For many years, the word “home” troubled me. “Where are you from?” You get asked it all the time. It’s a tough ask. I’ve been asked by prospective employers, prospective girlfriends, surveys, and casual acquaintances. There is an assumption that it’s an easy question to answer, thus a safe topic for small talk. Like “What do your parents do?”. There was a period in my early thirties where I would answer that question with “They rot.” Then I stopped being so insensitive. But it’s a minefield. People want small talk to be harmless. I’ve been on a crusade to make small talk into talk talk for years. And I’ve confused and annoyed lots of people along the way. But that’s mostly because I’m shit at small talk, and if you can’t work something properly, hit it.
I never know what to say when someone asks me where I’m from. It’s not a question demanding truth, it’s demanding an answer. Ideally something simple. But the truth is not simple. I am not alone in this. Many people know this conundrum. So. Where am I from? Hmm
I was born in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. Jersey is a red granite rock, carved down by the sea over eons, closer to France than it is to England. Some people will try to tell you that it’s the last bastion of the Normandy that conquered England with William. Now it’s the last bastion of the doily. The Germans occupied it in WW2. It’s strategically well placed. Considering how small it is it’s very crowded. Bergerac in the eighties made it a desirable and familiar place to the telly watching public. And it’s full of bankers because there are various taxish things which make sense to the numbery people. My mother was born there, her father was on a naval appointment as ADC to the governor. I miss the island frequently. The colour of the rocks is right. That colour of granite, it’s not often I find it. When I see it I get a prickly feeling that says “home.” Also there are landscape details that I passed every day as a child, and they are still there. Somehow they root me into the fact that once upon a time this hairy giant was that little boy. It feels impossible.
But we moved to the Isle of Man, so one bucolic seaborne idea of home got left behind, and home became a humongous yellow folly of a house that I still dream back to. Still by the sea, in a house you could get lost in. Parties were amazing for me, as for my parents. There were turrets and steeples, a vast stained glass window, so much space. Looking back now it makes no sense at all how much space we had, but it was frequently filled as dad knew how to throw a party. The thing I remember from there is the outdoors, though. Wind. In my dreams, I dream I am outside the house, in the grounds, in a windstorm. I suspect the house imaginatively signifies a beautiful thing that my father gave to me as a child that I could never give to my child, hence my dreams of being an outsider. Also it was sold without my being able to say farewell.
Then there’s Switzerland, where dad trained for his bobsleigh, where I worked my first job. We lived in St Moritz every winter and spring for years. No sea, but the mountains! Dad is buried there still, with a granite stone. The Swiss are a practical lot though. They disinter you to make space 25 years after you go in. Once he is out I plan to pick up the urn and scatter him in the sea in the Bahamas – another place we spent lots of time. His wish was “Chop me up and feed me to the fishes.” I think taking him out in a speedboat off Nassau would solve that. My mum was having none of it when he died. I’d have to clear it with my brothers.
But “home”. I got distracted by memory. The point is I have no idea where “home” is for me. But coming to this city again, seeing old friends last night, going to the pub with drama school buddies and dear friends, chanting with Helen. That feels a bit like home without the red granite. Right now I’m sitting with Brian and we are both enjoying being in each other’s space while doing our own thing. I’m writing this, he’s playing Fallout. Here he is:
I suppose I’m saying that we shouldn’t feel tyrannised by the need to know where we’re from. I have no idea where I’m from. I’m from wherever suits me best in the conversation I’m having, as long as I’ve lived there. Jersey, Isle of Man, Switzerland, Ashdown Forest, Oxford, Reading, London. All those places as a child and many more as an adult. I can add LA to the adult mix now.
Asking people where they are from is weird. But for the moment I can call this home without feeling like it’s bullshit. Here in London. With my glorious misfit friends. I’m glad to be back. See you all soon, I hope.