What is your definition of 'home'? Is it the place where you currently live? A country you left long ago? Can it really just be wherever your heart is at any given moment? Since saying to a colleague a few weeks back that I'd be working from home the following day, the phrase has stuck in my mind and has led me to thinking around the concept of 'home'. While I'm curious about this notion, I am also cautious about seeking to define something that has meant different things to me at different times in my life.
As a young child banished to his room for various and heinous crimes, 'home' was often my bed, where I'd lie for long periods, staring out of the window at the patterns cast by the branches of an oak tree against the sky. As an older youth, 'home' was either a destination reluctantly sought when I was having fun and more eagerly wished-for when I had over indulged.
The long list of bed-sits, house-shares, squats, theatrical boarding houses and spare room sofas I progressed through as a student and out-of-work actor were never 'home' but rather a place to sleep, shout, smoke, debate, sulk, rehearse lines and avoid landlord's agents.
Though the acting career faded and 'normal' jobs took over, I never quite made the transition to responsible tenant or respectable homeowner and, consequently, never really thought of anywhere as 'home'. This was due, in part, to never having enough money to buy a place of my own. However, I suspect the main reason was that I simply couldn't be bothered; certain that didn't want the seemingly onerous responsibilities that go with property ownership, I simple bumbled along from one rented room to the next.
Periodically, I would complicate matters by entering into yet another ill-fated liaison with a whacky theatre designer, uptight actress or manic runway model. Having a girlfriend only muddied the waters further. In the early stages of any of these relationships, I would invariably spend a disproportionate amount of time at her place, being a clingy pain in the arse who had no idea that 'space' can actually be a good thing and girls like to see their friends without 'him' in tow every now and then. As the seeds of doubt grew in her mind, I'd lay siege to her place, visiting more often and overstaying my welcome, all the time driving her further away and cursing myself for it. When the inevitable rejection came, the cold draughty room that awaited my vanquished pride just didn't feel like 'home' either.
When I met SWMBO, we both lived in other people's places before we moved into her previously rented bed-sit in commuter-land so 'home' remained a concept rather than actuality. The first one bedroom flat we bought together was great. We lived there in the year or so before and after our wedding, decorating and doing all the things not-quite-so-young couples do in their first place. When our first dog joined us, it seemed pretty much like 'home'. However, the combination of the arrival of daughter No.1, losing my own business to a greedy partner and looming debt, compounded by the negative equity mortgage scandal of the late '80s, saw us selling up.
The following years were not easy, with a few marital ups and downs played out in a number of rental properties and bed-sits for me when I went AWOL. Some of these were nicer than others but none were 'home'. Our last home in London was originally a council flat which we eventually bought. On the day we moved in, I christened it 'Chateau Sarajevo', as it looked not unlike the pockmarked, bullet-riddled apartments we saw on the nightly news. Though I swore I'd not raise my growing tribe in such a place, we stayed there and, with a little help from me and some others, SWMBO slowly turned it from a squatter's paradise into warm, comfy, habitable home for us and the kids. Although I never truly liked that flat, I have fond memories of reading and dozing on our bed on Sunday afternoons when the sun streamed a warm comforting glow through the cotton drapes. Thinking back, maybe it was a sense memory thing; a reminder of childhood moments spent gazing at dark twisted oak twigs against the conveyor-belt cloud above.
Last month, we moved from our large but impractical rented house to a lovely family house at the other end of the township. Although moving house is never fun, I actually enjoyed hauling twenty-seven trailer loads of boxes and belongings the length of the township to our new place and was impatient to be done with the rental house. It was more than wanted to be finished with the landlord hassles, endless water supply problems and the blind indifference of the letting agent. More than ever before and perhaps because we are so far from friends, family and all that is familiar, I wanted to be in my own home.
Already, for me, our new house feels more like home than any that has preceded it. While SWMBO and the sprogs have tapped into the school and church networks to make new friends quickly, with work and commuting I have had less chance to do so and find myself wanting for company outside circles of work and family. Even so, the house is a familiar magnet that I am happy to have pull at me most weekday evenings as I finish work. Why? I'm not sure I can say. It might be that it is a house that stands on its own section on the edge of the village, detached but not removed, behind gates that can be opened in welcome or closed in retreat. It might be the tentative but growing friendship with our reserved neighbour who keeps her own quiet counsel but tells us she secretly wished for a family to move into this house. It might be the knowledge that, in a week that has seen more fear and uncertainty creep into lives across the western world, we chose to make our new home in a country that rarely figures large in world events. Or maybe it is just that here, in a house on a small country road in a small country village on an island at the end of the earth, is where we are meant to be at this time in our lives.