Where home is

There’s a strange soft beauty about this place. It’s been 21 years and I’m still not used to it.

The ageing sandstone of buildings eroded by sun and wind and rain – simultaneously places of alien and industrial Georgian symmetry and still yet, looking as though they had grown from the valley, natural as the trees and the cliffs that slip to the river.

I live in a giant’s sand-glass that’s measuring out decades in softening window lintels and hollowed stairs and crumbling chimney stacks. The many sash and case windows multiple mirrors for sparrows and great tits and magpies – and nursing wasp nests in spaces between gently rotting wooden frames and stone.

My home town is blunt bastard of a place. Wrestling raw red brick and render and concrete from a blighted-looking plateau. Housing Schemes that squat down beside old bings and stunted, wind-blasted trees.

I was nurtured amongst the old coal dust and pigeon shit; amongst plain fair and auld cars kept running by paternal magic. I was raised by douce poverty and working class aspiration.  In a tin roofed hoose that became a rain and crow-claw maracas.

I think now, that there’s beauty in that blunt bastard of a place too. Not like this pretty honey-trap – which, despite its obvious beauty, always feels strangely transient – a ghost-community of souls who leave little trace, even day-to-day. But where I came from – there were tangled roots laid down there. Folk you knew – for good or ill – right down to the mammies and grannies and brothers and sisters and aunties, all shouting through spit-thin partition walls. Their joys and sorrows and everyday-ness, a hair shirt and sunday-best that we were all familiar with.

I used to look back with a gladness that I had escaped. That my own children were raised in this cradle in the valley – with the sound of the river to lull them to sleep. And it’s true, that I have no regret that we left and would do it again. There’s only this: that once you leave, there is no going back. The understanding that ‘home’ is more than the lie of the land or a place to sleep. That I am still more there than here.


6 thoughts on “Where home is

  1. There is never any going back except in the compartment of the mind called “The Good Bits of The Past”. We block out the Bad Bits and have fond memories of the rest. We were free. We went out and came back and no-one worried (so long as we did come back which we always did because they were “the Good Times”). The community that was there has gone. It’s as if it never existed. I have twice taken trips back to places of my childhood: my Uncle’s cottage in a little village and my childhood road. Both changed beyond recognition. In the latter case there were smart cars (some very smart cars) and lots of fancification (made up just for fun). There is no escape. We are locked in the present.

  2. Yvonne, thinking about what you have written, made me recall my ‘growing up’. So many times I pass my old area of those forgotten/ unforgotten ‘prefabs’ en route to visit a relative. Gone are those spaces which housed so many of those little self contained bungalows. These days replaced with modern type housing and sports centre. Unrecognisable even to my eye the places where I walked or ran home happy or sad, from school. I felt safe and cocooned in the familiarity of knowing every step of the road. Ofcoarse I can overlook the fact that there was the ever present steel works and cement plant virtually on the doorstep and the fact that nearly everyone was in the same boat of ekeing out a living. As a young woman it did begin to dawn on me that there were other worlds that existed outside my comfort zone of the industrial world of my prefab. So my life moved on. Not to some pasture of newness, but, more sameness, different in it’s own way in comfort and familiarity when I married. This time as you know to a coal mining town, bringing excitement of the unfamiliar. I grew to accept the normality of this part of my life, making it as comfortable for my family as I could, and as safe as I had felt as a child. Years pass and a move to the countryside , living in this little valley home so removed from the biz and business of those years now gone. Is it just nostalgic memories of remembering times that cannot be brought back?
    My brain tells me it wasn’t all sunshine and light and times were hard, but, isn’t it a blessing that, that same brain can dismiss the fact that some memories can be erased of the ‘hard’ times. Logically, I appreciate where I reside now, but the hankering for just a few hours of being able to wander down that memory lane in reality still exists!

    • So true. I’ve tried not to be wallow in sentimentality. There was nothing pretty about ‘home’. Maybe it’s just ageing that makes us feel this way – the consciousness of times that have passed. It feels like another country. One that we occasionally long to visit. Or as LP Hartley says: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

  3. “Jumpers for goalposts” as the comedian Paul Whitefield once parodied. Yes there were longer summers, wintrier winters, a few meadows in Springhill, skylarks and peewits in the Muldren moors. The was chimney haze in the winter evenings…and drunkenness and bruised wives without wage packets and starving weans. I share your your joy Yvonne…but as Mary said it wasn’t all sunshine and light and times were hard….that’s for sure.

    • You are a poet John. I loved those peewits.
      But yes, it was brutal. It feels wrong of me to feel more ‘there’ than ‘here’ – but almost like where you come from brands you, it feels indelible to me and a more essential expression of who I feel I am.
      The rest of it is just this feeling that once you leave your hometown nowhere ever feels like home.

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