One of the tricks to making expat life work for you is taking advantage of all the opportunities it affords.
It could be something as amazing as travelling to a place you’d rarely get a chance to otherwise, or it could be as surreally mundane as an unexpected trip back to your country of origin while you wait for a visa to be processed.
Guess which one I’ve been doing this week?
Yes, various administrative snafus mean I’m on another visa run. Normally I’d pop over to Dubai for the day (and head to the Dubai Mall, which has a massive bookshop, a quiet cinema and a Waitrose).
But I’ve earned enough miles from previous visa runs to really get away and so, because it’s nearly Christmas, and it would be nice to catch up with my family again, I’ve briefly popped back to the damp and frosty UK.
It feels odd, like I’m not supposed to be here. Much like Withnail’s wet weekend in Wales, I appear to have gone on holiday by mistake.
Mrs LC was only back in the UK a week ago for work, so all the emergency stockpiling of foodstuffs has just been done. The threat of Twiglet rationing has passed for another few months.
Being just a few weeks before both Christmas and Kid A’s birthday, she came back laden with gifts from all corners of the family. And when I say laden, I mean in the left-with-two-suitcases-came-back-with-five sense of the word.
So when we told the kids that we’d basically be doing a transcontinental parental relay race, Amnesiac just rolled his eyes and said “First Mum…then Dad,” sounding for all the world like the sarcastic one from every family-based sitcom ever.
One jump cut taxi–plane-train montage later and I find myself briefly, unexpectedly, living back with my parents for a few days.
I arrived here not knowing how long I was going to be staying (I’d packed a few books, just in case.) And so it has proved, as my estimated three-day stay rolls on towards a full week.
And there’s no denying it’s a strange experience, being here without my own family or any agenda, just…waiting.
Having parachuted myself into my parents’ lives again for a few days again we’ve quickly settled into old roles: me offering soon-to-be-forgotten IT advice, my parents asking questions about “where next?” that I don’t have the answers to yet.
Having covered the inevitable questions about contracts and visas and next steps, I remarked to my dad that most of the things he was asking me about were covered by my blog.
“Do you still do that?” he asked. Yes, I replied, I do.
“I remember reading something about a haircut,” he continued. Which is entirely accurate, if actually more than two years ago now. (Still, at least I know now that the spike in UK-based traffic since then hasn’t been down to my parents repeatedly hammering F5.)
Then there’s the idiosyncrasies of living with someone else to get your head round. Like trying to wash up after lunch, only to be told that there won’t be any more hot water until the morning.
Tomorrow morning? That’s three-quarters of a day away.
I have no idea if this is energy efficiency in action, a failure on the part of my parents’ newly-installed solar panels (yes, in England!) or just some twisted logic that would make no sense to anyone who doesn’t live here full time (in the same way that what I put in which cupboard in my kitchen would make just as little sense to you.)
Such are the things that cross your mind when you’re temporarily stateless. Since moving to Qatar, I’ve made trips back for family reasons and interviews, but never just because I need to be somewhere else for a few days. It’s taken me straight back to the days of limbo when Mrs LC had just arrived in the desert 10 weeks ahead of the rest of us.
Knowing my absence is only temporary means it’s hard to leave my normal life behind. Not having any kids to rouse hasn’t stopped my body clock pinging me awake at 5.30 each morning, for example.
The contrasts are many. I live in a house of bubblegum pop songs and lightly scattered Chima pieces. Over here, what with Radio 4 permanently on in most rooms of the house, and having to ask my dad if I can borrow his car, it’s eerily like being 17 again. (Getting the car back to him in one piece is as close to living out my Ferris Bueller fantasies as I’m ever going to get.)
I’ve been making the most of my unexpected visit. The shops here are full of Christmas displays. I found and brought my coat, hat, scarf, gloves and umbrella, and have used them all for the first time in forever. Pavements lined with fallen leaves and puddles have brought out my inner Gene Kelly.
I’ve caught up with family and friends, nephews, nieces and godchildren, gone to drinks, dinners and movies. As always, it’s the little things: I’ve loved being wet and cold again. I loved hearing my 17-year-old niece angrily denounce the lyrics to 1D’s Steal My Girl. (“She doesn’t belong to anyone! She’s a person in her own right!”)
But with my visa snafus sorted, it’s time to fly back to the glories of a desert winter. To my current version of normal.
(My brother-in-law asked me if I had enough miles to fly back Business class. A fellow father of two, he knew exactly what I meant when I replied: “No, but without the kids, Economy is Business.”)
Heading back, there’s a lot to look forward to: an imminent school play, with Amnesiac in the chorus and Kid A as the hissable baddie. Then her 11th birthday, and the present we bought her half a year ago (more on that next month) before a sort-of Christmas (or “Thursday”, as we call it in Qatar), with brunch by the beach.
We may not have Monty the Penguin, but we’re doing ok.
PS – and as of this morning, Qatar also has rain! I will feel very much at home again.