One thing about expat life that used to surprise me were the ‘boomerang expats.’ The ones that had come to the ‘natural end’ of their stint abroad, having become increasingly bitter and cynical about life in their adopted country. They would complete their last day at work clutching floral tributes and bottles of Rioja, and would return to ‘blighty’ to rediscover everything that they had missed, complete with the children that they had born along the way, and their troop of rescue dogs. And one year later: boom! Their freshly updated CV would land itself back in the inbox of their boss before their Reserva had even left its infancy. They wanted to come back. And damn I ridiculed them for their actions.
Until we did the self same thing. We left expat life and returned to the UK for eighteen months. And then we moved abroad. Again.
We left Spain and expat life… for eighteen months
We left Spain for a plethora of reasons… Brexit… taxation… lack of job security… and once we had made up our minds, every small thing about the country would irritate us. “Urgh.. we have to go to at least two supermarkets to get everything on our shopping list.? Why does nobody use the inside lane on a roundabout? Why is nothing open on a Sunday?” Interestingly, we went through the same process when we left the Cayman Islands. When we made that final decision to leave, by golly we couldn’t wait to get out.
There were many, many elements of returning to the UK that excited us: being close to family and friends, visiting London and it’s fabulous West End shows, Tesco (trust me, only expats ‘get’ that one!) and being able to 100% communicate with people. Whilst I took many Spanish lessons and ended up fairly competent conversationally, the idea of chatting to the internet installation engineer without it becoming a game of loudly spoken charades seemed massively appealing.
After scrutinizing the rental prices of the home counties, we picked Buckinghamshire, as it seemed to have the semi-rural commutable lifestyle that we could just about afford. I had visions of eventually owning a beautiful English Edwardian semi that was a tube ride into London, whilst the kids had excellent schooling and fields of deer to run around in. There was only one school that had availability. “It can’t be that bad” I would say breezily… “it’s in the very affluent village of name witheld.”
I was wrong. After six months, after a huge catalogue of shortcomings, the school was put on a lock down because an eight year old was terrorising the corridors with rock missiles. Lessons were duly learnt about postcode assumptions, and it was time to revaluate our choice of area.
This of course was not the only reason. I went back to teaching in the UK at a ‘secondary modern,’ which was essentially made up of all of the kids who did not go to grammar school (I could put my teacher hat on and write a whole blog post about this on its own but I’ll save that for another day/my other site!). After ten years, I had forgotten what it was like to teach back in England. Over the course of six months I fell out of love with teaching. And when I did get a spark of enjoyment, it would be counteracted by a negative incident, such as the delightful year 9 student who called me a f@&king moron for politely asking him to spit out his gum.
Another unwelcome surprise was the cost of wraparound childcare. It was costing us over £300 per month for four days of breakfast clubs and after school care until 5pm. I genuinely raise my hat to working parents in the UK, and bow down to single working parents.
The only way is Essex
So we gave it another shot, and moved back to Essex, where I was born and bred. A much better school for our children, and a chance for me to be a stay at home mum: in my minds’ eye I could spend half of my days being Mrs Hinch, and then divide the rest of my glorious free time between the gym, dining out and spending quality time with the kids. In reality, I couldn’t be assed to go to the gym because I am lazy, I had no money to ‘do lunches’ and the quality time with the kids started wonderfully…but then went into a four month lockdown which at times felt like a back dated cheque for all of the years that I had worked full time! As for being Mrs Hinch…
I suppose that the biggest issue was, that whilst we generally liked the area, we could not afford to buy a house there. That dream of the Edwardian semi was still an unfulfilled prophecy, and was likely to be for many years to come, whilst we lined the pockets of our critical and unobliging landlord.
Drizzly and cold weather
Strangely enough, the weather was not the predominant factor for our return, despite the fact that we’d lived in a hot climate for ten years. I think that it was because we arrived back in the UK in December, so missed a chunk of winter the first time around and were propelled by the euphoria of returning to England and leaving expat life. It was only the second year when we started to notice how we missed our long balmy evenings sat outside (particularly with our North facing garden in England and adjoining neighbour’s fence that would only protect the privacy of elves).
Whilst we had some genuinely wonderful times over the eighteen months that we were back, overall, the UK did not meet with our earlier, somewhat unrealistic expectations. We still only saw family and friends occasionally; some of whom we actually saw more of when we lived abroad. Life is busy and people are more spread out than when we were younger; our children did not realise that holidays back in England are a different reality. In ‘real life’ there aren’t multiple family gatherings every other day; work and school are the dominating factors.
In addition, I admit that we are fairly solitary souls (some may call it unsociable?!) ourselves, after having so many years without family directly nearby. Romantic notions of rekindling lost and distant connections got lost among day to day life, and it felt somewhat arrogant to stroll in and interrupt other people’s ‘circles’ after a decade of little contact.
In the middle of lockdown after much thought (and a few glasses of wine which clearly adds a bit of clarity whilst making lifechanging decisions!), we decided to leave the UK again and return to the expat life that we had left. Two months later, we had packed up our belongings and camped our way across Southern Europe, ready this time, to settle in Gibraltar.
Watch out for my next post where I reflect on what it was like to move to Gibraltar as a family.
One of my most popular posts was how it felt to attend the parties of multi millionaires in Marbella because I happened to teach at a private international school. Read here how regular kids’ parties quite often turned into toe-curling extravaganzas…furthermore, if you would like to keep up to date with all of my posts, please follow me on Facebook
Are you a boomerang expat? Have you made a move that you regretted? I’d love to hear your stories