(Note for my non-UK readers – I imagine that several of the references in this post will not make much sense to you… if so, check out the Glossary of Terms below…)
Sometimes, the warnings on medicine packets (drafted by cautious lawyers with an aversion to getting sued, no doubt) contain warnings which make you wonder if it’s actually worth taking the medicine at all. Ibuprofen tablets, for example, tell you that one side-effect of this particular painkiller is… um, headaches. And bottles of emollients (used to treat eczema) warn that the product may cause skin irritation. Go figure.
And I’ve discovered that the same can be said for homesickness remedies. I have been taking a few of these recently and have found that the side-effects do seem to include (yep, you’ve guessed it): homesickness.
I have to say I’m not massively homesick. Not much at all, in fact. I am still having an amazing time out here on my ‘gap year’, and am starting to panic hugely about the end of my maternity leave which is fast approaching (I get a year and Alpine Girl is already nine months old).
But every now and then I get a little twang, a little pang, for things you just don’t get over here. Of course I miss the family and friends I have left in the UK. But I also miss BBC dramas and endless repeats of QI on Dave. I miss Marks & Spencers, Boots, and Tesco delivery. I miss Dairy Milk, and fresh milk, and proper cups of tea. I miss freezing-cold sunrises over the Thames as I powerwalk my way to work. And I miss the Sunday papers, digested slowly with a real bacon sarnie (i.e. with actual English bacon. And cheap white bread. None of this baguette malarkey).
It was when our ever-flowing stream of visitors dried up in the new year (at least for a few weeks) that I realised I was a little bit homesick. I was on my own again in the middle of nowhere, and all I wanted was some English TV and an English friend to chat about it with.
So I thought I’d cure this bout of sickness with the entire box-set of Gavin and Stacey, kindly bought for me by my lovely friend Kate. As the opening credits rolled and I was transported to Billericay via Barry, I smiled contentedly and let the wealth of regional accents and ‘tidy’ jokes wash over me. If it wasn’t for the wooden walls of our Alpine chalet, and the two foot of snow outside the window, I could almost be back in the UK, waiting for the Tesco man to knock at the door.
Unfortunately, unlike with ibuprofen or emollients, there are no warnings on the packets of homesickness remedies. The back of the Gavin and Stacey box-set, for example, does not say “For use by expats in the treatment of mild to severe cases of homesickness. Warning, may cause homesickness”.
And so I overdosed. My feeling of contentment was soon replaced with a mild case of nostalgia for UK shores (weird, as I’ve never been to Billericay, or Barry), which itself was replaced with a bout of full-blown homesickness. I moped for a while, and held off watching the final few episodes in case they made me cry. But then I picked myself up: went skiing, ate cheese and drank wine – three things which make me remember that it ain’t so bad here.
And so all was well again. For a while. Then at the beginning of February we had an impromptu visit from my friend Lucy, keen to try out the local slopes. She too was enormously kind and bought an amazing aid package from the UK by way of a ‘thank you for letting me stay’ present. After she’d gone and I was feeling bereft of English conversation, I once again thought I’d try and cure my mild homesickness by delving into all these lovely gifts.
So there was I: reading Hello, drinking proper Yorkshire Tea (not rubbish Lipton Yellow, which looks and tastes like wee), in a proper mug (not a bowl – yep, the French drink their tea in a bowl…), eating white mice, pink shrimp sweets, shortcake biscuits and Dairy Milk (yes, all at once). Bliss. I even watched another episode of Gavin and Stacey (nearly on the last one by this point) just to make sure the homesickness cure was really working. It was.
Then, the day after Lucy had left, and following my England binge, my friend Eleanor arrived with her own aid package – including trashy magazines, posh jam, Call the Midwife DVD, more real tea (we will never have enough), and Cadbury’s Cream Eggs… heaven. I have had to hide the Cadbury’s Cream Eggs round the house so I don’t eat them all at once, and I have to wait until Alpine Papa is out so I can enjoy Call the Midwife in peace (I feel like an alcoholic, shamefully hiding my cravings for BBC costume drama from my husband, but when I asked him if he wanted to watch a period drama about having babies and starring Miranda Hart, he made it clear that he’s sooner drink Jacob’s Creek wine whilst watching Marley and Me. Which coming from my husband, as anyone who knows him will testify, is akin to saying he’d sooner sticking pins in his eyes. Hot pins. Big hot pins, covered in wax).
