The Other Inbetween

English: Plane Tree Plane Trees in Berkeley Sq...

Trees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last time I wrote I was in the boiling heat of Ramadan, wondering what on earth to do with myself and the boy to keep us entertained until we could get on the plane ‘home’. Currently I am in the freezing cold of England, wondering what on earth to do with myself and the boy to keep us entertained until we could get on the plane ‘home’. It’s the worst bit about the summer, that feeling of relief at escaping the heat and the emptiness of Dubai and heading towards loved ones, only to get there and find, a few weeks later, you’re missing the very thing you’ve spent months wishing you could escape from.

As the years roll by I find myself becoming increasingly foreign in my own home, too. (By ‘home’ I’m referring to the UK at this point…try to keep up). There are now loads of things that have changed so much since we left I am convinced that should we EVER make it back here again for good, I will spend six months looking like a complete spanner whilst I play catch up with ‘how to be English’. One of my first ever posts on this blog was called ‘Staying Relevant‘. I wrote it during the Royal wedding fever of early summer 2011 and much of it still holds true. However as the years roll by and we still aren’t back, I’m finding being an expat in England ever more trying, and here are just a few examples of this I’ve accumulated so far this summer:

– I got fined for not paying the congestion charge I forgot existed because despite living in London my entire adult life until 2006, I’ve never driven through it (who lives in London and drives?)

– I casually asked my son to pop his jacket on before he got out of the car because it was raining. He gave me a blank stare and said ‘I can’t.’ I thought he was being a sissy about the rain until I realised he had no idea how to put a jacket on, because he’d never worn one.

– I had to put a message out on Facebook to ask people where a really good bookshop was in central London.

– I packed two maxi sun-dresses and honestly believed there would be opportunities to wear both of them.

– The US family say the boy sounds english, and the UK family say he sounds american. I am fully aware he has what I would term an ‘expat accent’ – a sort of faux american Third Culture Kid twang that will probably mean he sounds foreign no matter where he is for the rest of time, leading people to say things like ‘he can spell really well considering english isn’t his first language’. (Someone said this about a fully grown TCK friend of mine recently, so I can say with full authority that it happens).

– I still can’t remember if you’re supposed to turn right on the filter light even when the filter isn’t green yet. I spend a lot of time hoping I don’t end up at the front of the queue so I can copy everyone else.

– I found myself taking pictures of trees this weekend. Trees. WTF.

So, we have another 2.5 weeks to go and it’s all good, but I’m a little jaded. I miss my house, my cats, my friends and my life. And yet I’m living the double here, and loving living my life here too. It’s the best and worst of both worlds, five weeks of split personality that never seems to get any easier to manage and never gets any easier to leave behind. I guess the answer is to make the most of it, and enjoy the trees.

The Inbetween

So we have just arrived home from a glorious 11 days in Tuscany, back to Dubai, Ramadan, blistering 45 degree heat and school holidays. Let me tell you, there is no greater shock to the system. I knew it was coming: on our final day we stumbled across the beautiful village of Montepulciano and sat in the sunshine eating lunch and sipping on a fine glass of vino, when from a shady corner a saxophone quartet burst into life, playing Carmen and Debussy amongst others. It literally bought tears to my eyes halfway through my Caprese when I realised it doesn’t matter how much we make the most of where we live, beautiful moments like this will never, ever happen here. We left Montepulciano and arrived at our hotel to find another mini music concert being set up for the evening, entitled ‘Love and Roses’. It was suitably corny – bongo drums and guitars accompanied italian-accented versions of Stevie Wonder and Judy Garland, and a couple of sopranos attempted the British Airways theme tune – but again, not exactly something you’d see pop up in the Madinat any time soon. Sigh.

We are pasta fat-tastic too, after gorging on all the fresh ham, cheese and vegetables we could lay our hands on. We drank our own bodyweights in Chianti. And of course, all this in the company of our family, playing volleyball in the pool, enjoying the sculptures littering the gardens of our villa and wandering through the great cities of Florence and Sienna. It was heaven, a tonic to the past month or so which has been hectic and stressful in any number of different ways.

But now we’re back. And Dubai, by contrast, is horrific. The traffic is awful, our friends are all gone and the air is heavy with heat and sand. This week reminds me an awful lot of the Summer That Shall Not Be Named, when I was eight months pregnant and stranded here in splendid isolation. Except I have a near-four year old now to occupy and a hell of a lot of writing to get done, and as it’s Ramadan I’m completely without daytime trips to coffee shops and lunches which is making things drag a little, to put it mildly. But unlike the Summer That Shall Not Be Named, I get to escape again in less than a week, to England’s green and pleasant land. And I don’t care if there is a heatwave or perpetual rain when I arrive, I will have another wonderful month of music, flowers, food, friends and family to soak up before we return.

