Sifting through an untidy jumble of emotions about my month long trip home to the UK, I’ve struggled to find a single narrative or story which enables me to write about it all and tie it together in a way that pleases me. So, magpie-like, I’ve stolen a post-style which Niall, and then Caz, have both executed beautifully.
It’s a series of unconnected vignettes about moments that stand out for me from my time back in the UK. It was harder than you’d think to write them, but an interesting exercise. Names have been changed and all that, and no, I won’t be writing any more about each of the vignettes, this is all you get.
Let me know in the comments what you think of them, the style, and which is your favourite…
What happened to the sun?
I was cold. Teeth chatteringly, goose bumpily, shiveringly cold. My jaw was clenched against it, and my muscles had tightened in protest. It was hard to remember being warm, even though the day before I’d been in searing 40 degree heat. Now it was snowing, and I was going through my drawers looking for my thermal leggings, reluctant to take off my hat and gloves even though I was inside the house.
Maybe I never left
It was snowing outside, but I was warm in my living room, with the gas fire on, wrapping presents for people and watching Strictly Come Dancing on the PVR. I had a hot chocolate to drink and was cosy in my own space, leaning up against my sofa, feet stretched out in front of me. For a moment I was lost in time, wondering whether my trip away had been only a dream – wasn’t this an exact replica of what I was doing in December before I left?
I knocked on the door. It looked strange from this side. I’d come round to drop some books off. He opened the door and smiled in welcome. We hung out for a while and chatted, he made me a cup of tea in the kitchen. My kitchen? His kitchen. I said goodbye and he showed me out, and I was on the wrong side of the door. When it had shut I touched it briefly with my palm, and walked away.
Definitely not Yoga
So this is what a clip round the ear feels like, I mused groggily as he hit me open-handed across the side of the head. Come on, you know this! he shouted, as I tried to defend against the two-handed choke from the guy who had at least 50 pounds and nearly a foot on me. My throat was definitely going to be bruised the next day I thought, but this is one class – teacher, classmates, content – I wish I could transport straight to Thailand. But it’s definitely not yoga.
It was strange to meet up with people from work again. I’d only been back a week, and yet subconsciously I had been waiting to go back to the life I’d had for nearly a decade. All the time I’d spent away felt like a 2-week holiday, as if I’d had a more-refreshing-than-normal fortnight off. I’d come to the drinks with anticipation and nervousness in my stomach. Would taste regret over my decision? But, though seeing friends and colleagues again was lovely, their stories of day-to-day life at work reminded me why I’d left. I went home happy and comfortable with my decision to keep travelling.
We sat together companionably in the conservatory, one way or other both working on homework, even though one of us was 35 and the other 15. I was writing a training course, she was preparing for her GCSEs. Have you heard of Passenger? she said, and I pressed play on my Mac Air laptop and put the songs I owned on to shuffle.
For a moment I blanked, trying to remember what body part appointment I was driving to. Was this Doctor, Dentist, Hygienist, Optician, Hospital Consultant, Massage or Acupuncture? Oh, yes, I remember now. It was the car’s MOT.
My cheeks burned with the implied reprimand. How unfair, I thought. You’re telling me off and yet it’s exactly what you just did, and I didn’t throw it in your face. I opened my mouth to say something, and then closed it again. I took a breath, and tried to let the shame fade. You can’t change the way other people behave, I thought, but you can change your own response and behaviour. But it still took me the morning to really let it go.
I’d been wearing it for over a month now, but I still didn’t want to take the thin white cotton bracelet off. Made from three loops around the wrist, it had proved sturdier than it looked, and felt like my only tangible link back to Thailand. My skin, which a month ago had actually looked a little tan against the bright white of the circle, was now starting to match the bracelet again…
We sat in the warm, beautiful and tastefully decorated living room. I was using my computer with my legs crossed under me on the sofa, with the two of them in armchairs beside me. They watched the TV, providing background noise for me, while I used my computer and ‘got on’ with stuff, and I felt happy. Sometimes it was nice to have company, I thought.
I took a deep breath and looked out across the wide open space of the park. It had been a crazy couple of weeks, moving two of us out of two houses. I was exhausted and hadn’t had much time to myself, so I’d come to the park for a walk. It was wonderful to be on my own again. I just stood with space all around me, relaxed my shoulders and breathed.
Sitting there in the sunshine, staring down at my screen, I felt flat. The last few weeks had been hectic and I felt behind on my self-imposed schedule for creating. I wondered if I could force it. I played with some words and ideas on a sheet of paper for a minute, even trying some coloured pens. But nothing came. So I shut the computer, and walked out into the sun.
A bit dazed after a post-lunch nap I’d needed whilst the others had started playing our family card game, Bonanza, I joined in, and watched my stake of £1 slowly dwindle. My cousins, sister and I sat round the table all focused on the board, cards and our pennies, and played for hours. I felt a sense of community and family, and was reminded that whatever happened, I could always come home.
Is it that you think I’m on holiday? I said, frustrated that she clearly didn’t want me to continue with my activities on the laptop. Yes, she said simply, and looked surprised. Oh. Well, I’m not. This is my life for the minute, I said. Oh, she said. Right.
I looked at the clothes spread out across the dark bedspread, noticing how my UK winter wardrobe blended in. It made me think of packing up and moving on in Thailand – where my clothes were lighter in several senses. I started packing my things into the appropriate bags: the duffle bag of clothes I don’t need that often, which stays in the car; the small case with the things I use most; the canvas bag with my laptop and work things; my washbag; my handbag. So many possessions, even though it’s not. I feel like a snail. As I close up the last bag, and get ready to put things into my car, I reflect on how strange it is that I’ve travelled more here in the UK in a few weeks than in a couple of months back in Thailand.
Sitting up in the comfy warm bed, with the sunlight coming through the window, I tapped away on my keyboard. I’d just nipped to the kitchen to make a cup of tea before I got the laptop out, and my feet were icy cold from the floor. I wiggled my toes under the duvet and luxuriated in the sensation of being in bed this late in the day.
Kingston-upon-Thames as Thailand
I’d been for the most amazing Lush Spa massage, where I’d floated out the door. I’d eaten a fabulous fresh salad, and the sun was shining. I was just now setting up my laptop in the John Lewis café to do some work, a cappuccino beside me. Who said that you couldn’t recreate my life in Thailand here in Surrey?
I entered the hotel, and slipped on work-mode like a dress I haven’t worn for a while, and am not sure if it quite fits anymore. Can I check in? I said. And can someone show me the training room? I’m running a course here tomorrow. Of course, the receptionist said, no problem. We continue the interaction and I feel like I’ve been here before. Well, of course, I have, I thought. At least she seemed to think the dress was still a good fit.
Leaving on a jet plane
I’ve said goodbye to my mum at the gate, and I’ve made the calls I need to to say my last goodbyes. I’m sitting waiting for my plane to be called, checking and updating social media for the last time on UK soil. I feel topsy-turvey. Am I going home or leaving home? Am I happy or sad?
Can it be both?