contribution to Tiny Expat’s Show Your World weekly blog event.

show your world

I’ve spent my whole life feeling home-sick for somewhere….

As part of a trailing spouse link-up this month we have been asked to write about home-sickness. At the moment, I am home. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get home-sick. For all my life I have been leaving places – and people – behind. And even now I still get a pang for countries that are so far in my past I can hardly remember what they feel like.

A friend of mine has recently returned from a posting in the Philippines. On her arrival back in the UK, she posted a set of photographs – set to some stirring song or another – of her time in that beautiful country. As I watched the pictures flick across the screen in front of me they not only showed me what a fabulous time my friend had had, it also brought back my own memories. And suddenly I was there again – the smell of Frangipani on a humid tropical evening; the excitement of arriving at our favourite beach resort at the start of the weekend. Diving from the top board at the Army and Navy club – and the agony when the perfect arc turned into a belly flop. Eating pizza at Shakey’s. My first sleepover, at a Korean friend’s house. Birthday parties with the rich children from school at the Country Club. Running barefoot round the corner of our gated village to my best friend’s house….

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The Philippines in the 1970’s

The feelings are fleeting but they are still there. Another example: I recently met someone who is about to be posted to Venezuela. I spent some very formative years of my life in that country – we were posted there when I was 15 and left when I was 19. I was at boarding school for much of that time but spent most holidays in Caracas and then a year there between leaving school and university.

As we spoke about what Venezuela was like (sadly very different from the country I knew – so safe I was able to go out at night on my own, finding my way home via taxi’s or lifts from strangers I met in bars; now it’s all armoured cars and close protection teams), I remembered trips to the Llanos, swimming at the base of the Angel Falls, endless cinema outings to watch the latest 80’s teen movie. Terrible clothes shops. The blandness of arepas, but the wonderful beef. These memories are deep but they haven’t gone away.

Yes I get homesick all the time – for all of these countries and for more. For verdant New Zealand, with its stunning views and laid-back people. For Jamaica, where I met my husband and we spent the weekends underwater. For St Lucia, with its beaches and its pools. Even for Pakistan, a strange three-month interlude in my life where I barely touched on getting to know the country but nevertheless gained so much.

Jamaica wedding

Jamaica wedding

But all of those will still pale into insignificance when I move abroad again this summer as I know the one place I will always miss more than any other is this one.

I wasn’t born here – that honour goes to Cuba – but I have always known the UK is home. Maybe not even the UK, maybe more significantly England, or perhaps even west England, where I live now. We always had a house in this country and family. We returned here between postings and I went first to school and later to University here. I have lived and worked here – in Kent, Hertfordshire, Essex, the Midlands, the west, and of course London. I know the people, I know the humour. There is no other country that does better television. We have our radio and our music. Our culture and our history. The NHS. Marks and Spencers. Cheese rolling and Morris dancing. We have the diversity of Birmingham. We have the beauty of the Cotswolds. In my opinion, having travelled and lived in all four corners of the globe, there is no better country in the world.

The view from our kitchen window

The view from our kitchen window

So why do I keep leaving it? This is a good question – but maybe one of the reasons I love it so much is because I do keep going away. This gives me a different perspective on this place, I can see it from a different angle. And while others might see ambulance queues and GP waiting lists, I see free and universal healthcare open to all. Where others complain that our politicians are corrupt, I see freedom of speech, freedom to wear (almost) whatever we want, freedom to complain openly and voraciously about those politicians. And where others moan about immigration and foreigners taking our jobs, I see an open and generous country.

But of course I won’t just be homesick for the country as a whole, I will be homesick for the little things, the meaningful things, the things that really mean OUR home. The autumn blackberry picking. Chats with other mums on the school run. The girls running outside to play with their friends in front of our house. Being able to walk into town and buying sausages from the local butcher. Reading the Times on Saturday afternoon with a coffee. Looking out of my window at the oh-so-familiar view of the road, trees, houses and play park in front of our home.

All of these things are what I miss. All of these things are what home means to me. And all of these things will be what I most look forward to when it’s time to return.

 

Read more about other trailing spouses’ experiences with homesickness:

• Elizabeth of Secrets of a Trailing Spouse shares how homesickness wasn’t what she expected
Tala Ocampo writes about the Life that Was in the Philippines and how she would still say yes to the trailing spouse life
• Yuliya of Tiny Expats relives the sensory experience of being back home
• Jenny of My Mommyology explains why we become homesick in the first place
• Didi of D for Delicious talks about her love-hate relationship with her home country