Rain. Thundering, pelting, sopping grey rain. That, and a lot of green grass and dripping sheep.
This is the first thing I remember when I think of the first time I set foot in England. I was about eight (give or take a few months, I think I turned nine during the visit) and, for the first time since I had been born, my parents took me to see "where I came from." I was British by birth, but had been born in a small army camp a few miles from Paderborne in Germany. I had moved to Canada when I was six, and had only recently returned to Europe. To me, home was a flat country where all the cities had cobbled streets, all the main roads had bicycle lanes and people talked a language I didn't understand. This place wasn't like that - there were hills and long wavy grass and winding country lanes that upset my stomach so much I had to fully open the window to keep from being sick as we drove away from the airport.
As we drove, my mum told me stories about the family we were going to meet. Unbeknownst to me, apparently I had an aunt, and uncle and three grandparents, of whom I had only met my paternal grandmother when I was a newborn. I was intrigued - the other children at my school had often talked about going to see "granny and grandpa" in their holidays. Did I have people like that too?
My family seemed just as interested in me as I was in them. Two lived in a great big building in a funny little floor with no stairs and a big balcony that looked out over the sea. They took me down there one day, and my grandad and I stood on the quayside and watched the boats going in and out of the harbour. He told me all their names and cargoes, and I remember him laughing as he pointed out the little yellow dingy racing along in the lee of one of the huge cross-channel ferries. I also remember a particularly brave seagull that dared to try and steal my sandwich, much to my brother's amusement.
On we travelled, and as we went I met the rest of my family. My aunt and her partner (I would be bridesmaid at their wedding in a few years) did the usual "oh she looks just like her mummy", "she's got Uncle Mark's nose", "her eyes are just like granny's", while my uncle greeted me with a hug and taught me how to give someone a high five.
Now, you must be wondering, why do I remember the rain most of all? Surely amidst all the excitement of meeting a family I never knew I had, the weather would be far less important to a bouncy, talkatative eight-year-old.
Well, I remember the rain because, for all the two weeks I was there, it didn't stop. Not once. At the time I thought it was annoying, as I was none too keen on getting wet, but nowadays I like to think it was the country telling me something. I think it was saying "welcome home."