So, what is it like to go back to the UK more than 2 years after leaving? My sister, a veteran expat of 10 years, has been my guide in matters of homesickness. She, however, made the journey alone, travelling to a new marriage and the whole of the USA to choose from when setting up home. She was very homesick at first, and plans to return to the UK every 2 years for a visit. She describes this as The Cure – after 2 weeks you remember why you left, and can’t wait to get back across the Atlantic!
For me, it was different. I don’t think any of us were homesick at all. We heard of other new immigrants going home after 6 months, and we felt that would be very distruptive for the children, and for us. Besides, we just didn’t want to; we were having far too much fun. I planned a trip after 2 years, but even when we were booking the tickets, we were both asking why we were doing this, when we could spend the money on something fun (or a new furnace).
My expectation was this: I will hate leaving Vancouver, hate the rush and crowding and litter of England, cry with relief all the way home and skip off the plane with the scent of pine and snow in the air and joy in my heart.
The reality? I didn’t like being surrounded by English voices on the plane. I wanted to tell everyone “I live here – I’m not a tourist, I’m not going home.” When we landed, my parents picked me up in their tiny little car and rocketed round the M25 like we were trying to achieve velocity for a slingshot round the sun (Trekkies will understand). We rushed through towns where roads suddenly went to one lane, and nobody seemed to care who had right of way (if you have the Range Rover, you have right of way, apparently). I remembered why Merge In Turn and 4-Way Stop Procedure would never work in the UK.
When we got to my parents’ house and I had unpeeled my fingers from the back of Dad’s chair, things started to veer away from my expectations. Let’s face it, England is beautiful in the spring. It is greener than BC, the broadleaf trees create a more lush landscape, and the wonderful noisy crowds of birds are almost overwhelming after our quiet, virtually bird-free yard. Ancient thatched cottages surrounded by crowded colourful gardens, wonderful pubs with bitter shandy and chips (that’s fries) and real tasty cheese and chunky pickle sandwiches , green fields of lambs and mud pens of piglets – idyllic. I was traveling the lanes of my very happy childhood, with so many memories of Pony Club, picnics and fishing in the ford, family hikes over the South Downs and, of course, my Gran in the middle of it all. We spent an afternoon at Wisley Gardens, remembering her love of plants and how she inspired us all to take up gardening, and we planned to put a plaque in the Gardens in her memory.
When the time came to leave, parting was not too bad – my parents will be infested with weasels (the pet name for our tribe of giggling girls) in a few short weeks, and they will return the visit during the summer. But, as I sat on the plane next to my sister, digesting my 8am Bloody Mary and Dramamine combo (her suggestion, I hasten to add), I asked her if she also felt a bit blue. “Always. You’ll be fine tomorrow, but it’s always hard to leave.” I waited for my landing joy to start, and it didn’t – I felt depressed, and worried, and homesick.
But, dear reader, the ending is happy and my sister was right. Within a day I was back on top of the world, gazing at my mountains and loving the scent of pine. Vancouver is my home and I love it, but now I can accept that England will always be Home.