Last month I got to go back home!
I used to think England was dull and dying; slapped up with concrete, poked and prodded, with a population defeated by grey Novembers. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to walk on streets stamped on for centuries by millions of feet, when there were forests and mountains to explore—a whole world out there to discover.
There is nowhere quite like home though, and for the last few months I’ve been feeling an urge to return to England; an inexplicable desire for BBC Radio 1 and Gregg’s sausage rolls.
I approached the trip with apprehension. Would I miss Canada terribly, or would I be struck by a deep sense of belonging to this side of the Atlantic?
Landing in Heathrow was underwhelming; 9 hours of in-flight entertainment and shoddy plane food had battered me into a shell of a human desperately needing nutrition. Facing a 2-hour drive back to my family home in Bristol, I perked up slightly once leaving the airport and we pulled on to the left side of the road. Satisfying. Then I noticed the cars! They were tiny, and so clean! It was then I realised that I’ve been unknowingly acclimatising myself to massive 4×4 trucks, decked out with mud splatters and bumper guards. The cars on the M4 looked like toys in comparison.
And so my trip began! Six weeks seemed like a long time when I booked my flights, but it went by so fast. Some of my highlights were:
Proper fish and chips. Not proper proper, because proper proper fish and chips are eaten on the coast when the newspaper is soggy from the drizzle and everybody is rather miserable, but as proper as fish and chips can be without any of the unpleasantness.
Taking the train! Affordable rail travel!
Driving down tiny Cornish roads with towering banks of wildflower and grasses, knitted together by ivy and years of primitive growth, all the way to the pub, the building of which was built in 1460 and retains the character of a place that has seen everything. Comparing that to the North American obsession with chain restaurants, drive-through anything, and empty fast-food diners.
Going to my birthplace, where I took my first breath. Walking the streets I grew up walking, feeling that feeling where everything seems smaller than you remember. This is where I came from.
The South West Coast, looking back to Canada. The coastline here is magnificent; it’s one of the places that reminds me most of the wilderness of Canada. In a country where so much is tightly managed, the thunderous waves evade all regulation.
It’s strange, of course, going back to a place so familiar. It feels like nothing has changed, but in other ways, everything has changed. I’ve changed, and the beauty of travel is that I get to go back and see it with new eyes. Take London. London is a wild city; don’t let the skyscrapers fool you otherwise. Nature is taking over. Tree roots are heaving under the pavement; plants seem to grow out of nothing; ivy wraps its tenacious fingers around buildings. It’s refreshing to realise that concrete eventually succumbs to life.
Meeting new people is thrilling in its own way, but it’s a very grounding experience to talk to someone that has known you for most of your life. I feel immeasurably fortunate that so many of my friends, despite having not heard from me for the best part of 4 years, were willing to look past my poor communication skills and welcome me back into their lives with open arms.
One April morning, my friend and I enjoyed the sunshine on her patio in London. It was one of those mornings that stretched out deliciously; we had nowhere to be. In the distance, the London Eye crawled around. Tucked away in the streets of Kennington, we could forget the hustle of the city. Fixing the world, my mum calls it, when you share your problems with someone close. We were eating fresh bread and pain au chocolats, which had been gifted to us by our friend Ollie, who runs a weekend breakfast delivery service for the fashionable areas of London. We were not fashionable by any means, and our conversation touched on everything, including some political debate that was probably ill-advised. Ollie would be disappointed his croissants were subject to a conversation of such low calibre.
It wasn’t all easy, my trip back home, as I’m sure any expat would tell you; old tensions resurface and forgotten anxieties dig their nails in and pull themselves back into your consciousness. This can be healing, but it can also be hard.
To everyone that I saw, I’m honoured to still call you a friend. To everyone that I missed, or didn’t spend enough quality time with, forgive me, and know that I’m thinking of you. I’ll be back.
Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
“Home-Thoughts, from Abroad” — Robert Browning
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