And these fantastic gifts worked, so thank you, thank you to everyone who gave so generously! Homesickness cured!
But, slowly, I found that gorging on the UK in this way has the ‘Big Mac effect’ – it feels amazing (if a little naughty) at the time, and hunger (and homesickness) is abated for a while, but afterwards you’re left feeling a little bit queasy and weirdly wanting more.
Luckily, though, more is what I’ve got coming – Alpine Girl, Alpine Boy and I are heading off to the UK tomorrow for a whistle-stop tour of friends and family. I am sure there will be a whole new blog post coming up about the trials and tribulations of disorganised little me travelling across international borders and round the UK and London with two small children, a rather large buggy and plenty of luggage; so keep an eye out for that one. In the meantime I am so excited about seeing long-lost friends and family – I haven’t seen my dad and his wife since the end of June; I haven’t seen my crazy friend Laura for two years (because she was cycling around the whole of South America when I left the UK. I know, that’s what I said, crazy!); and I haven’t seen my friend Sarah’s not-so-new baby since, well, ever.
And I’m hoping that, in between seeing people I haven’t seen for ages, and going to places I haven’t been to for ages, I will have time to do things I haven’t done for ages. Mainly watching Corrie. And eating Diary Milk. And marvelling at excellent customer service… And I plan on travelling light, so I can stock up with box-sets and biscuits and salt ‘n’ vinegar crisps and Curly Wurlys and tea, ready for any recurring bout of homesickness. This time I’ll be prepared. I’ll have plenty of medicines to hand, and I don’t care what the side-effects are.
UK-speak Glossary of Terms:
- QI – comedy quiz show, starring the patronising yet somehow endearing English institution that is Stephen Fry.
- Dave – weirdly addictive comedy TV channel that only plays old repeats.
- Marks & Spencers – the only place where you can buy sensible knickers, sexy bras, pot pourri and a gammon joint all in one place.
- Boots – quintessentially a chemist, but really so much more. The only place you can buy Calpol, prawn sandwiches, a hairdryer and a babygrow all in one place.
- Tesco delivery – Tesco is a mid-range/cheap supermarket. They deliver. Unlike the supermarkets round here (though to be fair, I do live in the middle of nowhere…).
- Cadbury’s Dairy Milk – traditional English milk chocolate. Posh chocolate connoisseurs hate it. I love it. Says it all, really.
- Fresh milk – does what it says on the tin. It’s milk. Which is fresh. Unlike the UHT crap everyone drinks round here.
- White mice – old-school sweets in the shape of white mice, made out of a substance resembling(ish) white chocolate.
- Pink shrimps – old-school sweets in the shape of pink shrimps, made out of a substance resembling… actually, you know what? I haven’t got a clue what they’re made of. Probably something toxic. They’re nice though…
- Gavin and Stacey – total genius comedy drama/love story about a townie boy from Billericay, Essex, and a Welsh girl from Barry, Wales (obv). Hilarious. Watch it.
- Call the Midwife – period drama about having babies and starring the annoying yet somehow endearing Miranda Hart. Brilliant. Watch it.
- Cadbury’s Cream Eggs – beautiful milk chocolate eggs filled with a sickly-sweet gooey fondant filling. To be found in the shops only at Easter time (i.e. between 2 January and 1 June). Which means you have to massively gorge on them when they are available to make up for the famine for the rest of the year. I do anyway. I used to be able to eat 6 in a day. No joke.
- Corrie – come on, I’ve told you this one…
- Curly Wurly – extra-long bars of chocolate-covered toffee shapes. They break your teeth and so, like Carambars, should not be eaten by anyone over 30.