This time last year I was getting ready for a visit back to Guernsey. My first foray out of Canada in nearly five years. In all that time, I never had any particular reason to want to travel, but the motivation for this trip as my parents' golden wedding anniversary.
All in all it was a good trip. Miraculously, all the travel plans worked out without a hitch, and it was great to reconnect with family and friends.
And, in the middle of a very tough year at work, it was a timely reminder of all the differences we've noted between our lives then and now, and of the reasons why I can put up with a lot for the sake of the benefits.
Even though I'd prepared myself, I found it hard to believe how small and crowded the island felt. It took me a while to get up the courage to drive myself around. Driving on the "wrong" side of the road wasn't an issue - I've never had much problem swapping sides other than a momentary confusion coming off the ferry from France one year - but the speed and density of traffic and narrowness of the roads was intimidating.
Then there was the pervasive attitude that fun can't possibly be had without copious quantities of alcohol. Something which we've both set aside since moving here. We've often commented, while joining in family barbecues or wiener roasts on the beach or a park, how any such occasion in years gone by wouldn't have felt complete without free-flowing beer and wine. We don't miss it. Even when we have friends around for an evening meal or summer barbecue now, a bottle or two of wine usually goes a long way.
However, the biggest difference was the one I felt on returning to Canada. I realised that while I was waiting in Gatwick for my flight it had seemed like everyone was wearing their smiles upside down. And nobody made eye contact or spoke to strangers except for the minimum necessary to conduct business. Back in Vancouver, things were back to normal.
The first sign was the smiling immigration official who asked to see my Permanent Resident card while I was waiting in line at passport control. It was quite a line up. As I had one of the newer-style cards would I like to try out the new computerised system they were piloting to process landing papers? Sure. We chatted about the system as she steered me through the not-so-user-friendly interface. And it saved me quite a wait, putting me into a special line up of just a handful of people.
I knew better than to try to be friendly to the customs official in the passport control booth, of course. They are notoriously surly the world over. Must be part of their training.
Once through, I went to the information desk to buy a coach ticket to the ferry. It was so nice to be treated like a person again, rather than just a mildly inconvenient customer, that I couldn't help remarking on it to the young lady serving me.
And then, while waiting for departure time, I wandered over to Tim Horton's. Then I knew I was home.