Reverse culture shock (and who really owns London?)

I get reverse culture shock every time I come home! It’s like a U-bend. There’s the initial euphoria of returning home – seeing family and friends, wearing the cooler-weather clothes in my wardrobe, eating my favourite foods. Then, suddenly, I start feeling like a fish out of water, out of place in my own culture.

From having to look the other way when crossing the road to remembering to grab an umbrella every time I leave the house, reverse culture shock is the bottom of the U-bend. It feels like you’re a performer in a play who’s walking round the wrong stage – the setting is familiar, yet unreal.

Emirates Air Line
Home from home: Crossing the Thames on the Emirates Air Line

As Robin Pascoe, author of Homeward Bound, writes: “Re-entry shock is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.”

And I honestly think it’s more ‘shocking’ than the initial culture shock of moving abroad. That reaction you expect. Reverse culture shock can be quite unexpected and unanticipated.

Which is maybe why when it was suggested we take the boys to Bricklive at ExCeL London, I said, “Ooh, we can cross the river on the Emirates Air Line!”

All of a sudden, the idea of paying money to get a Dubai fix seemed a good idea. They might even serve champagne.

The cable car swings across the Thames at a vertigo-inducing altitude with views of the glinting Canary Wharf tower, the Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory and O2 arena. The brackish-brown river glides underneath, twisting and turning through London, an arm of the sea, never the same water and never still. My eyes followed the river’s sweeping path to the steel gates of the Thames Barrier.

After disembarking on the other side, we walked towards the ginormous ExCel centre. I soon noticed the oversized lettering on the front of the building: ‘Part of Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company’.

And that’s when I was reminded: the Middle East owns more of London than the Queen these days.

London cranes
From the window of our cable car, London looks just like … Dubai!

Instagram: A celebrity ‘Like’

I’ve descended into a new addiction this holiday: Instagram.

If you’re not exactly sure what it is, it turns any average Joe, like myself, into a fake photographer. The premise is simple: take a photo (on your iPhone or Android); add a quirky filter, then share it.

You can follow people, and be followed yourself; you can post photos of plates of food and cute animals; snap a #selfie without eye bags; and view the world in squares.


How it’s taken me this long to discover it, I have no idea.

It started, innocently enough, when I admired a friend’s photos on Facebook, then someone asked me if I Instagrammed (like Googling and Tweeting, it’s become a verb). Then I discovered Picfx (best app ever!) and, before I knew it, I was hooked.

My boys, who I have the privilege of following in real life, are my main subject matter, but you suddenly find yourself drawn to all sorts of scenes that you might not otherwise notice, like innocuous objects (a frothy coffee, perhaps), spheres, spirals and geometric patterns.

And this explains why I found myself at London’s O2 arena the other day, peering up at a reflection in the glass at the top of the tube station, and feeling an inexplicable urge to point my iPhone at it.

I posted my faux photo (pictured above) to Instagram, and thought nothing more of it. Then a ‘Like’ popped up – from a world-famous band that exploded onto the scene in the early 80s.

Iron Maiden!

It just so happened they were playing the O2 arena that night, and probably assumed I was attending the gig. The truth was, I was on my way home to give the kids a bath.

Rock-and-Roll, that’s me!

#London’s South Bank  #Bubbles