Thoughts on my first return to the UK

I wrote this in stages, around the time I returned to the UK last September for the first time since I left to move to Sydney in March 2017. It’s kind of a long one but was pretty therapeutic for me to write so, it stays.

Just down the road from where I grew up.

One week before returning, I’m not really giving much thought to it. I’m busy booking travel, figuring out dates, rearranging things. I’m going back for my granny’s funeral which means things are a little short notice, and I’m scrambling to get everything done and packed to leave on time. I’m mostly looking forward to seeing people, and sad about my granny. Although, I don’t think that part of it has really hit yet. How cheerful is appropriate for a “dress in cheerful colours” funeral? Did I remember to book the right transfers? Where should I pick up my hire car from? What should I pack for 3 days in 43 degree heat that I won’t need again for the rest of my trip?!

On the way back, I stop for 5 days in the US. I didn’t really want it to be quite so long but that’s when the cheap flights were. I have some pretty intense flashbacks during those 5 days – maybe it’s all the time alone, I don’t know. I’m mostly back to my teenage years. Dude Looks Like A Lady has me actually roaring with laughter when it comes on the hire car radio. Yes, I was all alone. No, that didn’t matter. Cooking sessions with my (other) Grannie come to mind as I try and rustle up meals using the tiny kitchen in the serviced apartment. University traditions I haven’t thought about in years. I dream vividly about my friends.

I haven’t really been myself during this little trip. I haven’t felt like exploring or trying new things, opting for safe and familiar activities only. I’ve been anxious for no reason. This doesn’t feel like homesickness, but maybe it is. 

My view of LA, from my hotel window.

I’m at the airport and I feel very weird. I aimed off due to LA traffic and ended up with 4 hours to kill at the airport. I don’t know what to do with all this time with nothing to do (I don’t react well to that) and end up freaking out a bit. I couldn’t tell you why. Just returning to the UK feels too big and too much. I miss my husband and I wish we’d done this together – as it was, he had his first return a few weeks ago (also for a family funeral, unfortunately). He was fine. Why am I not fine?

I have a suitcase full of grown up lady workwear (purchased at the outlets ready for my scary new job) and I feel like a little girl. 


The choice I made to fly back to the UK via LA means the LAX-LHR leg is on Virgin Atlantic, and I’d forgotten just how uncomfortable their thin, hard seats are. Despite regular plane yoga and route marches around the cabin, by the end of the ten hour trip I’m in a reasonable amount of pain. When we arrive I creak and hobble down the aisle of the plane, grimacing.

I set foot on British soil for the first time in 18 months.

I smile.


When I arrive back at my childhood home, the sun is shining. It’s positively bucolic. I feel elated to have returned. I’m giddy; I’m 17, I’m 27, I’m proud of how far I’ve come, I feel loss, there’s that time I had a fever, I’m 8, my sisters and Trivial Pursuit, my favourite book, my friends and the recovery visits, I’m 14, the parties in the back garden, there’s my childhood dog’s favourite spot, I’m content, I feel distant. Daddy, Daddy. There he is. I blink. The rollercoaster starts again.

I run around touching things, going in all the rooms and greeting them as the old friends they are. I rediscover caches of belongings left behind in my last minute tornado that I’d totally forgotten about. I put as many of them on as I can, as if to apologise for my absence.

Just a walk in the woods. Like countless before it.

We go for an anti-jetlag walk. I’m still wearing all my left-behind-belongings in an ensemble that could kindly be described as eccentric. I don’t care! I’m loving every moment.


I emerge from Oxford Circus like I have eleventy bajillion times before and take my usual exit. Can I still call it that? London is swathed in sunshine and it’s glorious, like I’m seeing it with new eyes. So this is why tourists love it so much.

Windsor, where I had my first yay England moment. The flags, the blue sky, and Windsor Castle peeking slyly over the Peascod Street <3

I sit in a cafe with an old friend for so long that the rain has returned by the time I leave. Of course, I have none of my London Gear with me so I try and duck between shops and overhangs to avoid the worst of it. I refuse to buy another emergency brolly from Tiger. Reality has well and truly returned.

