Friday, 12 March 2010

Coming Home ...

I’m going away this weekend. Well actually, since you’re now reading this, I’ve gone. Toodle pip! Three days in Kent with my parents. The first time I’ve seen them since Christmas, even though they are only a short hop away. Shameful!!

News flash! I’m not actually a Tooting girl (*gasp*). I’m a Kentish girl. Actually, I suppose I’m not even really a Kentish girl. Born to a Geordie mother and a Welsh father, in fancy Surrey, and moving to Kent when I was three, it’s a wonder I’m as balanced as I am.

Nowadays, when I speak to Dad on the phone he asks, “when are you coming home for a visit?” and I always dodge the question. Not because I don’t want to go, but because it’s not home, and I don’t know how to say that without hurting feelings.

As is, I think, pretty normal, I spent age 18 – 21 “treating this place like a hotel” whilst I darted back and forth to University, then moved out proper. Since then I’ve lived in six homes in three postcodes. To start with, I suppose I did still think of their place as “home” and my place as temporary lodgings. Perhaps it’s part of the internal instinct to protect oneself from the shock of having flown the nest, and suddenly being responsible. Culpable. Or perhaps it’s just that it’s still really where the heart is.

In any event, slowly, over those first few years, home became Home, and now, when anyone asks where I come from, I say Tooting, without questioning the longevity of that answer, or what it means that I’ve left behind, and am sacrificing.

Nevertheless, here I am, sur le train (as they say in foreign), heading south. Out of Victoria station, over the river, past my favourite lovely Battersea Power Station. Through the less salubrious corners of South London, where the buildings on the rail side are more graffiti than brick, and sneaking unnoticed over the boarder into urban north Kent.

Into a tunnel next to a business park, and suddenly out, on the other side, in the county. And equally as suddenly I get a pang of nostalgia.

There’s the field with the derelict barn in the corner that I always thought had potential to be done up into a fancy country house. Looks like someone’s doing it now. There’s the field with the strange patterned white and brown, patched horses. My brother calls them cow-horses. (“What noise does a cow-horse make?” “Quip quip quip!”) There’s that pair of cottages, permanently wrapped in scaffolding and being extended. Can we still call them cottages? Over the last twelve years they’ve become sizable houses.

The familiarity of the journey brings a warm and stabilizing comfort. I’m finding myself fidgeting with anticipation for that first point where the train pops into the Medway Valley, from where the river and the towns look so quiet and gentle (and not a hint of the run down chaviness that Medway really offers on the ground). Once there I can mentally follow the journey out the window attaching a memory to each view. The roads that I learned to drive on. The roundabout that I failed my first test on. The café where my friend Lou used to work. The lane that Jo lived in. The housing estate that my brother and his girl moved to. Churches where I’ve attended weddings, christenings, funerals.

And finally, Sittingbourne station. Where I’ll bump into someone I know within 100 yards of the station. And where my Mum is having coffee with The Girls. And where, when I walk in to the coffee shop to meet them, the lady behind the counter will say hello and bring me The Usual.

So maybe it is home after all.


  1. That was such a lovely read, you write beautifully. It may be the wine but I feel all fuzzy now. Off to call my mum - or not....

  2. hi there, well, I was definitely on the train with you whilst reading this lovely writing. Wish, I was off to Kent for a cuppa with the girls - no worries, blah, leave london behind etc . . . .

    Lovely to see you the other night too - look forward to catching up . . . . .


    PS just noticed the plug for my course - thank you for that too. Going to go back and read it. I've had looooaaaads of interest, I'm so excited!


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