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Sat Oct 24, 2020, 07:24 PM

Living abroad by Emma Brockes


The Guardian

If you've made a life abroad, coronavirus gives homesickness a new edge

Emma Brockes

If you've made a life abroad, coronavirus gives homesickness a new edge
The longest I have gone without seeing England is two years, a hiatus taken after the birth of my children, when I couldnít face the flight. I mustíve missed the place: I remember bingeing old episodes of Inspector Morse as if they were home movies. But like everything from that period not directly involving babies, I canít quite retrieve the memory. Besides which, my homesickness was mitigated by one major factor: people came to visit me.

No one is coming to visit this time. For many of us with family living further than a drive away Ė particularly those living abroad Ė the advent of the holiday season marks the 12-month anniversary since any of us went home. It is one thing to stay away because you canít be bothered to travel, and another to have that option removed. Technically, itís doable; a few friends in New York have cracked and flown to see their parents in Britain, factoring in the two-week quarantine. But for most of us, even if we can overcome the fear of exposure on the flight, the restrictions on arrival arenít practical. Whatís the point of trekking home if you canít see anyone when you get there?

The strange thing is that, viewed from New York, Britain doesnít look like much of a destination at the moment. While the third wave rages across much of the US, in New York, a city still in shock from its experiences of the spring, virus numbers are low and, for the time being, stable. The schools arenít back full time and no oneís throwing dinner parties, but some semblance of normal life has returned.
Or rather it has if you ignore the fact that no one with sense will be going home for the holidays. For those with young children, the months have clicked by, and with them a growing feeling of absence. Zoom doesnít fill the gap where a grandparent should be, and one wonders how long it will take before the relationship is damaged. A year is a long time in the life of a five-year-old who refers to her own recent toddlerhood as ďthe olden daysĒ.
For adults, the sense of loss is less tangible but perhaps more alarming. It took me a moment to identify
dental patients in the city reporting serious jaw strain. Every day, he said, patients came in complaining of cracked teeth, jaw pain, excessive grinding and other expressions of stress, most of which came out in them while asleep, and far in excess of these complaints before the pandemic.
ē Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist

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