Enter the dragon (exit via the gift shop)

A small boy looks out on his strange new habitat, Aug 2012

In Chinese temples you enter via the dragon door and exit through the tiger, having moved in a counterclockwise direction through the building. If I throw a load of pins on a map of the Far East I can’t see a clear counterclockwise route, but I know that we’ve roared through a huge part of that bit of the world, and exited through the best gift shop life could have presented us with. Jonah’s Insta byline trots out that line about leaving with ‘only your memories’ or something and it’s a cliche but a good one for a pre-teen who could just as easily have picked something rubbish – the message is a gift in itself after five years of travels.

I wrote most of this at 32,000 feet, returning to the UK after a counterclockwise trip to Australia. The route home to London made no sense at all in the planning but plenty in reality, leaving at nightime after a fog of tears and alcohol,then heading further away from England to the east of Oz, landiing on wild and sandy Tangalooma Island where we found pelicans, dolphins, whales and the Connors family, who snuffed out any sadness by filling our three beachy days with as much activity as possible. What a great exit plan, I thought, as I slid down a 25-foot sanddune on a piece of chipboard and snorkelled with wobbegongs.

Arriving home after another week of catchups with friends on east and west coasts, two flights, five airline meals, several sky-high glasses of fizz and eight and a half films, and there was Grandpa at Heathrow, then a cab ride from west to north London and suddenly we were back in the room – four years and 11 months after we shut the big black door and heaved our bags into a cab.

That our connecting flight from Perth to Sing to London whipped us through Changi at breakneck speed was a good thing. The farewells of 11 days before had been enough, and our bolt from gates 10 to 4 meant a merciful plaster-rip from there to here. If you bagsy the window seat you can have a little weep as the tankers tilt at funny angles beneath you for the last time – that’s my best tip for leaving Singapore.

Five days on and I’m slowly acclimatising. The weather is making it easy, sunny days on the Heath with friends, and every day a grassy picnic (narrowing my capsule wardrobe by the hour as my waistline widens), and into the diary a nice dotted trail of happy reunions to come, and I can’t wait for all of that. My new sim card is plugged in, I’m wearing boots again (which feel like hooves) having picked up a pair in Australia. I’ve registered a new Oyster card and Jonah’s done a morning at school. But it’s not like we never left, not at all.

The comparable memories of our departure from England are as clear to me as if they happened yesterday. Where were we? There was a birthday party with a garden full of kids. Goodbye to the cats. Crazy Olympic trip with Pa and T. Sobbing on the pavement with Kate. A desperate goodbye to the folks outside 72. Emerging into the neon moonscape of Holland Residences. Discovering delightful Chip Bee Gardens and Holland V. My first swim on Sentosa. Stifling heat both day and night. Birdsong sounding like ringtones. Sharp homesick pangs coupled with an instant love of the palm trees in my neigbourhood hedges.

To say a lot has happened in between times would be an understatement. I am the same and also not the same. Our Sing leaving party was so much like our UK goodbyes (and our wedding, actually) in terms of the balance of people; we seem to pick the same kinds of lovelies to hang out with now just as we always did back then, so I know we are the same in our core, us PartlyCloudies, choosing and being chosen by kind and kindred spirits wherever we are.

And now home (our London home, that is – this will be confusing for some time, I suspect). We came in through the dragon and we left via the tiger, in with a flash of London farewells and out with a similar pop of festive hankie-waving. If we can make the next five years as amazing as the last five, there is a lot to look forward to.

As I finished writing this, London suburbs emerged far below, the Thames winding through suburban outskirts into the corner of my window – a sewed blanket replacing the dotted tankers.

Pastures new. A treasury of friends back there and here. The biggest going home presents we could have hoped for.

On on.

Home, July 2017