Visiting England after five years in New Zealand
I was quite apprehensive about being in the UK again. Would everything be different to how I remembered it? Would I hate it? Would I love it?
My first experience of the UK happened before I'd even got there. I was chatting to some Aussies at the departure gate in Christchurch, and they said there were riots in London.
And as I waited to change flights in Singapore, I learned there were riots sparking off in cities all over the UK. In the Middle East, the Arab Spring was in full flow. Maybe the English were demanding democracy too!
My overactive imagination took this to be a sign. England was in the midst of a revolution!
The riots were clearly a result of untethered capitalism and the widening gap between rich and poor. And all the other reasons I'd emigrated.
But I was wrong.
Over the subsequent weeks, people tried to figure out what had happened. The rioting wasn't about politics. And psychologists seemed to think it wasn't about mindless criminality. Most of the rioters seemed less motivated by rioting than by opportunistic looting.
Somehow, nothing made sense. The rioters seemed to come from all walks of life (well perhaps there weren't any policemen or judges) and the law courts were full of ordinary people from a broad range of ages and backgrounds. These "mindless hooligans" included a lifeguard, a charity worker, a social worker, a primary school teacher and an Olympic ambassador.
And the news lurched from tragedy to comedy. The politically-driven sentencing was astonishing: Two men were both sentenced to 4 years in prison because of their Facebook updates (incitement to riot). A student with no previous convictions was jailed for 6 months for stealing 6 bottles of water. And a mother of two children was jailed for 5 months for receiving a pair of stolen shorts.
Anyway, much to my disappointment, the riots didn't turn into a revolution. The coalition government of rich, white, middle aged men stayed in power.
This poster hit the spot:
A potent reminder that I was back in the UK was the weather. It rained every day for the first week and the sun was permanently hidden behind a blanket of white cloud. I had to keep reminding myself that I'd actually gone from winter to summer, not the other way around. I know, I'm a Brit talking about the weather, but it really was quite a shock, after the dazzling blue skies and super-bright sunshine of New Zealand.
Bizarrely, something else I missed was earthquakes. After 12 months of daily earthquakes in Christchurch, they'd become a way of life. On the flight around the world, whenever I dozed off and was woken up turbulence, I was convinced it was an earthquake. So I'm on a plane, talking to myself, saying "It can't be an earthquake - you're 35,000 feet off the ground". Trippy.
And for the first 5 weeks in the UK I was jumping at anything and everything - creaking floor boards, lorries driving past, washing machines. To my mind, every little rumble was the start of an earthquake.
It was a bit concerning that after those 5 jumpy weeks I found I was actually missing the earthquakes. Why had they stopped all of a sudden? Well, obviously because I was on the other side of the planet. I decided my mind was playing tricks on me, like an amplified fight-or-flight response. It was telling me that no earthquakes meant there was about to be a BIG one.
A friend who's just received her doctorate in Health Sciences says it sounds like typical post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Oh dear. Cue images from Apocalypse Now. I'm a Vietnam vet who's never been to 'nam.
One big surprise was how incredibly green England was. After 5 years on the dry Canterbury Plains (where they irrigate everything, even dairy farms) it was as though someone had turned the green control dial up to the max. And then a bit further. It was so green it didn't look real.