My wife informed me the other day that I would be on my own this weekend because she is going home. It's an odd turn of phrase, isn't it? We've lived together for something like eight years, and we've been in the same house together for a little over six of those years... and yet when she goes to visit her mum and dad in France, she says she's going home. She hasn't lived there for fifteen years or so, and it's not really the house that she grew up in, but it's still home; it was the place her parents were living when she moved out.
Home. I'm not really sure what that means. I was born in Northampton and my parents lived in the same house a few miles outside that town for something like thirty-four years before they moved last year. Does that mean I should consider Northampton my home town? Did I think of that old house as my home? Was I sorry when my parents moved down the road? Not really.
Someone once told me that they thought I had a Northampton accent. If that's true, then I have absolutely no idea how I picked it up. My dad is from Plymouth and my mum is from Essex and I was born in Northampton General for the simple reason that both my parents were working there and living just by the hospital. The worked in the hospital itself, actually. Neither has an accent of any description, as far as I can tell, and anyway, I don't even know what a Northampton accent sounds like. I hardly picked one up by osmosis from the locals either - I was sent away to boarding school when I was seven years old. Although I suppose I technically didn't leave home for another eighteen years, when I finally finished University, to all intents and purposes, from the age of seven, I was spending more than thirty weeks of every year living somewhere completely different: at school until I was eighteen, then as an undergraduate at University for three years, and finally as a postgraduate for another twelve months. In that time, home was probably still near Northampton with my parents, but you were far more likely to find me in, successively, Brackley, Rugby, Coventry, Leamington Spa, Venice or York*
Northampton has never felt like my home town, it was just where I was born. Even the house that I called home wasn't where I spent the majority of my time or near where my friends were; it was just where my parents lived and where I spent my holidays.
I moved to Nottingham on the day that Princess Diana died in 1997, and I've lived here ever since. That's more than a decade now, and certainly the longest I have ever solidly lived in one town in my whole life. Since January 2003, I've even lived in the same house (I can remember painting the skirting board of the dining room on the day that Hans Blix revealed to the world that he had not been able to find any Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq).
Does that make Nottingham home? I suppose the fact that my parents have moved out of the house I grew up in helps clear things up a bit, but is Nottingham now my home town?
Home. It's just a word, isn't it?
* One of the great advantages of buying a house has been finally being able to fill in a form without needing to try and remember about twelve different addresses: I've now lived in one place for long enough that I only need to remember a couple.