Nowadays I feel pretty rootless. I’ve moved around a fair bit in the last few years. The home in which four of my children grew up was sold after my divorce and my parents home, where I grew up with my brother and sisters, was sold soon after my father’s death.
I’m the only one of my birth family who doesn’t live within 6 miles of the place we all grew up and,as I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve had at least 10 homes in 7 different towns in 3 different countries in the last 14 years, so Paul Young’s song begins to sound scarily accurate (although, unlike the character in the song, I’ve been faithful to the women in my life).
I’ve just returned from a week’s break in Whitstable, in Kent, the place where I was born and spent the first thirty odd years of my life so far. It’s a long drive from Scotland and we don’t do it very much any more. All my siblings, my mother and a few friends I’m in touch with still live there or in the next town (Herne Bay), so this was an opportunity for some face-to-face catching up, some exploration of old haunts and, for Wendy and Susie a chance to visit some new places.
I was last in Kent two years ago, when I stayed in Canterbury during the Lambeth Conference (no, I’m not a bishop, I was staffing a stand for the Lindisfarne Scriptorium). I didn’t get out much and my one day out and about on the buses re-assured me that not too much had changed.
This visit, however, with the opportunity to go out a bit more I was actually quite shocked at how much things had really changed; we even had to use the sat nav to negotiate places I once knew like the back of my hand (which as I age is also becoming increasingly unfamiliar, although I do see it a bit more often!). I think I’d made the assumption that a place where so much of my early life was spent would always be familiar and, I guess, feel like ‘home’.
I was wrong. I still feel a degree of affinity and affection for the place, but it’s certainly not familiar. Or home.
On the plus side, we did visit a lot of people. We visited some of my oldest friends, David and Lynne ( we used to be youth leaders together many years ago, and their generosity had made this trip possible). We stayed with one of my sisters family (where we were spoilt rotten), and saw my mum and my other siblings and a variety of nephews and nieces and their children. Daughter Erin came from London to visit for the day and we broke our journey back to Scotland by spending 24 hours with Katrina and Jamie in Leeds.
All this people stuff (which generally exhausts introvert me) was really great. Most of them had changed a bit (a lot for those we rarely see) but they were still recognisably the people we’ve always known and loved. It seems to me that my roots go down much more deeply into people and relationships than places. I’ve never been particularly good at building friendships, so the ones that have lasted are particularly precious…and it’s always good when you manage to get on with your family.
So this has been, all in all, an excellent week. I plan to return to Kent soon, finance permitting, to walk a personal pilgrimage, but that will be the subject of another post or two.