The South East of Greater London, where I’ve spent much of the last seven years, is ‘home’.
Yet I’ll be heading up north in a few short weeks for the first time since Christmas, and Lancashire – or at least a very small patch of it – is also ‘home’. It’s possible to think of a few places as ‘home’, but Ormskirk in Lancashire is where I was born and brought up and where my parents still live (in the house they moved to when I was three years old) so it’s a place where myriad memories become subservient to a general feeling of ‘home’. It’s a fixed, unchanging constant, or at least as close an approximation to one that anyone could strive for.
To digress, I lived in Leeds for four years, and I still feel at home in Yorkshire. I’ve no qualms about saying this. The War of the Roses ended hundreds of years ago, and it really is time to move on: as indeed most people have. The ‘other’ side of the Pennines proved just as welcoming, and the flood of life-shaping events over a few short years, and the friends who live there, means that Yorkshire remains somewhere where I feel at ease – at ‘home’.
Returning to my childhood home will be different this time. It’ll be the first time since mid-1999 that I’ve opened the door at my parents’ house and not had a lovely ‘welcome home’ greeting from Saffy, my gorgeous little dog who died in my arms just before Christmas last year after a sudden decline from cancer following a spirited three and a half years of almost imperceptible illness. It’s a thought that fills me with dread, and it’s why I’ve left it several months for the wounds to start to heal before facing it. My mother and I will scatter her ashes, and I know for sure that both of us, my father too if he’s well enough to join us, will be in floods of tears.
The purpose of the return visit is to attend a family wedding, otherwise I would certainly have left laying Saffy to rest for a bit longer. One of Pip’s step-sisters is getting married. These sudden disruptions in the smooth transition of our day-to-day lives – marriages, deaths, house moves, new jobs, the sudden appearance of grey hairs – is I suppose how we measure time and partition distinct periods of our lives. It’s an obvious thought, but one that still alarms me, that I’ll be exactly the same person parking the car outside my parents’ house as the little boy who raced around the close in a go-kart almost thirty years ago. All that’s happened is that the earth has spun and orbited the sun in a fixed pattern, and the billions of cells that make up my body have been replaced over and over again.
I’m exactly the same. Not one cell of me is the same. We all change from millisecond to millisecond. We remain the same organism.
I guess that’s why there’s comfort in ‘home’, in certainties, and why it’s important to mark large scale changes in our lives. Scattering Saffy’s ashes will be a ritual. My parents, Pip and I will no doubt reminisce about her, as one of the constants and focal points of my life moves into the past tense. The wedding will be the same process, except it will look to the future rather than to the past.
By the time I return ‘home’, to where I live with Pip and the ferrets, many things will have changed. They would with or without ritual. We’re all facing a losing battle against entropy and the arrow of time. Nothing is forever: all constants are illusions. That’s why the feeling of ‘home’ is so important to me. It makes the uncertainty of everything, the inherent changeability and the capriciousness of events seem less daunting.
‘Home’ is a sense of familiarity that helps me to sleep at night and then face the next day.