Where are you from?

Today’s title is a question I was asked earlier in the week, but to which I found I lack a good or ready answer.  I know where I was born and where I was brought up – but I don’t really feel I am “from” either of those.  This lack of belonging to my place of birth can be explained by my forced departure before I was even six months old.  I’m less sure where my lack of belonging to the location of my childhood originates – perhaps just prolonged absence?

I could – and did – list various of the places I’ve lived over the years since my body (though not my mind) reached adulthood.  However, this does not seem a terribly good answer to a perfectly banal question.  I am clearly from the UK, but this only works as an answer if the question is posed by Johnny Foreigner, so am I somehow rootless beyond my basic nationality?

The (relatively) recent house move had already led me to ponder the nature of home and where it lies.  For quite some time, I continued to view Cambridge as “home” – and I can still catch myself thinking in that way even now.  Still, since the arrival of the new sofa (the old one being too large to make the move), Southampton has been fairly securely established as “home”: hat location is surprisingly unimportant, despite what Paul Young would have you believe.  However, Southampton is not alone in holding this honour.  Cambridge is still “home”, particularly when I am there or I see it on the screen.  After an absence of 25 years, a couple of trips back to Oxford over the summer have made it clear that the city of dreaming spires is also still “home” – I suppose I did live there for three years (well, nearly half of three years – during term time – to be strictly accurate) but its continuing claim on me is a little surprising.  More surprising still is that Edinburgh also qualifies as “home” despite the fact that I have never lived there (or even owned so much as a deck chair there, let alone a settee) and only visited the city sporadically for the last 6 or 7 years – but I am quite familiar with the bus routes (or at least some of them).

I’m struggling to find any obvious common link between my various “homes”, which presumably means I must blame affect (or go the way of Dr Freud and blame my mother and/or a childhood trauma).

Do others have the same issue responding to the question “where are you from”?  Or, is it just me?

Anyways, the originator of this question was much clearer about where she was from as she cut my hair.  She hailed from Middlesborough, or more accurately Great Ayton, and so my list-based answer of places inhabited was sufficient to spark lively conversation.  We chatted about the joys of a night out in the ‘Borough on the lash and the beauty of the Cleveland Hills with particular reference to Roseberry Topping (a hill rather than a dessert) and the simple pleasure to be gained from a beer and steak sandwich following its evening ascent.  So, despite my failure to properly answer the question and the subsequent soul-searching, the interrogative device served its purpose admirably.  I suspect there is a lesson here for me to learn…


7 thoughts on “Where are you from?

  1. matathew says:

    “Do others have the same issue responding to the question “where are you from”? Or, is it just me?” I detect a subtle hint that you would like your blog followers, whether real or virtual, to rise to the bait. I, for one, am going to “get real” and comment.

    In my own ponderings about “where am I from?”, I have always thought of the answer in terms of my genes, rather than places of birth or nurture. The (possibly dodgy) logic of this is that most of our evolutionary make-up is tuned to life as it was for the many generations who lived in those places, not the johnny-come-latelys of the last few centuries. Wiki (as at Nov 2013) informs us that British people are descended mainly from the varied ethnic stocks that settled in Great Britain before the eleventh century. Prehistoric, Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse influences were blended in Britain under the Normans, descended from Scandinavian settlers in northern France.

    So, when visiting France, Germany, Italy, Denmark etc my antennae are tuned in and listening for messages that “I am from here”. As a result of this rigorously scientific research, I can be reasonably sure that more of my genes come from points south of Sussex than from points north.

    To conclude, the first four lines of Philip Larkin’s poem Places, Loved Ones often resonate when I am pondering this question. I don’t personally think this poem numbers amongst his best, but those lines are memorable.

  2. Stuart Ffoulkes says:

    I can’t say that I feel any great emotional bond with my genes, so much so that I haven’t even bothered to propagate the little wretches.
    My own immediate ancestry is an admixture of the rich stock of North Wales and East Anglia – so some Celt and some of the Danelaw (with perhaps a hint of Angle thrown in. If I do have some Angle in me, I do hope it’s an obtuse one). I did enjoy “The Killing” which might be a reflection of some Viking roots (or a coincidence).
    This heritage suggests a mostly northern origin, though I suspect the ancestors of all my relatively recent antecedents probably came from the steppes to the east (as everyone seems to have done – though it has never been clear to me why there were so many people in the far east, and why they were so keen to leave). Further back, I suppose I’m an African (like everyone else) – but as I’ve never been to that continent, I can’t say whether it would feel like home or not. The omens are not good as I am not keen on the heat. I fear I may have lost contact with my roots over the last 40,000 years (or thereabouts), then again I’ve rather lost touch with North Kent and that was less than 40 years ago – so Africa should not feel too slighted.
    Despite my apparent lack of a genetic component to “home”, snaps to you for taking the bait and as a result providing me with a tasty thought meal.

  3. matathew says:

    I was expecting at least some mention of your infamous “Slavic good looks” in any discussion of your genes!

    Secondly, I deliberately didn’t eat all the bait. I’ve left some for the other 45 followers to take.

    Incidentally, we (the enthusiastic followers of this blog) are now referred to merely as “followers”, but I’m sure we were given the accolade of “amazing people” for a while?

    • matathew says:

      I’m replying to my own comment here. Please ignore the final paragraph. If one doesn’t log into WordPress one is invited to join 45 other followers. But if we do log in, we are told that “You are following this blog, along with 44 other amazing people.” I get it now.

  4. Stuart Ffoulkes says:

    Amazing people? Really? Sounds rather more effusive than is normal for me, I must have been drinking!
    It is always good to allow another to comment on my Slavic good looks – I could sound conceited if I were to bring I up myself, unbidden as ’twere. For, as I’m sure all the “amazing people” who read this blog will know by now, I do like to keep myself and my ego very much out of my posts. Modesty is my middle name – or would be had my parents (or the vicar showing some initiative at the font) taken a rather different tack.

  5. Mark says:

    Ahhh, happy memories of the summer of 1995… the end of the year I enjoyed living in Stockton, though I wouldn’t go as far as to call it home.

    • Stuart Ffoulkes says:

      I never lived in Stockton, though did spend many nights either at the Swallow Hotel (not booked by the hours is its name might suggest) or on the floor of your shower. Familiarity, I fear, bred rather more contempt than feeling of home. Maybe one day I shall write a post about my time working near the UK’s widest High Street…

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