So fifteen months and countless adventures later I’m back in Edinburgh and feelings are, well, mixed. I can’t deny that it’s been amazing to see familiar faces and hear friendly voices after all this time. Already the hospitality that has been offered is well above and beyond the call of duty. It’s just so… different…
The first tremors of culture shock hit me during the train journey from London to Edinburgh, overhearing the almost unbearably banal conversation, the heated discussion of the coming weekend’s X-Factor or Come Dancing or whatever soul-sapping reality show is the flavour of the week. This dreariness, interspersed with the inevitable Christmas chatter, was almost enough to have me searching frantically for the ejector seat, possessed of an almost irresistible urge to jump off the train and head back to Heathrow for the next flight to Thailand.
The scenery didn’t help. Every train journey for the last fifteen months, the daylight portions at least, have been set against a backdrop of vibrant, blue skies and luscious, verdant expanses of palm and rubber trees, interspersed with grotesquely alien limestone cliffs, ever-watchful golden Buddhas looking down like guardians of the nation and flights of birds with plumage spanning the entire spectrum. Now I’m confronted with grey, foreboding clouds from horizon to horizon, endless sparse, flat, dead fields separated by the occasional skeletons of trees. The urban landscape presents row upon row of identikit housing, decaying tower blocks and rusting fences, looking more like the scene of a post-apocalyptic movie than anything containing life.
For what it’s worth I’m aware that my mental state has a huge part to play in flavouring my observations. I’m fatigued from days of travel, disoriented by jetlag and deflated by the events of the previous fortnight, but it doesn’t make the situation any easier. Thankfully the sight of Waverley station brought a smile to my lips, despite the noticeably plummeting temperature and the most unwelcome appearance of raindrops on the carriage windows. The quick dash from the station to the Thistle St. Bar was accompanied by a confusing sensation, one of familiarity mixed with novelty, a path I’d trodden so many times suddenly refreshed after a long absence.
Awaiting me at the pub was a huddle of friends and my brother, all the people ‘d missed most during my travels gathered to welcome me back. I can’t tell you how good it was to see them and just be among them again, although again the jetlag conspired against me, forcing me to do little more than sit and listen while their light-speed Scottish banter whizzed around my head, leaving me always thirty seconds behind the rest of he conversation. The warmth of the bar and the taste of my first real beer in what seemed like an eternity worked wonders on my spirit, although it was marred by the inevitable interjection of two drunken, toffee-nosed, arrogant wankers into our midst. A word of warning – if you ever see someone in a tweed kilt and matching jacket it inevitably means they were A) born with a silver spoon in their mouth, B) utterly convinced of their inherent superiority over all around them and C) a dick. Thankfully (for them) we left before violence ensued but it was an unfortunate reminder nonetheless of why I’d felt so peaceful during the past year and why there was hesitation and the thought of returning to my homeland of alcohol and short tempers.
Aside from that it’s been a period of adjustment, letting my body recover and reorient itself while looking for work, trying to stay on top of my seemingly endless list of tasks while back in the country and, erm, wasting hours chatting to friends on Facebook. I’m making the most of Western foods and trying my hardest to stop my digestive system from complaining about it. I’m adjusting to cold, winds and evil, depressing drizzle again. I knew returning home would be a challenge after what I’ve experienced for the past year but I didn’t realise just how strange, how confusing it would be.
However difficult it is I take huge consolation in being surrounded by some of the most wonderful people in the world, so if I ever start whining just remind me of that.