Our first 6 months had flown here in Jamaica, and as the Caribbean summer starts to swelter, many of the expat wives take off for the cooler climes of home. Suddenly, it was our turn, I packed up my baby boy and set off for the airport…
I was excited to see everyone at home and show off B (our baby boy), but dreading the 9 hour flight with an infant in my arms. I definitely have been that cool twenty year old, whose eyes roll when they see a mum coming toward them down the plane aisle, and I was praying I didn’t get sat next to an earlier version of me. Or an intimidating whiskey-drinking Jamaican yardie of which I’d seen many on my very pregnant flight out here! I took my window seat, and latched on B, who presented with a boob will happily oblige, any place, any time. And then, God sent me Voldimort.
He was part of a friendly Swedish family filling up the middle row. A small, red-haired 5 year old, he sat down next to me and introduced himself. “Hello, my name’s Voldimort. And I love babies, even when they cry”. “And I love you, Voldimort” I thought, gobsmacked at this gift from heaven, and wondering slightly if his parents had intentionally called him after the bad guy in Harry Potter, whose books have outsold the bible in just the fifteen years since it was created! His dad immediately offered to put my huge bag up in the locker (spot the first time mum travelling with 3 outfits for herself and the baby in case of poop explosions!). As we were on a night flight, Voldimort (the little angel) quickly went soundly to sleep, to the extent that I could climb over him, rest my bag on him, and breastfeed B with my usual inability to do that with any sense of modecy!
B had a great trip. A veritable 9 hour feeding frenzy on what, for a baby, must be the equivalent of one huge airborne vibrating chair. As we touched down in Gatwick, I realised with slight horror, I had managed to get zero sleep, though I had managed to keep B quiet the entire way! My darling Dad was waiting for us, to whisk us off down to the coast. Arriving in England felt like moving between parallel universes. As if my Jamaican life had somehow ceased to exist while I was at home, and then England equally vanished again once we arrived back into the sunshine at Kinston Airport.
I think it might have been the weather! In Kingston I had been craving the cool, fresh air of home, but I got more than I bargained for. West Sussex was experiencing dire floods, and England ended up having the coldest June in 20 years and the wettest in a 100! Having vowed to swim in the lovely, freezing sea everyday no matter what, I was appalled to find my usual steely self totally repelled by the icy grey sea. Only after about a week, on not quite such a freezing day, did I force myself in, and then only for 2 minutes of shrieking! I had been entertaining this idea that somehow I’d be able to fill up my cold storage reserves by swimming underwater, generating some internal mental freezer to take with me back to Kingston for the blistering hot summer, but when faced with it, I hate to admit, I’ve gone soft!
Some of the lovely things about being home: Drinking hot tea and not breaking out into a lather. Ditto for having hot showers! In Kingston recently we hardly bother to use our water heater. Smoked fish, fresh salmon, smoked salmon, trout. Jamaica has wonderful tropical fish to eat, but it’s much harder to come by fresh, and mainly enjoyed here cooked right on the beach. Not getting bitten! While it sounds like a petty thing to moan about, I am constantly bitten by (and allergic to) mosquitos, no-seeums and ants. I’ve begun to look like I’m suffering from Tourette’s, as I go about randomly slapping myself and swearing, and I hate the constant chemical stick and reek of insect repellent on my skin.
And the simple joy of being able to go for a walk the pram – without either melting from the heat, getting run over by mad Jamaican drivers or risking getting shot for your mobile phone!
But of course, the best thing about being at home is catching up with everyone. I went to a fabulous wedding of two friends in Somerset, which looked picture perfect in the summer sunshine. After the riotous colour and tropical foliage of Jamaica, the English countryside is a sensory treat of delicate pastel coloured flowers bobbing in the wind. The scottish groom made the wedding a lovely mix; described briefly it was a wild scottish ceilidh set in a classic English country garden, with a whirl of kilts, loads of singing and some seriously good champagne. A gang of mates I knew from boarding school were all staying together in an old inn, and with various yelling and shenanigans in the corridors it almost felt like we were all back at school! Plus or minus spouses, and in my case, with my baby and his brilliant Granny to look after him.
I also discovered that the mummy animal within me is stronger than the party animal, which is a fairly shocking fact to face up to! Having got the 1am bus home from the wedding, I thought I’d sneak up to the room, quickly bottle feed B, then be back down to drink the night away in the hotel bar when the rest of the revellers came home on the next bus at 2am. But, when I saw my little creature, all bundled up in our freezing room with my exhausted mum looking after him (whom he had suddenly decided was a strange monster who’d kidnapped him for an hour or two), my partying resolve just evaporated, and by the time I heard the others coming back, I was curled up in bed with my sweetly sleeping son. Awake at 5am feeding B, I was struck by the beauty of the English dawn chorus, one little bird answering another, whereas here in Jamaica, it’s like a switch goes on; a total racket kicks off of treefrogs, crickets and birds, and if you’re not asleep when it starts, you’ve no chance of getting any!
There followed two lovely wet weeks with my family. It was great to catch up with everyone, I loved the trips for pints of bitter and pork scratchings to the pub, seeing my nephew and niece getting to know B, venturing off in Dad’s old car to visit an old friend (now mother of four!) in Kent.
Right at the end of my trip, my parents had organised a huge family party for my great Uncle’s 90th. Dad has fifteen surviving first cousins, many of whom have children and grandchildren, so it was great introducing B to his second, third and fourth cousins, who had made it to West Sussex from all over the world for the occasion. Having nearly 70 blood relatives all in the same spot is simlutaneously reassuring and alarming, as you realise all the similarities between you!
Suddenly, it was all over, and me and B were packing up again to head back to Jamaica. The packing itself made me laugh about how much my life has changed, I had bought a huge toy for B on Amazon, which I had to split between my two suitcases with my clothes jammed in round the edges! Driving back to Gatwick on a perfect summer morning through the Sussex countryside with Dad was torture, not wanting to say goodbye, not wanting to leave England which was finally looking gorgeous after all the dreadful weather, craning to see the gorgeous old country homes and stables nestled into the rolling hills… But it was time to head home to Jamaica, and home to my lonely, hard-working husband! We’re planning another trip back in August to Ireland (where he’s from) but as he only has 20 days holiday a year, he couldn’t come with me this time.
Seems funny that I already think of Jamaica as home, but I guess home is where the heart is. And, as I came out into the sunshine and blaring reggae at Kingston airport, to be engulfed with B in a huge, loving hug by my delighted, grinning husband, home for the moment, is most certainly here.