So where is home? Because wherever I am I want to get back there. An awful joke comes to mind:
What do you mean? This is your home!
I know, and I’m sick of it.
And Osip Mandelstam, of whom Marina Tsvetayeva once wrote that wherever he was, from that place he always wanted to go home.
I carry the word itself like a talisman but I do not think it can be geographically located. Earlier this year when visiting Berlin, I went back to the village where I lived as a young child for nearly three years. I had not been there since I was six but I remembered it well enough to find my way to the house, the lake, the places where sweetshop and kindergarten once were. Of course there were changes, but not as many as one might have supposed given the length of time that has passed. This was the place, here was the ground beneath my feet, the dusty overlay of sand-like substance that I had almost forgotten. But the place itself was not what I carried, what lived in me for all the years since I left, and the reason it lived in me was not because it was happy and secure, for it was neither of those things: my mother was, I think, very depressed, unreconciled to events from her own childhood, her acting career on hold, probably missing the quasi-bohemian life in London and childcare really was not her thing, so local girls were employed to do the job.
After the German kindergarten I went to a school for children of the British military that lived in the area (my dad was actually an actor with the Berliner Ensemble but that didn’t matter). I can’t quite remember how I learned to read, but I know I was doing it before I properly learned at school and I read in both languages. The real substance of my life was in the imagination. This doesn’t mean that I was always dreaming up some story or other as an alternative to real life. I developed a kind of double vision: there was the mundane world with its catalogue of daily trials, seasonal festivals and occasional treats and there was the magical world of the life that lay just beneath the surface, and in this dimension the natural world was powerfully present. What breathed in midwinter from the snow, the evergreen, the candle-lit procession of us children singing lantern songs at Martinmas was the same presence that hovered over the star-money child in the Grimm’s fairy tale and there was a perpetual unfolding of untold riches which I can identify retrospectively – for the child who was me was too deeply occupied with living inside the story to construct a narrative. So my return to the village revealed no more than the outer husk. It was like dropping a stone into what one thinks is a deep well, but all that comes back is an unresonating clunk because the well is elsewhere – here, actually.
My parents both left their country of birth as refugees – my father came with his family but my mother never saw her father again because he died in a concentration camp. So there could never be a home-coming for her. And neither would England, or anywhere be home either. She still speaks about the English as though we are not that, and it’s true that we are not. But we are not anything else either. The word homeless has resonance for me and is in itself a kind of home My father said that home was wherever he hung his hat.
Enough for today I think.