Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Third impressions count

It's a funny thing, to return back to your home country after a long-ish period away.

This is the third time I've done so.

The first, after twelve months in Scotland, saw us turn up to our house and see a neighbour's kid, Amanda, riding past on her bike. Her, "Hello there! So you're finally baaack!" took us all by surprise at how broad and exaggerated her Strine accent seemed. This was even more baffling when we then realised that she came from a wealthy, private-schooled family who all spoke in far posher and plummier tones than we did.

At thirteen, the first impressions when driving from Adelaide airport to Murray Bridge was not only that the sky resembled the faded blue of the ancient 1950s coloured films we sometimes had to watch in the Activity Room at primary school, but that it was was enormous.  Same too for the width of the roads - plenty of space for trucks, cars, buses, pedestrians, tractors dragging harvesters to the next paddock and footpaths. The endless yellowy-brown of the landscape with the rising dust seemingly making a big contribution to the dimming down of the blue sky. Kids who hadn't become Punks, Mods, Poseurs, Rockers or Skinheads.

In my early twenties, I returned home a second time after two years (and two stone fatter) away. Working, travelling and socialising: the ultimate goals of the two year UK Working Visa-holder.  At the airport, my family and friends were there to greet me, all politely ignoring the inescapable sight of my bulk that I'd tragically tried to disguise in a black leather bikie jacket, long permed hair and (I blush to recall this), smeared in fake tan.  It is with no small amount of relief that I neglected not to scan the photos of that unfortunate era to show you.

At twenty four, the impressions that hit me were that people celebrated and socialised in their homes and not at the closest pub. Houses were large and clean enough to have other human beings over to share in food, conversation and wine.  No longer seeing black slime in my tissue after a day spent travelling on the tube. Wine, not a pint (or four) of cider; washed down with groovy salads, affordable meats and funky bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil.

I have Love Chunks to thank for luring me out of the fish-n-chips-straight-after-the-pub lifestyle and back onto the tennis court and reaching for a bottle instead of the marked down cask of Fruity Lexia.  I have my parents to thank for helping me settle back into life as a student and for providing a home base when the city got too much and a Murray Bridge moment was required; and I have friends to thank for still wanting to see me after boring them with my stories on how London was (and is) the most exciting place in the world.

Thirdly, today. Or last month to be precise.  Eighteen months since leaving Australia for Switzerland, forty four years old with the three visible age spots on my face to prove it.  Endured a hellish journey home but the following morning woke up to a lovely sunny Melbourne day and found that the smells were the first things to notice.

Shops, for instance.  The empty coke-can coolness of air conditioning as opposed to ancient fans and sweaty, non-deodorised armpits ala Genevoise.  Aromas of meat pies wafting from doorways instead of slightly burned croissants.  Blokes sitting at park benches drinking iced coffees when they downed tools instead of a cigarette and espresso on tiny chairs at cafes.  Gum trees and warm bitumen. Spicy stir fries, fresh strawberries and cake!

Being able to converse with everyone and be instantly understood without the requirement of bad charades or the 'thumbs up' sign. Seeing my daughter occasionally mistaken for someone English and my husband confirm that Australia does indeed have the best coffee in the world. Said whilst eating his fourth pasty of the trip.

Hearing the screeching cacophony of the rainbow lorikeets, galahs and cockatoos as they made their way back to the reserve next to my parents' place, all eager to share their news of the day.  The proud 'bardle oodle argle' of the magpies who decided which of the New Holland Honey Eaters could share their bird bath and when. The childlike screech of the neighbour's cat when defending their self-appointed boundary.  The 'thonk' of cricket ball against bat during the many games played over picnic lunches in the park.  Fireworks overtaking even the hoons on New Years' Eve.

Seeing dogs run past with their owners whilst aching to see and pat my own.  Playing endless games of Rummy-O with Mum and Dad, and being thrashed every single time.  Watching Sapphire laugh unselfconsciously as she spent an entire afternoon in our friends' pool filling up water balloons.

Posing for underwater photographs with my very best friend, still in awe of her resilience, intelligence and humour.  Catching up with friends I'd gladly offer a spare room to any and every time they needed one.  Hearing Dad say that Mum's garden was by far the most beautiful in the street.  Feeling a pang of sadness when Milly's doghouse, made by Dad, was no longer in their back yard.

