The smell of fox urine hit my nostrils as I walked under the muted blue skies of Autumn sunshine and could not have smelled sweeter to me. The North London streets were freshly damp from rain, and the changing colour of the leaves on the trees seemed more vivid and beautiful than ever. The fallen ones were starting to turn to mulch on the pavement. How had I never noticed the beauty of any of this before? I guess I wasn't in Kansas anymore, Toto. Or LA anyway.
After one year of living in Los Angeles, here I was - back visiting London for 2 weeks. Home. I was noticing things I'd never noticed before. No, not just noticing, but in their comforting familiarity I found them to be exquisite.
I felt like the drunk friend at New Year, the one you haven't seen for ages who keeps telling you how much they love you even though they don't see you as much as they used to. Would we, me and London - like the best of old friends, simply pick up where we left off? Or was London smarting from my decision a year ago to reject it in favour of a new friend? A sunnier friend. A seemingly more glamorous friend?
London had - well, has it done something with its hair? I can't tell. But for some reason after a year-long absence it seemed leaner, better dressed, maybe with a new haircut and a renewed confidence. It was the ex who turns up looking hotter than ever.
But no one wants to hear that life driving down palm tree roads under relentless blue skies is not all it's cracked up to be.
"You're so lucky living in LA," said EVERYBODY I met. I know that I am. The sun does shine every single day, it hardly ever rains and Johnny Depp lives up the street.
"When are you coming back?" is the second question every one asks.
I lived in London for 18 years, I moved there pre Labour's 13 years at Number 10 under a Conservative government and I moved away under a Conservative government. I was presenting the Capital FM Breakfast show the day that Tony Blair was elected, I covered the Hatfield and Paddington Rail crashes, I reported from Trafalgar Square the day we won the Olympics, and cried 24 hours later when the London Underground was targeted in a terror attack. I lived there when they created the role of Mayor of London, brought in the Congestion Charge and held an amazing Olympic Games. It's not just a place to me, but part of the fabric of who I am. But never, until I moved away, did I ever get to be a tourist in my own town, and - wow - is it magnificent!
I caught the tube. For once, I wasn't going to work as I was on holiday for two weeks in my home-town. The carriage was packed, and I had to duck forward to avoid the closing doors. Then I could see there was a huge cavenous gap where no people stood between the seats as passengers had congregated just inside the tube doors. Like they just stepped onto the train and that was all that counted. "I'm on - what do you mean there's people behind me?" A year ago this would have annoyed the hell out of me. But I was so happy and appreciative not to be driving myself stuck in LA's infamous traffic, it seemed like such a fun adventure to be risking getting my head squeezed in a train door instead. I spent years wishing I had some personal space when travelling by tube, since I moved to LA I've started to miss the intimate contact with total strangers that travelling by public transport brings. Here in LA, you live in a box, walk to a box that you drive to a boxy place of work, and then drive to another box for the evening. How easily you become isolated from other beings. No one walks. The pavements are empty.
I joined the tourists outside the Palace of Westminster taking photos, I walked home across Waterloo Bridge and stopped to take a picture, arrived at the theatre with time to spare for a drink first, met my parents for a drink at 4pm. 18 years of working in London and yet I'd never seen it from this side. The tourist side - and I'd highly recommend taking a few days to enjoy being a tourist in your own town, wherever that may be.
Yes, LA is glamorous and exciting, and sunny and different, I can drive to Las Vegas, walk along the beach, hike in the hills and see celebrities - but I will always be a stranger here who sounds different and is looking from the outside in.
Having left London behind for the excitement of LA - desperate to spread my wings - like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz I clicked my heels and fully appreciated that there really IS no place like home.Suggest a correction