Is it home that makes you scared to be alone?
The Xcerts, Home Versus Home
I lived in Essex for my entire life until I turned 18. I never knew anything different from living in the south east of England, and so until I was 18 I didn’t know what the importance of ‘home’ was. I never really felt at home anywhere until I arrived in St Andrews; a place which still feels like home to me every single time I return… But having just spent a week at my mum’s, which is the closest to a family home that I have, I was worried about coming back to Edinburgh, a place I’ve liven in for two years and yet still only sometimes ‘feels like home’.
When I was born, my parents and I lived in a small (but growing) town in almost coastal Essex; it was a commuter haven on a direct line to London with good local schools, a young population and a compact town centre. We lived there (with my little brother, once he was born) until I was 9 – going to a little local primary school that I loved and thrived in, going on bike rides along the fields, taking occasional trips into London. Our house in South Woodham Ferrers was my first house, and my first home. Unfortunately, the village we moved to was nothing like that.
The little village we moved to could be considered traditionally English, charming, even. A little primary school, 2 pubs, a shop and a chippie made up the village – and with about 5,000 inhabitants when we moved there, it really was small. I hated it; refused to look round the local school, insisted that I didn’t want pink carpet in my new bedroom and cried inconsolably when we eventually moved in. The problem wasn’t the house (a new-build, carefully created to my mum’s specifications), but the village, which I hated from our very first visit.
That village is a place that still haunts me; teenage years of being excluded from the local kids because I didn’t go to the local school, climbing trees and bridging streams ‘over the back’ in old fields that weren’t owned by anyone and never ever having any mobile signal because we lived in the middle of nowhere. By the time I was 18, I disliked the village even more; it was the place I once smacked a boy in the nose because he refused to stop bullying me, the house my dad had a heart attack in, the room I shared with my mum when she and my dad decided to get divorced. I wish I could say that it was these things which stopped the village ever feeling like home to me, but I’m sad to say that it didn’t feel like home once for the whole 10 years I lived there.
So when I arrived in St Andrews and feel in love almost immediately, it was a shock. I’d never visited the university before I arrived in fresher’s week, (funny story but I’d never even been any further north that Liverpool before that weekend!) and within hours, I knew that I would be entirely happy in that little town for the next four years… And I was. Through good days and bad days, pouring rainshowers and thunderstorms and sunburn from Scottish sun, St Andrews was undoubtedly my home. And I know I’m not the only person to have become enamoured with that little town; when he visited back in 2011, Prince William (who graduated from the University the year I started) said
“Despite being one of Europe’s leading research institutions, the third oldest university in the English-speaking world and of course, far and away the best university in the world, St Andrews has that uncanny knack of feeling like home.”
And it does feel like home, and every single time I return, there’s this exhalation I feel when I cross the invisible boarder that’s drawn as you pass the Old Course Hotel that tells me: it’s okay, you can relax now, you are home.
So Edinburgh always had a lot to live up to; when you’ve loved a place as much, as intensely as I
loved love St Andrews, anywhere else in the world is always going to have to compete. Edinburgh is doubly restricted for me, because not only is not St Andrews, it’s also not Essex; it doesn’t have my family to make it feel more mine either. There are days where I cannot understand why anyone would want to live in the Scottish capital (a stone grey city where it feels like it always rains) and then there are days like today, when I walk the oh-so-familiar route to work and actually feel so lucky, so blessed to live here.
So here we are; I have three places to call home… A little town on the east coast of Scotland that captured my heart on our first meeting, a town in Essex that I’m a perceptual visitor to, but never a resident of, and Scotland’s capital city, a place that I sometimes feel ambivalent about and sometimes couldn’t imagine leaving. As much as I often feel conflicted (hello, see my last post!), I wouldn’t have it any other way – because for every day that I wake up feeling trapped, I know that there are two other places that have my heart.Carley