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(Above) The gorgeous Airbnb in Somerset – our first UK base in 18yrs

“Don’t do it! It’s horrible!”
“Why on earth are you going back there?!”
“The weather’s shit; the system’s broken and the people are not pleasant. Why go back?”
These are just some of the comments we received from friends, family and casual acquaintances when we shared our intention to relocate back to the UK after 18 years living abroad.

Apart from the genuine shock at the idea of us choosing to return to some hell from which we had successfully escaped, there were also portents of personal economic ruin that assured us we would not be able to afford to rent or buy anywhere decent to live and we wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage or a mobile phone as we don’t have a current UK credit rating. I would be lying if I said the negative comments we were getting didn’t bother me, they clearly did.

Underlying the concern that the UK we left would not be the same as the one we were returning to, was a unspoken fear that we were somehow giving up, that the adventure was over.

But the dye was cast. There were myriad reasons why our plan to spend 2 or 3 years in an EU country, getting to know its landscapes, food, culture and hiking before moving on somewhere new, was becoming untenable, most of them around financial regulations aimed at preventing money laundering and the funding of terrorism which made continuity of running a business across different countries very difficult. The result was that we were creating a trail of bank and Paypal accounts, accumulating fees as we went. Brexit was the final nail in a coffin that had been under construction for some time. Heading to Lisbon airport that hot morning in June, we had folders fat with the multiple documents we thought we needed to satisfy the UK’s COVID entry requirements but we were far from confident that everything would be accepted.

Flying Lisbon to Heathrow during a pandemic

In the four years we lived in Portugal, Lisbon airport was a regular destination, whether it was for our own frequent flights, or to collect and return visitors. In that time, it had never been anything less than rammed, even in the early hours of the morning. Today it felt like the set of Day of The Triffids. Checking in, a process that would normally take no more than an hour, took more than double that time. At every stage our documents were meticulously scrutinised: passport – check; negative COVID test result – check; pre-paid Day 2 (& Day 8) testing evidence – check; passenger locator form – check. With just 40 minutes left before boarding, we wandered into the departure lounge to find available tables at which to eat a sandwich, a first in our experience. Another full check of all the documentation at the departure gate, and we finally boarded our flight to Heathrow.

It had been 18 years since we took a one-way flight from Manchester to Tenerife and a lot of water had flowed under the bridge since then, dragging mind-boggling detritus with it. We were already intrepid about our return after so many people had made it clear it was a very bad idea but now we were really nervous about whether or not we’d actually get back in. It seemed ridiculous, we are after all, UK citizens.

Imagine what it must feel like if you’re a refugee looking for asylum in this country?

In the event, getting through Immigration and Passport Control was the biggest, and the most welcome anti-climax I’ve ever experienced. We breezed through with a mere cursory glance at a couple of documents and our passports, and just like that, we had come ‘home’. The months of preparation, stress and planning were behind us, ahead lay the virtual mountain of trying to find somewhere to live. We collected our hire car and drove south, to Somerset and our gorgeous Airbnb accommodation; we now had just 2 weeks to secure ourselves a home, somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere we didn’t know.

We haven’t given up on the adventure, we’ve just moved its location.

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