I was away in Australia for a month and got back 2 weeks ago. It feels like a long time since I was writing here about packing now that I have subsequently unpacked and put away all that was eventually decided upon. (Note to self: I must remember it was too much as I wore only about half of what I took.) The intervening couple of weeks since the return has felt disorienting while I deal with the readjustments that ensue from travelling half way round the world.
Most obviously is the time zone change. We literally are awake all night and sleep all day, if you go by British time. This is not helpful, and I find that immediately I am on the plane I need to start to adjust to the new time, so on the way out I do this by sleeping when it is night in Australia. This is easier in international airspace, where it is “no-time”, than once we have arrived and are faced with daylight that feels “wrong” for the body clock. On the way back we had a stop off in Singapore for a few hours, where we slept in the transit hotel, which was a marvellous idea; a bed and a shower! Then once on the plane from Singapore to Heathrow I should have been sleeping as it was nighttime in England, but I couldn’t sleep so watched 6 films in a row and arrived at breakfast time, 13 hours later, with square eyes. The jet lag thing was quite insidious for me this time. I felt fine then I suddenly felt tired… at about 7pm. Then I awoke at 3am, ready to start the day. This pattern went on for ten days, the longest I have ever had it! This is not so great in December when it is already dark by 7pm and not light until 8am; the daylight was not on my side here.
The day length links to the second thing I notice; the season change. In the antipodes it is spring at the moment, and the days are lengthening while the weather is warming up. Now, we did not have it purely hot and sunny while we were in Oz, it was a very mixed bag, and in the mountains in was positively cold in fact it snowed the week we were there! The day we arrived in Sydney we were nearly blown over by the strength of the wind, and the photos of us wearing fleeces and under grey skies looked more like the land we had left – except for the Opera House in the background, there was no mistaking that. We experienced rain and storms, snow and wind and then…. the sun came out, and it was hot! Coming back has been a bit of a shock, admittedly it is not freezing, but it is winter and as such colder and darker, which feels a lot less hospitable when the day before we left Sydney we had 14 hours of sunshine and the mercury reached 32 degrees.
Another thing about coming back to the UK is how small it is, how compact the towns and the roads feel. In Australia the land is big and seems to go on for ever – there is a sense of grand scale to the landscape that seeped in while I was travelling through it. The roads are wide, and the towns are not cramped, I guess they have space! Here I notice the short distance between everywhere, and particularly here in the south, how there are not many open spaces – houses, and people, everywhere. There is more room to breathe and more accessible solitude in the bush and the mountains that we visited. I miss that in our own countryside.
The least explicit readjustment I need to make is back to living within the British culture. The contrast to Australia where the people are more extravert and have a candid approach to conversation, which is disarming at first, appears vast. Where the language is superficially the same as English, but you soon learn that the way it is used is not, so you can be fooled into thinking you grasp what is meant (you probably don’t). Where they have a pioneering and exploring spirit, and because they conduct much of their lives outside, this comes through in the way they socialise, spend leisure time and think about what is possible. Never has the metaphor of the young buck and the old imperialist nation been so uppermost in my mind. I am unsure about Britan, and indeed Europe, what is the prospect here? While Australia is going forward, towards Asia and the future. This puts me in mind of what the kangaroo keeper explained to us at the zoo; kangaroos can only move forward they cannot reverse as their muscular tail prevents it, so just like their anthem, they must Advance Australia Fair. It feels very much like they are of one voice in that belief.