Blogcation

Good Housekeeping is one of several periodical...

I’m not sure there is anything ‘good’ about my housekeeping (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…whatever you want to call it, I’m aware I’ve taken a bit of a blog holiday of late. Something to do with have travelled 3 continents and back in 7 weeks, coming home to social cold turkey, no cleaner, still no school and husband travelling for work. All I seem to have done is housework and yet the place is still a tip and there are seventeen loads of washing to do even though I swear the laundry basked was empty before the weekend. However, this morning I’ve waved the little man off to his first day at pre-school (GULP) so normal service should be resumed shortly. Only not today because I really do have to clean the house. And fix the oven, which won’t light. And get a man in to sort out the front door, which is so swollen from all the heat and humidity I can barely get it open. And change the sheets. And buy a pot plant and an art apron, which were on the list of things to bring to school that I didn’t get chance to get. And still somehow find time to sit worrying about my little one all morning, wondering if he is doing ok in his new class and if the teacher was paying any attention at all to the fact that his snacks are in the front zip of his bag, NOT in his lunchbox. I’ve spent four weeks wishing for today and I just realised I didn’t mean today. Today is not about enjoyment or relaxation. I’m not sure I will relax until I pick up the boy and I know that he survived, that he is happy, and fed, and that I am not a terrible mother for leaving him in the chaos that is the first day of the school year. And in the meantime I have all that lovely housework to do. The bit where I go to the gym, have a manicure and then sit in a sun-filled cafe writing my novel (HA!) is a few weeks off, I fear. So, off to work I go. I wonder where the maid keeps the dusters…

Show me the way to go home

King's bed at the Louvre Museum

Man I miss my bed. It looks just like this too. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Less than 48 hours to go and my seven week long jaunt around the world is over for another year. It has been a wonderful holiday full of great memories, the boy has been AMAZING (I attribute this to great parenting on my part, obviously) and I will no doubt be shedding a few tears on top of the ones already parted with as I say goodbye to my dear, dear friends and family for another half year. We have spent time at the beach, in the city and the countryside and immersed ourselves with trips to farms, aquariums, museums and theatres, saturating ourselves with both social and cultural experiences we just can’t get at home. My heart aches at the thought of leaving behind days playing in back gardens with my friends and their kids, and of nights spent in pubs or gazing out to sea or tucked up on the sofa with family all around.

But deep down, in places I don’t talk about, as much as I have had a great time, I’m rather looking forward to being back in Dubai. I would even go so far as to say there were things about it I have missed. A neat ten in fact. So here they are. See you back in the sandpit…

1. My bed

2. My cats. And (and this is a first) my friends. Plural.

3. My kitchen

4. Swimming. Or more realistically, lolling about in a pool to keep cool.

5. The driving (I appear to have gone native and driving in a civilized manner bores me rigid)

6. A manicure, pedicure, massage, eyebrow threading, hair cut and colour and a facial. Words fail to describe the general degenerative state of me right now. I need help, fast.

7. Shopping

8. My weekly thespian fix (the build up of attention seeking behaviour and the need for adulation and applause is overwhelming)

9. My shoe collection. Six pairs of shoes seemed excessive when I was packing two months ago, but I now have serious high heel withdrawal.

10. Going out for dinner with my husband. Well actually, I just miss my husband. See you in a few days babe. X

Greener grass

Grasses

Green green grass of home(s) (Photo credit: Matt Ohia)

Well here we are at the halfway point of the trip, a little bit over even…and my heart is already quietly lurching at the thought of returning to Dubai in three weeks’ time. We are tanned, relaxed and happy and I am appalled at the thought of reversing all of this. To go from fresh air to air conditioning, from beaches to shopping malls and skanky soft play areas, from being surrounded by family and friends to scrabbling for play dates, it all seems so far away still but I can feel it creeping up on me and I don’t like it one bit. There was a time maybe a week or so back that I was missing a few aspects of my Dubai life, but now I can’t imagine what I was thinking. I know this feeling well of course, and I know it is inevitable that we do have to go back, and by the end of August might have even kidded ourselves we want to go back – but the bottom line is we will still have another eight weeks or so before life in Dubai becomes an even remotely attractive prospect. And that eight weeks is guaranteed to crawl in comparison to my time away of course.

