England can be a funny place when you’ve been away for a while.
Things that were once normal now seem odd and quirky but, as the visitor (the ‘outsider’), you’re the only one who thinks so.
Take the people for a start. Once you’ve peeled away the layer of politeness (and we English are polite to the extreme), you discover the talkers. Because the English love a good chat and a gossip.
The shop assistant wants a natter. The guy in the petrol station loves a chinwag. And the plumbers, carpenters and electricians can’t resist the urge for a cup of tea and conversation. It’s a wonder they get anything done.
When it comes to children, the English like to turn up the volume. The streets ring out to the sounds of “Amelie this” or “Charlie that”, followed closely by a stern word or two, and then an impatient bark or scream.
But at least they’re not talking about the weather, one of the national pastimes.
Because in three short months, we’ve had heatwaves and hurricanes, tropical storms and the occasional typhoon. While this summer will live long in the memory for its regular supply of sunshine and heat, I still won’t call it a heatwave. Because it’s not. It’s really not.
Food is both familiar and peculiar.
The national dish is the packet of crisps, while the national drink is whatever you find at the back of the store. I’m not complaining because I prefer to feed my vice wherever and whenever. No bottle shop closing at 7pm. No government-owned liquor store. I can quench my thirst in supermarkets and petrol stations, at newsagents and by street carts.
The country’s roast lunches and dinners always impress. Delicious locally-reared beef, pork or lamb, accompanied by over-sized Yorkshire puddings swimming in a sea of thick brown gravy. In this, no other country compares.
The current political dish of the day is immigration served with Scotland. It seems that we still don’t like immigrants and we remain undecided about the north.
Then there’s town and country, the two being distinct and far removed.
England’s villages remain the jewel in its idyllic crown. Peaceful and perfectly maintained, I could spend my entire summer meandering around England’s country laneways and meadows.
The towns are another matter. Inland, they seem rundown and bland. On the coast, they don’t fare much better. In this country, I don’t like to be beside the seaside, but I do like to be beside the sea.
Travelling around the land isn’t a preferred English sport. If your journey is longer than an hour, then it’s no longer a journey but an annual holiday excursion.
And you might still need deep pockets to live here. While the shopping is cheaper than Australia, property prices continue to climb. Meanwhile, wages stay low.
But for all the money it costs me to be here – all the 1p’s and 2p’s, 5’s, 10’s, 20’s, 50’s, $1 and $2 coins – and for all the issues I raise and unfair comparisons I might make, I know one thing: my head tells me England is a former home but my heart tells me to start being true.
We plan to shortly leave this fair isle for a return to Australia but I don’t really believe this is a final farewell.
It’s a goodbye but I hope to see you again soon. There’s unfinished business here but I don’t yet know the what, how, when or why.
Have you returned home and found familiarity and differences? Things you liked and disliked, preferred or ignored? Share with me below.