“Where’s home for you now?” said Olly as we strolled along the South Bank, catching up on almost 20 month’s absence on a path we’ve walked countless times before.
It’s one of my favourite places in London, the walk from London Bridge to Waterloo along the river, past Borough Market, St.Paul’s, the Tate, the theatres and with Big Ben glowing in the distance.
When I was at university, riding the bus across the river at night filled me with awe at the magnificence of the city and the millions of lives that breathed within it. I was one of those lives. I called the city home for ten years and it still holds a house in my name and is the city I know the best. It’s where I chose to step out alone and build my own life. I love it, but would I call it home?
Steve calls Bristol home. When we return there, we stay with his parents in the house he grew up in. It’s laden with memories and he falls into it like a comfy slipper.
My childhood home was Redhill, a suburban town in Surrey – the place where I was born, lived my teens and saw both my parents die. Some family still remain there, but the death of my Mum and the sale of the family house closed the door on Redhill as home. I visit, I remember, I place flowers on the grave, but it’s no longer where I belong.
My Nan and four of my Mum’s brothers and sisters lived in Aldershot and around. When I was little, we used to spend every weekend there in a house that held four generations. The house and two generations remain there, with the rest of the clan nearby. It’s where I go at Christmas and for a time on every visit back to the UK. I can help myself at the cupboards and my Aunt leaps to do my washing. I was recently there for a week and found comfort in the familiar. My cousin’s children are living the life I did and I took pleasure in repeating old habits a couple of decades down the line. It felt homely, but Aldershot will always be Aldershot – the place where my extended family live, a place I feel at home in, but not a place that I’ve ever lived.
A place to call home
Over the past couple of years, Steve and I have called many places home. Even after a night or two, it’s not “we left it at the hotel”, but “we left it at home”. In that sense, home is where I rest my head. But some places become more than that – somewhere that feels like home, somewhere you’re at ease in and feel you belong.
San Pancho was different. Anyone who has read this blog for some time will know that we found a true home in that tiny Mexican town. We almost settled down. That plan hasn’t died; it burns slowly in conversations, memories and dreams. One day San Pancho may be the place we call home, but for now we know it’s not time. We’re not ready to be still. We’re not certain we ever will.
So where is home now? The immediate but transitory answer is Devon. We’re living here for the next couple of months, in part to get work done, but most of all because we want to be close to what we call home. And in that sentence lies an answer. Home isn’t one physical place for me. It’s where all my friends and family reside and is made up of journeys between London, Bristol, Aldershot and Redhill. It’s all the places that have left an indelible imprint upon my life, building the mesh of stories that make up me. It’s a place that’s filled with love.
Sometimes home is a house, sometimes it’s a hotel, other times it’s a path along a river. I could have said to Olly: “This, this is what I call home”. Instead, my answer was another that’s equally true, and quotes a favourite song:
“Home is wherever I’m with Steve”.
Home is a place filled with love.
Where is home for you?