I like Dubai, I do. It’s a little unfair of me to draw comparisons of everyday life lived anywhere to a 7 week vacation including a two week holiday spent on a beautiful beach with not a care in the world. Clearly no matter where I lived the beach would win. So I’m sure I will surrender to my return easily and without too many tears. And come November I will no doubt be saluting the gods who made it possible for us to live in a place that enjoys such glorious winter weather. It’s just that I know, in my heart, that we never enjoy ourselves quite as much as we do when we are home (home to me being at least three different places on two continents, but home all the same). I try to counteract my feelings with the practical facts of the matter: we are on holiday and people make a special effort to meet with us, that life wouldn’t be the same way if we lived nearer etc. but the point is that I’m sort of past all that thinking. I accept that real life would be different, and potentially not as much fun, and there might be fewer trips to museums and beaches and so on involved….but equally there might not. There is nothing to say we can’t do all those things, in fact one would argue there is more time to do more of them if you don’t have a return ticket to worry about.

But in the knowledge that this time I do have a deadline, I will make sure the remaining three weeks are full to the brim with people and happiness and seeing and doing as much as we possibly can. Now is not the time to mourn the end of our trip (and in fact if the olympic coverage by NBC wasn’t so dire i wouldn’t have thought to even start). There is plenty of time for sulking inside with the aircon blasting when we get back. The grass is certainly greener on this side of the planet, the air is fresher, and our hearts stay west with our loved ones even as our bodies travel east. This year I take comfort in this knowledge rather than being depressed at the thought, and is a far better feeling to have. It doesn’t stop me from dreading the end of our trip but it certainly will take the edge off being back.

In the meantime I say what i hope is a temporary goodbye to our magical little spot on the shores of cape Ann…and it’s onwards to destination number three: Big Apple time!

Holiday, what holiday?

Beach towel Español: Toalla de playa

All I need (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why is it the older I get the more like work going on holiday starts to become? I remember vividly the days of packing a medium sized suitcase stuffed full with bikinis, shorts and a nice dress or two and zipping off to my destination of choice with barely a backward glance. A few hours later would find me unpacked, showered, and by the pool with a drink in one hand and some awful chick lit book in the other – and that would pretty much be the  assumed position for the duration of the trip except to occasionally rotate myself, spit-like, to ensure an even tan.

These days travelling is starting to morph into something more akin to a hard labour. For a few too many hundred dollars, I leave the comfort of my beautiful bed to stay in something resembling a banana hammock, leaving me crippled and unable to turn my head for days at a time. Armed with the knowledge that I am in physical agony, my child and husband then do their best to keep me awake the entire time, by snoring (the big one) and waking me up at 3am every day with jet lag (the little one) and then acting surprised when I am grouchy and emotionally spent. After nearly two weeks away it has also become extremely apparent that we don’t have a maid when we are on holiday.  I have spent more time doing housework and chores than I would normally do in the average year. It’s only down to the fact that I haven’t seen anyone we know for the past few days that I have avoided the ironing, but it’s coming, I can feel it…

And the packing. And unpacking. And packing. And unpacking. And packing. And unpacking. Even writing it that many times feels arduous, but the reality is even worse. The contents of our enormous suitcases seem to morph, expand and multiply with each stop, to the point where I’m sure that sometime around our departure from our current destination we will be forced to purchase our annual extra bag to accommodate everything.

Dont get me wrong, I am loving being on holiday with my boys and away from Dubai.  Nothing could make me happier than the experiences of the past few weeks or indeed the month we still have left to look forward to. I do just wish it wasn’t quite such an exhausting process. I am constantly running mental and actual checks on where our belongings have spread to as well as operating our social logistics from an excel spreadsheet in order to remember where we are going/ what we are doing/ who we are seeing.

My carefully coiffed and polished ‘Dubai style’ is being slowly deconstructed as my clothes become more casual (creased), my hair grows and curls up due to lack of blow drying and my manicure fades away. The final hopes of staying within the same dress size as I arrived disappear as my food and alcohol consumption creeps up and my chances of excercising go drastically down. Make-up becomes a thing of the past and is quickly replaced by a decent SPF. And just when I think I need a holiday from my holiday… I realise that it’s taken me nearly a week to write this post and I’m so relaxed I woke myself up snoring in the sun earlier this afternoon. I feel like I don’t even the know the person who wrote the first few paragraphs, in fact. The jet lag is over and the bed we have arrived at for the next few weeks is blissfully comfortable. I wake, eat, and sleep to the sound of the ocean waves breaking onto shore and I honestly couldn’t care less about anything beyond seeing the smiles on the faces of my family – except maybe having a drink in one hand, my book in the other, and getting an even tan. It’s beginning to sound a lot like a holiday.

