In the late sixties or early seventies there was a fashion for little metal signs (about 5cms x 8cms), like mini versions of the signs found on the outside walls of shops and other businesses in earlier times. These days they'd be fridge magnets but then they were just metal. Perhaps they had holes in the corner for fixing them up, I'm not sure. In any case, there was one which had a picture of a Pears Soap sort of child looking angelic and the words, "What is home without a Mother?" I bought one for my mum and she has it stuck up (with blu-tack) in her kitchen even now and two or three kitchens later. Over the last fifteen years or so I've sometimes felt mildly uncomfortable about it because I'm now aware that many homes do not contain mothers. Now, though, I'm reminded again about why I bought it and the message it conveyed for me then is still valid.
I grew up in an 'army family', which meant that we moved house regularly. The longest we stayed anywhere during my childhood was four years but that was exceptional. The norm was two years and once it was only 11 months. From time to time we had prolonged stays with grandparents but by and large there was no place I called home. Home was the house where we lived but never the place where the house was. "What is home without a Mother?" conveyed this.
My first job after college was in Stroud, over thirty years ago and, against all expectations at the time (I spent my interview day either at the school or waiting at Stroud Bus Station, 'nuff said), I have never left because at last I have a home. I've lived in four different houses, one of them in a village three miles away, but during all this time Stroud has been my home.
I was never happy with moving about and it left me with a certain amount of personal baggage. I've always looked forward, for instance, to returning home even from the time of the beginning of a holiday I'm really enjoying. (I now have an additional perspective on this from what I've learned about the theories of Five-Element Acupuncture, but that is for another time.) Suffice to say, I have always felt uncomfortably uprooted if away from home for too long.
So here I find myself in France for five months! Two years ago, when I suggested this trip, I had built into it the possibility of returning home for a week at least once in the middle because I could not imagine that I would survive the homesickness (or the lack of regular acupuncture and other complementary treatments) otherwise. By the time we set out in April, I had reached the point of saying that a return trip was a remote possibility but not expected to happen.
The reason for the change is that over the last two or three years I have eventually come to view the house here (which has belonged to my partner for a long time before he met me) as home too. I don't consider the actual locality as home, however, even though I might refer to "our part of France." I still talk of our "going home" meaning back to Stroud. And now we are only three weeks from going home and amazingly I find myself thinking I don't particularly want to.
During May I was homesick. Much more than I expected. The weather and house and I were cold. Getting a new vegetable plot started was hard work and I kept thinking of my garden back home with deep beds full of years' of compost and muck and easy to work soil. I was aware how long it was going to be before I saw my friends and missed being able to just pop into Stroud and have a coffee at Mills or drop in on friends for a gossip. We've got a VOIP phone, so our calls to UK are free, but phone calls aren't the same as seeing people in person. Then in June the weather improved and I got everything planted out and I suddenly realised I felt settled in.
Eventually, visitors arrived from Stroud. We've been telling people to come and visit us here for the last few years but for whatever reason, perhaps that we were only here for a month at a time, they didn't come. This summer we've had three lots of Stroud visitors and all seem to have loved it here. And we've loved having them. I think seeing people from my 'home territory' here has contributed to my seeing this place as home too. And so the summer has progressed. I haven't done everything I thought I would, but enough. This is where we live and one can imagine the weeks continuing with us still here.
The reality is, of course, that the weather will turn again, has in fact started to do so, my workroom here will start to become uncomfortably cold and I shall be glad to get back to my fitted carpets and central heating. But it does all raise questions about home. Have I become bi-homed, somehow? Will it be difficult settling back to the sound of traffic and constant light from streetlamps? Will I be homesick for chez nous? Watch this space.