(23) No Place Like Home
Updated: Apr 10
Country roads, take me home, I hummed to John Denver. Home is where the heart is, Pliny retorted. I am homeward bound, Paul Simon wished. There's no place like it, Dorothy concluded.
Home made. Homespun. Home-brewed. Homely. What makes a home? There are the obvious things like love, laughter, food and happy memories. But it is possible to have all of these and still not feel you are home. Home is wherever I'm with you, Edwarde Sharpe. That makes sense to me. And yet I have been in houses, in places, with the people that I loved and it did not feel like it was home. I have lived in Linlithgow twice. The flat may have been homely, but Linlithgow is not home.
I liked the idea, once, that home was wherever I laid my hat. I agreed with Paul Young, at 17. Home could be in here (my heart) or there (my head) or wherever my doc martens came off. It is ok to think fanciful thoughts at 17. That is not to say that the thought itself is flawed. I have an admiration for people who genuinely can carry their home, snail-like, and make it wherever they get to. In Israel at 21, I felt an extraordinary sense of freedom, and camaraderie, adventure, and maybe a little of the hat thing, but when I came back, aged 22, home was more or less where Ian was. And yet, some places added to the sense and some did not. Snails by the way do not stray intentionally far. Chuck 'em over the garden fence and they will come back to you...
When I say more or less, Lochcarron was more, Aberdeen was less. I am not sure whether it was the damp cold or whether it was the exhaustion that was my teacher training year in Aberdeenshire, that made it so absolutely unlike home..... even though I had LOVED visiting my granny there throughout my childhood. Maybe it was the grey. Aberdeen is a grey city. Lochcarron definitely felt better, we really liked it there. Mountains, water, friends, a happy teaching job and Ian often near trees, helping the tree surgeon, and often in the library van, taking books to rural places. I loved his coming back with cakes, jam and even salmon. I loved hearing how certain customers requested habitual genres, the same combination each week (one romance, one science fiction and two historical dramas please). Lochcarron was perhaps more home because it was closer to Applecross.
When we three left Lochcarron, we moved to France, to stay in Beziers for 10 months. We had spent all our house selling money on an appartement in the red light district (two sex shops and a window worker), and we spent a large chunk of every day all together. Even with only two single futons, which served both as beds and as chairs for a while, it was home. Cardboard box tables and blue skies. Cheese, wine and rooftop views. Maybe the fact that we were aliens heightened the sense of home in each other. But it didn't compare to Applecross.
Ever since the first long hitchhike to Applecross (during which we walked at least 20 miles), I have had a sense of peace there. It is maybe to do with the people I associate with Applecross, Ian's dad, Ian and then Katrina, and now Isabelle too. It is like yoga breathing. It is the feeling of being on top of a mountain. It is the proximity of water. Like Katrina and her dad, I have an affinity with that element. It is a heart thing. And I have been homesick.
I wonder if, while travelling across oceans to return to their place of birth to spawn or to lay their eggs, sea turtles, Atlantic puffins and bluefin tuna have an innate sense of homesickness. Home may be a largely inhabitable rocky cliff, but if that is where you have to go, you have to go.... Pacific salmon, after five years away, can actually find their way 3000km back to the very river they were born in. It seems an extraordinary drive and an extreme survival against the odds, this natal philopatry.
'Home is the nicest word,' penned Laura Ingles Wilder. Although when it precedes 'truths' or 'work', maybe not so much. Who really likes a good home truth? Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door. People can be quick to judge. It has been said that we should perhaps not be moving into Garden Cottage when there are so many others looking for places to live. Ian has been incredibly kind and offered to move out, into a house belonging to his family for a while, to allow us to go there. He has also pointed out to naysayers that it is my name that has always been on the lease, and that I am legally permitted to lease it.
But I understand that it is easy to be charitable about housing when you have somewhere to live. In Applecross there is a huge shortage of housing for people who actually want to live and work there, with so many homes being rented out by the week for holiday people. The actual cost of buying a house there is extortionate, and impossible for an average earning local. If you inherit, then you may count yourself as one of the very lucky ones. When we first moved up to Applecross, when I got the teaching job, we moved eleven times that year, in and out of different holiday homes, when they weren't being used for holiday lets. We couldn't put our pictures up, our things out. We couldn't make it look like our space. We lived out of boxes and I stored large amounts of our stuff in the school dining room. It was unsettling and it was disappointing.
It became apparent by the age of twenty five, that I liked the truth of Madness rather than that of Paul Young. Our house in the middle of our street. What is described is a home..... when everything was true and when we would have such a very good time, such a fine time, such a happy time... Mother's tired, she needs a rest. The kids are playing up downstairs...
It's hard, as a human, to remember that while I am rambling on about what makes a home, there are between 9000 and 29000 homeless people in Scotland (depending on which statistics you look at). There are 320000 in the UK according to Shelter. Of 68,500,000 forcibly displaced people in the world, at the end of 2017, 25.4 million were refugees. From Syria. Afghanistan. Iraq. In boats, in lorries, in containers. According to the UNHCR, one person worldwide becomes displaced every two seconds. That's 30 every minute, which, if you are reading this all carefully, is 180 from the beginning to the end of this blog post. And the answer, from the third most powerful man in the world? In his border wall speech, Trump actually clearly sets out to drum up fear of asylum seekers; they being rapists, drug sellers, child sex vendors and murderers. That he can so passionately incite hatred for the the world's most desperate people, is staggering. I do not know the answer, other than that Trump is not it.
There are many who do have a home, but are not there for one reason or another. Submariners, army officers, offshore workers, volunteers in far off places, travellers, cabin crew, foreign diplomats.The witness protected. The hospitalised. The Incarcerated. And there are those who are imprisoned in their own home. Among the historical figures, Galilleo remained under house arrest for 8 years, for his support of Copernicus's theory that the Sun was in the middle of the universe and the Earth was in motion about the Sun. I am sure that being forced to remain anywhere with no choice would cancel any feelings of being home. I am sure the thought that 'The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear,' would not make it easier.
That I have the freedom to choose to go back to Applecross, and hand in my notice here, is making me inordinately happy. I would like to teach again but obviously will wait and see. That I have secured at least one cleaning job is causing revel. Paul Simon, I am one of the extremely lucky ones. Garden Cottage, tucked away behind a wood, two minutes' walk to the river, mountain views on three sides and a thousand daffodils in spring, I am homeward bound. Dorothy, I have put on my red shoes and have clicked them three times.