'Well, originally, the UK,' I replied, as if I'd lived in Oz for years.
'Yes, yes,' she said, chivvying me along. It was clearly the wrong answer, and this lady was obviously deeply intuitive.
'I live in Brisbane,' I added, meekly.
'Thank you,' she said, with a beaming smile.
As my trip back home approached, during June and July, I described it as exactly that: I was about to go 'back home' for my daughter's birthday. (I have noticed that my friend talks of 'going back' but he does not add the word 'home', although he would doubtless attribute neither conscious thought nor significance to his choice of words!) While I was in the UK, many people asked me the same question: did I feel as if I was coming home as I flew from Brisbane to London, or was I merely on holiday in England and would be returning 'home' to Australia after three weeks?
It was a difficult question. I'm not sure I can answer it even now. As the plane approached London at the end of a tedious 26 and a half hours, I was strangely elated. I can't remember ever feeling excited about returning to London from foreign parts before, it usually signifying the end of an excursion. I took pictures out of the window like a first-time tourist. I loved the first view of English soil in gaps between billowing clouds. A most unexpected reaction. How much of it was delirium from lack of sleep or relief in the knowledge I would soon be out of confinement and on terra firma I do not know.
It was wonderful to be greeted by my family at the airport and then a succession of friends during the first few days. My cats were rather less than enthusiastic, which hurt, I can tell you. I was staying in my house, where my daughter and her partner are now living. I was in a spare room, which felt not the least bit odd. So, in effect, that made me a visitor, and I was quite comfortable with the fact.
As time went on, I got more used to being back. I spent a few days in London and even found myself doing a day's work back 'at the office'. To recreate the experience right down to the last last detail, I even left late (and on a Friday evening, too)! I spent relaxing days with my girlies at a spa, and we had lots of family meals, something I've missed. As my departure date approached, the idea of leaving them again became daunting. As I wandered around Meadowbank (below) with my remarkable aunt, Lilian, I couldn't bear to wonder when we might walk our familiar circuit again.
And here's a similar spot on Bulimba Creek in eastern Brisbane. It seems apposite to include it here and now... (And it will confirm everyone's preconceived notions about weather in the UK and Australia.)
On the plane 'coming home' to Brisbane, I was sitting next to a first-timer to Australia. She was visiting a mate in Bris. I enjoyed saying, when she assumed I was also going on holiday, 'No, I live in Brisbane.' I have long wanted to live in a different country from the one I was born and raised in, and now I'm doing just that. I also really loved being able to answer her questions like an old-timer. What are temps like at this time of year; how long would it take to get through immigration at the airport; how long does it take to fly from Brisbane to Cairns; how expensive is it to go clubbing (actually, I didn't have a clue about that one).
It was lovely to emerge from airside and see my friend carrying flowers and a wide smile. The Gateway Bridge was still not fully operational... and the streets of Murarrie were strangely deserted, at not even 10pm. The next day was fine and clear... and we were off to David Jones at Carindale. Ah yes, I'm back... those endless waits at traffic lights. The next day was fine and clear... and we were off to the Powerhouse market. We sat on the grass drinking coffee and watching Australians meet and greet and busy about in the warmth. As we waited for the Cat at New Farm, I noticed a slightly different quality of the light. It was more intense, somehow, and dripping with the promise of heat. The blue was bluer. It's spring in a couple of days.
Many people come to Australia for a couple of years and are still here after 20. Will I be one of those? Right now, I doubt it. I definitely came home a few days ago, but to very much a temporary one, as yet. I am confident I'll be happy to call Brisbane home for a while, even a few years, but I'm not one of those people, I suspect, whose home is wherever they lay their hat... even if there is a rather stylish straw fedora in my wardrobe.
And they do say you cannot become a Queenslander; you have to be born one.