There is no place like….

We have just been fortunate to go back to our native UK (well native for my husband and I at least) since the pandemic started. About 20 months since we last saw our parents, my siblings, niece and nephew. It felt weird planning to go and constantly preparing ourselves that it might not happen due to test results, rule changes, whatever! Even after a couple of days of being back in London, it didn’t feel real as I had arrived – possibly having over-prepared myself for not being there!

(I also have to say that I am extremely conscious of the many expats/others that have been unable to visit family for some time and with no end in sight either. Obviously I really hope the situation improves soon so everyone can be reunited).

Thames River and sunset
A perfect British summer’s evening having had a pub meal.

Regardless, we made it and it was obviously wonderful to visit my parents, sister and family in London and my in-laws and family in Newcastle. It was something that I thought might never happen again when the pandemic initially struck in March 2019 and here we were altogether and all a bit older and (possibly) wiser with a new-found appreciation for each other. It made our trip back to Blighty even more special than normal and quite possibly has affected my perspective on our ‘homeland’.

1 I was hugely appreciative of the cooler weather. Malaga over the last few weeks had been in the low to mid 30’s and humid with no rain in as long as I can remember. It felt so liberating to be able to walk everywhere, not feel sluggish and get on with stuff (yes, I am ignoring the constant threat of a shower and the need to put on the heating at night – even in August!)

Drizzly day at the beach Newcastle
Come rain or shine, we WILL sit out and enjoy the beach!

2 Being able to speak and think in English ALL. THE. TIME! No need to plan a phone conversation in advance, think about a particularly difficult word mid-conversation or translate a museum label. What a luxury! (Although I have to admit I did start missing speaking Spanish by the end of our trip)

3 Familiarity of how to do stuff whether it be public transport, the Post Office, parking, general day to day goings on. Again so liberating and if I didn’t know something, I could easily know where to find it or ask a family member who could help.

4 Sense of humour. I sometimes get myself into trouble here in Spain with my sarcasm as people don’t know whether to take it/me seriously or not. A British sense of humour is far easier to understand with fellow Brits. I long to fully get the Spanish humour and idiosyncrasies, but it might take me some time! We had a very amusing conversation with a cab driver in Newcastle about it being his first day of driving which we carried on (albeit to the kids bemusement) for some time. You had to be there, but it felt so British to be having real banter with someone you had literally just met.

shark in house roof in Oxford British humour
British humour and bloody-mindedness at its best. A homeowner has done this to his home in protest of local planners in Oxford.

5 Going to places with so many memories – driving past old homes, schools, workplaces, favourite shops, restaurants, pubs from my teens. So many feelings and emotions are evoked and opportunities to bore my children endlessly with stories that I can then test them on later.

6 Shockingly it has taken me this long to bring up food (possibly my favourite ‘thing’ in the world). In Spain we can get a lot of British stuff at Iceland supermarket (they stock a lot of UK brands) and at local restaurants too. However, there is nothing like going to a pub for scampi and chips, cream tea, liver and bacon or a lamb roast (shockingly expensive in Spain) and being able to see the WHOLE range of delights in a British supermarket AND at reasonable prices. And that is before we even mention Greggs and their sausage rolls which we nearly went to every single day that we were back.

99 icecream and flake with British coastline
Nothing like a good old ’99’

7 Shops. There is (almost) nothing like the excitement of going into Boots, Marks and Sparks, Superdrug, charity shops, Poundland or WHSmith and browsing the familiar and unfamiliar. It is hard to explain, but it is very hard to restrain oneself to not completely fill the suitcases up with 3 for 2 deals or large multi-packs of chocolate.

Oxford Christchurch college and gardens
Oxford’s Christchurch College and Gardens – yes, we did try and encourage the kids to aim to go here for uni.

8 Quintessential British things – we had a wonderful day out in London doing the sights (yet again – but it never gets old!) and in Oxford -being a proper tourist in this beautiful historic city which I had never really done while living in the UK. Similarly, we visited Alnwick Castle in Northumberland – a great day out exploring British history and getting a Harry Potter fix for the kids too. Cream teas, blackberry picking, amusement arcades by the seaside. Britain does history, traditions, pageantry, tourist sites and all that goes with it very well indeed.

broomstick lesson at Alnwick Castle
What else, but a broomstick lesson at Alwnick Castle?

9 Parks and open spaces – always a pleasure to explore a British park and wander, play tennis, cricket or tag with the kids or just sit. Obviously weather permitting it can be a lovely way to while away a few hours meandering. We also came across a number of fun activities for the summer, including a free open air cinema showing none other than ‘Mary Poppins’. Now how much more British can you be?!

Obviously I have not mentioned spending time with friends (partly as we didn’t really have time to do this on our flying visit unfortunately), but there is something special about starting back up with friends you haven’t seen for many moons and things having not changed at all.

British Gallery London inside
Inside the British Gallery – overwhelm of culture and history.

All in all a wonderful time was had by all.

Did I want to come back to home in Spain?

I have to admit, that for the first time I can recall, I had pangs of wanting to stay or even move back to the UK. Could this be because of the uncertainty of the Covid situation? Quite possibly. I also have a new-found appreciation for all things British, perhaps more so since our transition to Spain has not been quite as easy as I may have expected (partly due to Covid) and the high expectations we have placed on this being our long-term home.

That said the call of warmer weather, space, my own bed and our much-missed doggy were also a strong draw to come back.

And it is good to be home, despite the heat and lack of Greggs nearby.

It has been good to be reminded that the UK is not so far away as it has felt these last 18+ months. Hopefully we will be able to travel and visit each other more freely in the near future.

It has been a great lesson in appreciating all that we have in the UK and here in Spain. One thing that I feel almost constantly reminded of being an expat is that you do have a piece of your heart in each place that you have lived. It makes it hard for ONE place to feel like ‘home’ or a place that does it all for you, but it also makes life that much richer that you have had all these experiences, friendships, memories.

It will take time for Spain to feel more familiar to me and that is ok. For now, I am grateful that we can appreciate the various people and places that we can feel at home with and that this will continue to grown and deepen.

How do you feel about going back to your ‘home’ country? Has the pandemic changed your perspective on your native country or where you live now? Have you been able to get back since the pandemic or are you even ‘stuck’ there or somewhere else? I would love to hear from you.

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