Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back Home...

It's funny but whenever I go back to the UK, I get incredibly homesick. It passes once I get home for a few days but, while I'm there, all the things that I miss come up in sharp relief. It's actually the simplest things I miss. Notwithstanding the total lack of decent chocolate in this country (and although Godiva is amazing, you can't eat it everyday), it's the whole grocery shopping experience that is seriously lacking. You would expect the fruit and veg to be the same, but it really isn't. I think it's the 'sameness' that truly gets to me. It doesn't matter what part of the year it is, the fruit looks exactly the same. And it's shiny...even the oranges. You can't remove the wax either so as you bite into an apple, your teeth squeak.

I realised just how wrong the whole waxing thing was during this summer when I bought some apples and realised that they were at least six months old. Though they seemed fresh, when I cut into them for the girls they were full of brown spots and the flesh seemed rubbery. In the UK, we are extremely lucky to be able to get apples and stuff at a seasonally appropriate time, getting imports from the Cape and New Zealand once our own season has passed. But, also, we do eat more seasonally, I think. Although we get strawberries year round in the UK, they are usually so expensive and tasteless it's not worth buying them, so we buy and eat other things. Here, the Californian hothouse strawbs are available all year round and cheap, tasteless but cheap.

The variety of vegetables available is quite restricted too. I can buy all sorts of veggies but one or two kinds. Where you might find 4 or 5 varieties of new potato in the shops in the summer (Jersey Royals...*drools*), you get 2 all year round in the US all bar three weeks in July, when you can buy bags of interestingly coloured pots all together. Runner beans and spring greens and purple sprouting broccoli are all veggies you won't find in my local shops. Now, I know that these aren't native to the US and that wouldn't be so bad if there were more native veggies available, but there aren't. Where are the many varieties of squash? What about okra and collard greens and different kinds of yam at times other than Thanksgiving? Why can I only buy three kinds of potato on the continent where the potato originated?

I could go on at length about this shopping thing, but I won't. It just makes me sad. One more example. There are many, many providers of bacon so long as all you want is smoked streaky. If you want unsmoked back bacon, my supermarket provides one kind. Bizarre.

So I miss my groceries but I also miss less visceral things, like the beach. Where I live in New England, most of the beach is owned privately. Being a colonised country, and colonised when the rights of ownership could be protected by rule of law, every piece of land was given to someone, even the beach. If we want to go to the beach here we have to go to a public beach, pay some money in order to get there and find a space amongst hundreds of other people. When we got to the beach on our first Saturday at home, my heart leapt. Sean and I were having a conversation at the time about whether or not we will ever come back to the UK which started because there are some beautiful 1920s round houses on the seafront at Frinton and Sean said if we come back, that's the kind of house he'd want to live in. We then got onto the space issue, which is our biggest sticking point. Here we can afford, for the same kind of money we'd be spending on a 3 bed semi box with a handkerchief garden in Essex, just over an acre of land and a house into which our UK cottage would fit and still have a third left over. But then I turned round and gestured at the vast swathe of greensward, miles of free golden beach and grey-green sea touching a sparkly diamond blue sky stretching as far as the eye could see and said that I might not have had the garden or house space growing up but I had all this...

The lump in my throat was quite difficult to swallow.

I miss the lack of footpaths and not being able to walk anywhere. I miss the 'prettiness' of the metal, the cars here are so same old, same old, surrounded by SUVs which all look the same. I miss pubs with indoor soft play areas; actually I miss indoor soft play areas without an attached video arcade geared to part you with as much money as possible. I miss Radio 1 (great new music), Five Live (proper news and decent sport) and Classic FM (Classic don't internet stream anymore, more's the pity). I miss fashion that isn't three years behind Europe. I miss clean clothes, really clean clothes; even though I have a new washer, it still doesn't get clothes as clean as my mum's Zanussi... I miss air that isn't so stuffed full of water that your sweat stays where it is or so dry that it crackles. I miss pretty fields full of different things that aren't acres of one cash crop or nothing but trees for miles. I miss being able to go outside of an evening and not being eaten alive. I miss having neighbours who aren't a 5 minute walk down the street; I miss half hour over-the-fence chats that come out of nowhere. I miss being 45 minutes from a spanking Sunday lunch with a decent conversation and 3 hours from a proper break from my kids.

Oh, I agree with him that if we go back to the UK, his career options diminish in size. But I'm not saying we have to go back tomorrow. As it stands at the moment, I can stay a lady of leisure for a little while longer and that's the main reason for being here; so that I can be at home with my kids. As long as that continues then I am happy to stay here. I suspect when the money reduces next July, then we'll have to reassess but, in reality, we have to make a crunch decision when Imogen gets to 13 or in five years time. At that point she would be starting GCSE courses and so beginning a track to possible University. College in the US costs an absolute fortune; the best ones cost about £20k a year in tuition fees now, even local bumpkin ones don't cost much less, so Lord only knows what they would cost in 10 years time. So we need to think about going back to Blighty then.

I know I miss all the things I miss about being at home, but what would I miss about being here, in exactly the same way? Would I miss the open friendliness of the people? The relative safety and lack of mindless violence and vandalism? A pleasant, non-booze culture without a 'nanny state' breathing down our neck? A proper winter with guaranteed snow and summer with guaranteed sun? Cheap everything; clothes, petrol, food?

Yes. I think we might just come home in five years time.