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…