There’s no place like it

English: Illuminatable Earth globe, Columbus, ...

Pick a spot, any spot

Home. As usual our time in London has flown past in a blur of rainy days, sunny days, drinking, late nights, laughter and love, this year with a bit of Olympic excitement thrown in for good measure. We are physically exhausted but emotionally refreshed, and for a brief shining moment our Camelot-on-Thames has been the centre of my world once more.

With each passing year I get more used to the hellos and goodbyes, but this year as the faint whiff of hope surrounds me that one day we may come back, I have started to really think about what it would mean to return to London for more than just a holiday. There will be many good things about coming back that would have been lost on me had I never left. Staying in London as a comparitive tourist rather than living and working here has opened my eyes once more to what an incredible city we have at our feet. Walking the streets (walking! An unimaginable pastime for the average citizen of Dubai) and enjoying the weather, the people watching, the architecture, the noise – it is something of a musical dance whose moving parts make up the sum that is this city, full with life in a way that Dubai cannot possibly hope to master. The wonderful parks, museums, galleries and theatres that we have enjoyed the past ten days would never again be taken for granted or left unvisited by the repatriated version of me. Neither would the myriad of bars and restaurants and coffee shops that decorate the streets, or the boutiques and nick nack shops that nest amongst them. But have I been gone so long that I can’t see my city through anything but my sunglasses? And rose tinted ones at that?

With all the thoughts of registering with schools and so on, to plan for this hopeful but currently unsecured comeback, it occurred to me that I may have left a Londoner, but I will return as one third of an international family, a repatriated trailing spouse with an american husband and a third culture kid in tow. It is not going to be as easy as I think to become ‘English’ again, if ever.

My son will be homesick for a place neither me nor my husband call home. And yet, Dubai is our home, and by the time we return it will have most likely been so for nearly a decade. We are long time expats now, and even for me, the only true brit in the family, calling London home again will take time. I struggle with the basics of contemporary London life already, like how to charge my oyster card, and what can I recycle in those orange bags, and do I turn right at the lights if there is no oncoming traffic? And that’s just the start. I have no idea about tv (there were 5 channels or sky when we left), I’m a nervous wreck getting on the tube with my son in case we both magically leap off the platform or get split up by a closing door, and pretty much everything I have in my wardrobe is too white/shiny/expensive to be trotting round cobbled streets in the rain. To repatriate will be a difficult journey, I see now. I will not just simply slot back in, and pick up where I left off. I think it is good to be aware of this now, to start accepting that things will feel different, and that we may not always like it.

We are lucky to have a relatively international set of friends, full of expats and repats and hailing from around the world. They all call London their home and the city is such a melting pot that it hardly matters we’ve been away in that sense. But as I pack our bags and leave behind my beloved city to travel across the pond, I realise I am, these days, just as excited about returning to the US – I get that same familiar, easy feeling from the cities of Boston and New York as I do from London, and with the other 66.6% of the family unit holding a US passport, I am finding it increasingly important to promote American culture in the house and feel as comfortable with it as I do my own.

I wonder had we not lived abroad if I would have found it as easy to bring two cultures under one roof. I wonder if it would not have seemed so important, that my son who belongs to two countries and was born and raised in a third, should have the best experiences of them all and be truly international in his identity, rather than coming ‘from somewhere’. I wonder if coming ‘from somewhere’ has actually ceased to be as important to me. I certainly feel distinctly foreign when people talk about the jubilee, or the Olympics, or David Cameron. Well not foreign, just remote. I can’t relate to these things that people feel so passionately about, and yet I feel like a I should because I am ‘from here’.

But I fear I am not, anymore. Part of me is sad about that, that I have accepted a slightly nomadic existence that will no doubt continue to affect the way I live for a long time to come. That other part of me embraces the fact that I am living this incredible life that spans continents and oceans, that I have learnt and adopted new and different ways of doing things because of who I married and where we live and all the things we have seen along the way. I am daunted and yet excited by the prospect of raising my TCK to appreciate his place in this world. To belong ‘everywhere’ instead of ‘somewhere’, which must surely mean there are more places in this world to call home. To feel connected in these huge cities but undaunted by change. I hope this for him, but for myself as well, that the lessons I have learnt through moving away will stand me in good stead for moving back. To say ‘home’ to me now it means so many different places and I love each one for different reasons. So, from one home to another, we fly off on the next part of our summer journey. Tell you what, if Dorothy lived my life she would have been hard pushed to end up in the right place even with those ruby slippers…