I have just arrived back on my rock after a 3 week visit to the homeland. It’s such a great feeling to be able to kick off my shoes and bare my (considerably bulkier) midriff, and I’m sure I’ll eventually get over everyone telling me how tired I look simply because I’ve lost my tan.
This last trip off the rock reminded me of what a strange experience entering the real world is when you’re used to living on a island where normal rules don’t apply. And I don’t just mean the basics like traveling to work on a boat or being woken every day by that rooster that doesn’t seem to sleep – ever. After you’ve been an island girl for any stretch of time, travel back into the real world with all of its rules and societal standards becomes considerably more of a shock to the system.
Here are the top 4 reasons I find it difficult to re-enter the real world these days:
What happened to my feet? I stare at them, splayed across the floor, as I try to squeeze them into my gorgeous, expensive heels which have been lying in a box at my father’s house and it’s a struggle to get into them. I sigh and put it down to lack of practice. After all, I have been wearing flip flops non-stop for the past 5 years. So I persevere. I last an hour. I remove my heels, examine my blisters and curse my wimpy feet. I thought they were meant to be hard core, what with all the barefoot strolls and the ever-thickening callouses, but no. I surrender. I buy a pair of ballet pumps, drop my head in shame and continue walking down my metropolitan street feeling considerably shorter but blissfully not in pain. As for socks, well, the main problem there is that it distresses my dog when he sees such unusual items. His puzzled look says what the hell are those?! and he fights to pull them off my feet again. Island dogs apparently do not understand socks. Same goes for jeans and lace up shoes, which makes dog walks just a little bit tricky.
The bathroom is my first port of call when the plane lands. As I glance in the mirror, I do a double take and gasp. Grey hair everywhere! My thoughtful Caribbean mirrors have been kind enough not to show me this – well, that, or perhaps I just didn’t care enough to look. I think back to my old high maintenance lifestyle and know my previous self would be horrified by the state of my roots. Granted, there were no grey hairs 5 years ago. These days, it takes me 4 days to make it to the supermarket, only to buy the cheapest hair dye on the shelf that looks closest to my colour. Obviously, I just go by the colour on the box, no patch test necessary. The days when I would need a qualified colourist to match my shade and charge me $100 for the privilege are long gone. Now it’s $15 maximum and I simply hope for the best.
Make-up is another issue, as I don’t tend to wear it on the rock. Now, not only do I need to restock entirely with new, unfamiliar products that have sparked up in my absence (hair chalk anyone?) but I find that even the action of slapping on the make-up feels more than a little odd. The foundation feels like I’m wearing a mask, blusher makes me look like a clown and mascara weighs down my eyelids so heavily I may as well be half asleep!
A few weeks before returning home, when visiting the Immigration department on the mainland to renew my visa, I came to realize that island life has given me a slight case of agoraphobia. As recommended, I got there at 7am to be first in the queue. There were already 20 people ahead of me. This I could cope with – if island life teaches you anything, it’s how to accept waiting in lines. But by 8:30am, there were already another 80 people lined up behind me. 80! That’s more people than I see on an average day back on the rock. And it’s chaos. Some customers are obeying the queuing system (“no, after you – why thank you”) while others are rabid, crazy creatures clawing their way to the front. People shout, people sweat and people huddle together in the sweltering heat of the crowded room, everyone agitated and waiting for something to happen. I find it’s the perfect way to train for a return to London. You know that moment when you arrive in the city, the train doors open and you are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people? I now think to myself, how can everyone live so close together? So close to all that body odour and bad breath? I need to catch my own breath. I go to the nearest bathroom, flush toilet paper (for the novelty value), obsess over the power of the hand dryer and only then am I ready to face the world.
Living on a island gives you a fresh perspective into exercise regimens. There are no air-conditioned gyms and endless rows of running machines. If you want to stay fit, you need to figure it out for yourself. Why would you use a treadmill anyway when you have an island to run around? (Granted you’d need to run around my island 3 times and then some to actually complete a marathon.) Why use an exercise bike when you can buy the real deal for $20? (Although, be warned, your seat and pedals may find new owners overnight.) And who needs hand weights when you have tins of soup to pump those triceps? Yoga, on the other hand, is available everywhere and costs a mere $3 to join in with my friends on the rock in the morning. It would cost me $18 at home. So yoga wins. Real world exercise is decidedly un-fun and leaves me to just continue my eating and save the exercise for when I return rock-side.
I could go on about how my smoker friends abandon me in restaurants to sneak outside for cigarettes, or how I get blank looks from sales assistants as I try to haggle over the price of clothes in Department Stores, but I think you get the gist. All I can say is that after spending all of my savings on wine and cheese, I’m happy to take my enormous, blistered feet back to my little rock and bury them in the sand where they belong.