Dad's raspy whiskers, enjoyed during a hug. The milky sweet smell of Nivea on my Mum's soft face.  Seeing my nephew throw back his head and laugh like an unoiled door; the other grinning wider than the Joker.  My brother, still refusing to accept that yes, he too was as unstoppable and noisy as his sons; and his wife for her calm kindness amongst the chaotic creations of home made gingerbread houses.

Sapphire cried when she farewelled her grandparents, friends and cousins as we hugged on my parents' front lawn.  Surprisingly, my eyes remained dry, caught in a bind of confusion: sentimentality and hope, recharged and ready to go back. Connections renewed and deeply appreciated.  A wish to thank my family for an upbringing that was safe and encouraging and magical for being so and to thank them again for their continued interest and support and love.

When we finally walked through the door to our un-renovated 1970 apartment after collecting Milly, tears started to form. "It feels like home because you're back with us," I whispered into her neck, "But there'll be many more opportunities to return to our other home too."

Not so for her, which is why I cried.


River said...

This is lovely, except for that last sentence. Milly won't get to go home?
Loved that photo!
Fake tan? What were you thinking!

MedicatedMoo said...

Well, the saddest thing (and we knew this going on in to the 'Move Across To Another Country' malarkey) was that Milly was a vital part of the family and had to join us, but ....

....approaching nine years old (with arthritis that means she rarely puts her full weight on either of her back legs at a time) and with a likely six more years in Switzerland ahead of us, she'll end her days here. That's being realistic and makes me realise that our beloved furry friends have such short lifespans compared to ours. Any time I spend away from her feels like I'm missing out on her hugely joyful and affectionate company.

Mum said something like that too, when she realised that this was the first time in eight-and-a-half years that she didn't need to dust off the custom-made kennel or bring out the two leopard spot blankets, a swathe of carpet off-cuts for Milly to sun herself in comfort on the patio bricks or the host of toys and get ready for her arrival.

Milly's absence was pretty difficult to bear as we were staying in surroundings familiar to her and ones that I'd expect to see her tail appearing just above the window sill, or her rubbing her back on the grass in glee. When we go on holidays to different spots (like Luxembourg, Germany or Paris in 2012), her absence isn't as marked as I can't easily picture her there.

....does that make sense or has LC's flu bug finally made its appearance?

Windsmoke. said...

Yep, ya just can't beat the Australian lifestyle its gotta be the best in the world.

MedicatedMoo said...

You could be right, Windsmoke. Just a shame about how long it takes to fly there from anywhere above the equator :)

Hannah said...

This makes my heart go pang-ping-twinge. For so many reasons, not least of which our dog passed away after I left and I didn't get to say goodbye. Give Milly a big, big hug for me, seeing as I can't now tell you to hug Australia for me. xoxo

Andrew said...

You look very like yourself when you were younger. I think that is a compliment.

You have reminded me of my partner's English brother in law saying to someone back home, 'ohh, they have big roads out there', after he had visited us.

The smallness of things in England bugged me a bit, but a younger relative had extensively renovated his house and it was much more like we are used to. It could be a bit generational. I wasn't fond of cramped English pubs and always looked for a seat out side.

I am pleased you have attempted to represent what a magpie actually sounds like. Not sure if it works, but better than warble.

You painted a lovely picture of Oz. I hope not too many overseas people read it. They will hold you responsible if they emigrate and don't like it.

Alexia said...

Crikey, Kath. Three posts in a row which made me cry... stop, already!

Home - what a multitude of connotations that word carries - all bound up in family, memories, childhood, all the rest. Like you, I came back from that first big 2-years-of-OE considerably larger than when I left!
And any story with animals is sure to have me reaching for the tissues. My daughter's cat and dog moved to Adelaide with them last year; their beautiful pup is only young and may return, but the cat certainly won't.
Lovely post.

wilbo43 said...

Reading between your lines, I assume you had a better trip returning to CH. Did you fly to Cointrin or Z├╝rich?

Elephant's Child said...