My footprints fall on the same ground they did years ago, and decades ago. The buildings are the same, the weather is the same. Time is just one big loop; falling leaves return to their roots. I remember how I felt then, and the things that filled my head. But now, my shoes are from Kmart and my world is so much bigger. I’m about to start a(nother) whole new phase of life with my scary new job, and closing the door on the old one feels like another connection back to my life in the UK gently falls away. Like a ball of yarn that just stops.


There’s no reverse culture shock for me – how can I be shocked by home? Nonetheless, it’s like looking at the world through an antique mirror; slight distortions cause me to blink and shake my head every so often.

Sunset in the ever scenic Leamington. Don’t worry Mummy, I wore my best skirt.

But really, it’s just like everyone says. Familiar patterns return with ease. Things feel the same, yet different. I am the same, yet different. I fit, but I don’t; I’m one step removed now.

The world turns regardless.

Have you ever been back ‘home’ after a long absence? How did you feel?

-Rachel

Linking up with Kristen

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16 Comments

  1. 7th February 2019 / 19:16

    Oh, Rach, I am so sorry to hear about your granny!

    I’ve never experienced this myself, but every time we go back to Louisiana it’s a bit of an emotional whirlwind for Jesse. People expect him to be so elated to be back “home” – but that’s no longer home for him…. and whilst they’re all pretty much doing the same thing, our lives are constantly changing so friends and family often feel weird about it. It’s odd and hard to explain but I guess that’s what happens!

  2. 8th February 2019 / 03:35

    goodness, this made me so emotional.
    i cried when we were descending into sydney. i just kept saying i’m home, i’m home. and you really do look at everything with new eyes and it’s like your past is flashing in your mind constantly, everything is worthy of a story -there’s my school, there’s where i ran that one time, i’ve been to that shop, i used to catch that bus, i’ve seen that house a million times… and the distant/content thing. i totally get that.
    just, a lot of emotions. i am not looking forward to the first visit home after my nana. everything will be so different and i’m sure i will be a mess.
    all the hugs xx

  3. 8th February 2019 / 05:15

    I can’t even imagine the feeling of being back home after living in a whole other country! It must be so surreal, but things and places bring back so many memories at the same time. I’m glad that you had the extra time in the US at the start of the trip, and I hope that you enjoyed it!

  4. 8th February 2019 / 11:08

    I love that you write “how can I be shocked by home?…it’s like looking at the world through an antique mirror; slight distortions cause me to blink and shake my head every so often.” That is exactly what it’s like to leave and come back.

  5. 8th February 2019 / 18:32

    This was an amazing post. It’s funny in a way. I wrote a series of journal entries about when I went back to my hometown for the first time in 9 years and I thought about blogging it but wasn’t blogging at the time. If you don’t mind me doing something similar, I might have to make that post in the future.

    We had similar thoughts as well. You wrote, how can I be shocked by home and my thought was how does my hometown have me at a loss for words?

  6. 9th February 2019 / 09:29

    Oh jeez you’re back to the blog with a tear jerker. Of course not a happy reason to return to the UK… I said it before but condolences for your granny. That must have added another layer to the already complex experience of returning home as an expat.
    “My footprints fall on the same ground they did years ago, and decades ago. The buildings are the same, the weather is the same. Time is just one big loop; falling leaves return to their roots.” – This really hit home for me. Pardon the accidental pun, lol. I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately.. that time really is just one big loop. Maybe that comes with living in my childhood home and hometown, or at least accentuates the feeling, but I know exactly how you felt.

  7. 9th February 2019 / 20:59

    Sorry to hear about your loss! 🙁 This was a really moving post and has me wondering so much more about how things will be in a few months (I’m heading back home for the first time in over 10 years). My immediate family live here with me, it’s just going to be seeing all the people and places again. Looks like I’ll need to be very kind to myself while I process it all! Although perhaps the longer time between will make it easier. Who knows.

  8. 10th February 2019 / 14:29

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandma. I felt like I was with you the entire time I was reading this post. You have such a great writing style!

