Confessions of an expat – Homesick

Homesickness can be a serious problem for some people. Longing for familiar surroundings, sights and sounds can make them restless and unable to settle anywhere other than where they come from.
tea
Miss this? It’s nice, but you can arrange it almost anywhere

This is less of a problem for the expat whose career is what takes him or her to a different place than for what is termed the “trailing spouse”, the partner who goes along because it’s either that or effectively not have a significant other at all. The spouse doesn’t have new challenges to keep him or her busy and that can lead to having too much time to think, with the thoughts being negative ones.

I’ve never suffered from this affliction. Coming from an island with a population of 60,000 (nowadays, but considerably less in the past), one might be expected to miss home more than someone from a big city, but for me that just isn’t true.

My first venture away from Guernsey was to college in Portsmouth. Geographically that’s not far, but it is across the water and it is a city rather than an island. But for a student aged 19, it also represented freedom. There was more to do, more to see. There were rock bands playing on South Parade Pier; big names who would never go to Guernsey because it didn’t make economic sense.

I got lonely at first, because it took a while to make friends, and that’s not a nice feeling, but is not to be confused with homesickness. I grabbed the first people who would talk to me and made a little group with them, but being with the wrong people, with whom you feel no bond, is worse than nothing at all. I had to let them go and gradually find some kindred spirits.

From my new base on the south coast there was also the possibility of exploring the rest of Great Britain. Many of my friends were at colleges and universities from Bristol and London to Birmingham and Glasgow. In those rather safer (or certainly more innocent) times, it was a common practice to save on travel expenses by hitch-hiking: standing on the outskirts with a bored but optimistic thumb dangling in the hope that some kind soul would take me at least part of the way to my destination. It meant long days out in the elements with no guarantee of reaching shelter before nightfall, but youth doesn’t worry about that so much. You will get there in the end.

And along the way you meet people whom you otherwise wouldn’t. You see towns you didn’t intend to visit and learn about human nature.

I was once given a meal and a settee for the night in a small town in the west country by a couple who thought I was absent without leave from the nearby Army base.

In this day and age you can’t recommend young people  putting themselves at the mercy of strangers, but many of us did it regularly and came to no harm.

So that was a bit of travelling , going around the UK when I should have been studying.

beach port soif
Miss this? Sure, but there are beaches in places other than Guernsey

Later came trips around Europe, again by thumb, with pea-brained ideas about working in Gibraltar because it was British, only to be turned away at the border because we had no money. “But that’s the whole point,” we argued with the official. “We’re here to work and earn some money.”  These people, these stupid grownups with their blinkered ideas and inflexible attitudes. Hadn’t they ever heard that line from The Beatles’ Abbey Road album: “But oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go.” It made perfect sense to me at the time.

And the night I slept in a graveyard in a small French town, I wasn’t pining for my bedroom back home. Quite the contrary. I was the one living the life of Riley, while the rest were stuck back there with their homes and jobs. I saw nothing positive in that.

Later in life, with a career and a marriage behind me I was once more back on the road, this time with a wife from South America, so we had two homelands to consider. Fortunately she thinks as I do about where is the right place to be. Home is where we are, both of us. It helps if that is somewhere enjoyable, safe and where you can have a good lifestyle. It is hard to be homesick when you’re lying on a Caribbean beach with a decent place to live and (just about) enough money in your pocket.

We bounced around the Caribbean region and ended up in Suriname. And before the economic crisis hit the country, that was okay. No beaches, but many of the other Caribbean characteristics. Heat, humidity, mango trees, banana trees…

There’s been a lot going on in the UK recently, with Brexit and changes in leadership and even a heatwave, but the pang of homesickness that hit me last week had nothing to do with those things.

I was sitting on the balcony (which sounds more glamorous than it is) and it was a hot as hell as usual. And it wasn’t the butterflies that were doing their fluttering art installation. It wasn’t the sudden realization that bananas grow upwards, not curving down as we usually see them. It wasn’t the BBC news I was reading on my phone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
See? They curl upwards as they grow

But there was a cricket match going on in Manchester, England vs Pakistan. And reading about it was fine – I’m a cricket fan and was a pretty decent player when I was young. But I read about it all the time and it’s enjoyable but no more than that. But then I came to the part that said “Listen online abroad”. With most British broadcasts, legal restrictions mean you can’t tune in, and the satellite TV reception in this house makes it impossible.

I clicked on the three magic words and suddenly they were talking to me from the Second Test Match at Old Trafford. England were doing fine – batting well and making piles of runs. And I wanted to be there. As a kid I used to take a radio to the beach and listen to the test match between swims, so maybe it’s that. Whatever it was, I wanted to be listening to it in the UK. Not necessarily at the ground, but listening to it or watching it on TV on home soil.

root
Miss this? Absolutely. It’s England’s current star batsman, Joe Root, and I’ve never really watched him play.

Bloody homesick. At my age. Yes, maybe age has something to do with it. I wanted to get back there and follow it while Joe Root is at his peak, and before test matches cease to exist – which is a sad possibility in the not-too-distant future.

The feeling passed, but I’m about to stop writing and go and do it again.

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