The magpie gurgle and the smell of eucalypt say home to me, but I don't feel I am there until I can pick up the cats. And yes, they animals we share our lives with do wind their paws deep into our heart strings (and take a piece of us with them when they leave).
No more tears or mistiness inducing posts Kath. I am with Alexia here and you have scored three for three recently. Please stop. Pretty please.

MedicatedMoo said...

Hannah, I'll give her more than one hug if you like. She had a frolic in the soft snow this morning and even though I've now caught LC's flu, it was worth it to rug up and take her for a long walk and see how happy it made her.

Thanks Andrew, on all fronts! I'm in a bind because I *love* England and would move there in a heartbeat. Switzerland is 'growing steadily' in my affections because I realise how familiar I'm becoming with the way things are done here. But the trip home ...? Oh boy, does that tug on the heartstrings.

Alexia, I promise to make the next post a happy one. Or silly, at the very least. Possibly pointless....

Wilbo43, I sort of had a better trip. No shit storms or continuously screaming baby, but Mr Migraine visited and made me the vomiter of the cabin. He then decided to stay and keep me vomiting in Geneva for another four days....

OK E-Child, I'll be more cheerful next time.!

Anji said...

I remember the lack of cake episode before you found your way to the French supermarkets!

We haven't been home now for 8 years; The thing that always gets me is overhearing conversations in English again.

A beautifully written post

Do they have Kookaburras where you come from

Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

Oz is a wonderful place and its a shame its so far away. Its a bit like Britain but with much nicer weather and lots of nasty creatures that scare the hell out of me just thinking about them.

I'll be back Down Under one day that's for sure.

I think about moving to Spain or France later in life but I fear I would miss England. As bad as the weather is, it's home and I think I would miss it.

Lovely post.




nuttynoton said...

Home is where the heart is, how true that is. Lovely post, say hello to Milly for us, hope to see her again

Lyndylou said...

What a lovely post but oh so sad about Milly. Our pets are such a huge part of us and we have them for such a very long time :)

Fen said...

aaaah you made me sentimental and I've not even left the country in years!! :)

MedicatedMoo said...

Anji, there are kookaburras pretty much everywhere and their crazy laugh still makes me stop, listen and wonder. As for cake, I've since discovered 'poudre au levre' and mix it into the plain flour. Works a treat.

G'day PlasMan. It's one hell of a journey, but another visit to Australia (or several) would certainly be worth it. I can see why you'd miss dear old England though.

nuttynoton, I will indeed say 'hello' to Milly. I've remarked many a time to Sapphire that it's only our dog who gets such an avid greeting when she enters a room. "Helloooo there Milly." We don't say that to each other, do we?

Lindylou, it's a sad realisation, but for that I'm grateful. I'll never have Milly for long enough, but any time she can spare is a privilege.

Fernstar, you don't have to leave your country to realise what you appreciate about it.

ropcorn said...

What a lovely post. So glad you got to go home for a visit. And your words and thoughts to and about Milly at the end of the post actually filled my eyes with tears, first time a blog post has ever made me that emotional. These doggies...

Man, I better move on before I completely loose it. Lol!

Jilly said...

You are welcome here any any any any time - we had a great time too. xx

diane b said...

A great emotional post. You have done well to describe the feeling of going "home" to where you come from and going back "home" to where you live and where your pet is. That is a difficult thing to write in words but you nailed it.
I have found that as time passes and you get older going back "home" changes. Both TOH(wilbo43) and I feel that we are strangers in our home towns. Family have died, friends have moved, buildings and streets have changed but the memories are still there.
Home is where your heart is (loved ones and pets)

Ann ODyne said...

beautiful Kath. I will try to see this place through Returning Eyes now. except I do have constant oodle-ardle and love it.
poor Milly. I love her beautiful doggie eyes too, and my advanced osteo empathises with her.
x x

MedicatedMoo said...

Ropcorn, doggies do it to me every time.

Thank you Jilly. Our time with you was a highlight.

You're right, dianeb. The furniture, weather and scenery can change but home is where your favourite people (and animals) are.

Ann, I loved hearing the magpies singing again. All the birds, actually as there are relatively few to be seen or heard here.