Travel supposedly broadens the mind. Well, I learnt three important things this holiday. First, be careful what you wish for: We were off to Death Valley and I’d joked about how cool it would be if it rained. Second: the novelty of rain in the hottest, driest place on earth wears off remarkably quickly. And third, no one can really do solid rain quite like us Brits. I actually found myself missing a good old English downpour.
Strange thing homesickness. Every trip abroad brings with it a familiar ache of longing – for friends, for loved ones, for decent cups of tea (what is it with the whole teabag-on-the-side overseas thing??) – but it’s always the unexpected items which trigger the sharpest pangs. I’ve dreamt of polo mints in Egypt and Marmite in Hawaii; and cried when no-one sang Auld Lang Syne for New Year’s Eve in Oz.
They say home is where the heart is. I met a Kiwi guy once in downtown Reykjavik. He’d fallen in love with an Icelandic woman back in New Zealand and crossed the globe to be with her. Love, it seems, really does conquer all – even Iceland’s impenetrable grammar.
But as anyone who’s ever been to Glastonbury knows, it’s not quite that simple. Festival accommodation is many things but homely isn’t one of them, no matter who you’re with. One in three British expats pack up and head home even when they’re surrounded by loved ones. Around half cited ‘cultural differences’ and/or ‘social isolation’ as key factors – they simply couldn’t relate to their new place of residence. To become a home, there needs to be a bond, a connection. As one friend joked, he knew he really was settled in Australia when he stopped supporting England in the cricket!
Safe as houses, home comforts. If a house offers physical security, a home is an emotional haven, a place where you belong and all that matters belongs in its place. Maybe it’s a landscape, a lifestyle or a state of mind – Our knowledge and beliefs, wants and needs are all individually clothed in layers of personal experience. Not feeling at home is every bit as uncomfortable as squeezing into that cocktail dress you last wore when you were 21. Yes, you can manage for a bit but sooner or later, it’s bound to end in tears.
But maybe there’s still more to it. Thinking in this way focuses on present company and past experience, all fine for living happily but what about the “ever after” bit? For me, a real home has to have a sense of future. Once I’d met my husband, my own home of more than a decade was never the same, even when he was there. It was my bachelorette pad, a place of pyjamas, pickled onions and other secret single behaviour: It wasn’t part of “us”. I’d loved it for years, but now it was just another place to live. A real home is the residential equivalent of Mr. Right vs Mr. Right Now. It’s the confidence this one will be worth sticking with no matter what life throws at you.
London isn’t always a great place to live (definitely not, given some of the places we’ve been over the years) but as I’ve written about before, it’s full of endless possibilities. The comfort of history, including my own, sits alongside the excitement of an ever-changing, multicultural future. Some people are lucky enough to know for sure what they want from life, but if you’re like me and still haven’t a clue, there’s nowhere else to be.
I’m sitting on the train back from the airport. After two weeks away, it’s a relief finally to have a decent cup of tea. It’s raining of course but the London skyline’s just come into view: There’s St. Paul’s, there’s The Shard and look! the Gherkin too.
It’s good to be home.