  9. 12th February 2019 / 01:29

    lovely post my friend. i think i feel a bit weird every time i go to the home where i grew up (the town) – i think the longer i’m away the more i forget as far as how to get from point a to point b (but then again it’s been 15 years now). so i dunno. it will always be a wave of emotions though – weird and definitely removed. glad you got some sunshine while you were there.
    xoxo cheshire kat

  10. 12th February 2019 / 08:01

    Oh I think I need some tissues! It’s funny, I don’t really get emo about going back to the UK anymore but I always get a bit teary when I touch down in Sydney. It definitely feels like home now. I love the nostalgia of the UK but these days, it’s more the people than the place that really pull on my heartstrings. That said, I your photos really capture so much “Britishness” they made me feel a tad homesick! Lucky I’m flying back tomorrow for a British fix!

  11. 13th February 2019 / 08:00

    I’m sorry so sorry for your loss.

    Such a beautiful homecoming. I had this same type of feeling when I moved back to Connecticut a few months ago, after living in New Jersey for three years. It was absolutely coming, but similar to a home in a dream. I kept turning corners and thinking, I’ve been here before. But it was a stray thought that I couldn’t connect to anything, until hours later.

  12. 13th February 2019 / 14:48

    Condolences Rachel – never easy to have to fly back under those circumstances.

    I enjoyed this post. It reminded me of the many many times I have flown back to the UK from living all sorts of places.

    I go back in December for a holiday – can’t wait and looking forward to a lot. But it will also remind me that I will have changed. Was in the UK for over 20 years last time. Still miss that life but of course it no longer exists.

    😊

  13. 14th February 2019 / 20:18

    Girl, I’m sorry to hear you lost your granny… I lost mine too around the same time, I didn’t get to go to her funeral, so I’m glad you got to go. Though not the greatest reason for going home.

    Ahh there’s nothing like coming home after an extended time period away… London was home for me too and I haven’t been back in a long time. I love flying into London and knowing I’m home. But then walking around the streets you knew so well, it’s so samey yet so different. And even New York. I remember initially feeling like I was returning home and then after many years, I realized I was just a tourist and saw NYC through the eyes of one. I loved it! And then I fell in love with NYC all over again and I want nothing more then to move back.

    What a beautiful post!!!

  14. 25th February 2019 / 13:29

    Going back after a long absence is so weird. Our first visit back to the USA was a full three years after we moved abroad and it was fun and it was stressful at times–there was both familiarity and unfamiliarity. To go “home” but to not really have a home. Because I’m from Michigan but Angel’s not, but we lived there for 3.5 years together so it’s kind of “our home” although strangers now live in our house (but my grandpa owns it, so it stayed in the family). And the month we visited the USA was the month that my first baby was supposed to have been born, so I was dealing with a lot of grief at the time while trying to also fully appreciate the trip and the much-loved family and friends that I hadn’t seen in years.
    And you going back for a funeral just makes it an even more emotional experience, beyond just the factor of having been away from home for a while. My great-aunt and great-uncle passed away at the beginning of this year and my mom and I and Cyrus almost made the journey back in time for the funeral…but a combination of factors made us decide to stay home in the end. Which is also complicated, as my mom says, since she wasn’t at her aunt and uncle’s funeral, she has a hard time remembering that they aren’t around anymore. She keeps remembering them and forgetting that they are gone. None of these things are easy.

  15. 26th February 2019 / 23:16

    What a lovely post! While I’m sorry to hear about your loss, I did truly enjoy reading about your return home after so long. Your writing in this post is absolutely beautiful.

    A little shocked that the flight from LA to the UK was only 10 hours! It’s an 8-hour flight from ATL to CDG and 10 hours from ATL to FRA, so I guess I thought it would be longer?

  16. 1st March 2019 / 21:00

    This was so interesting to read. I immigrated to the UK 3.5 years ago and since then my family has left The Netherlands as well. So my experience has been a little different. Every time I return to NL these days, everything is very different, since my family is no longer there.

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