Wherever I lay my hat – or should I say – Wherever I lay my inflatable flower.
With travellers’ cheques in my wallet, a secret pocket sewn into my trousers and my inflatable flower in my ruck-sack, off I went, in 1984, travelling around the world. During the six years I spent wandering, I slept in many a dodgy room – none more so than a Government Rest House in Malawi. I’m not sure which bodily excretions they were smeared around the walls, I didn’t fancy looking too closely, but once I’d blown up my inflatable flower and sat it on the bare concrete floor next to my single bed with dodgily-stained sheets, the room was home.
Inflatable Flower (IF) and I travelled to over twenty countries through the years and I perfected the art of making home wherever I was staying. But of course none of them were ‘home home’ – they were just adventures I was having before heading back to:
South Somerset is home and I find it hard to remember my reason for leaving back in the early eighties. Was it because the boy I was in love with didn’t feel the same? Was it because my best friend, Tracey, fancied going off to France to work in the ski season, so I went too? Or did I simply just think, why not? I don’t remember.
But Tracey and I had a blast on that first trip to France in Bumble: my black and yellow mini. The feeling of freedom from family and friends was liberating and from then on I returned to the dairy farm every May to work during the harvest season, saving enough money to go travelling again every September. I loved popping in and out of my friends and families’ lives, but no matter where I went and no matter how many times IF was inflated and deflated, Somerset was really where I thought of as ‘home home’.
Is where I currently live. I have a partner, a cat, a gardening business and an office where I write novels and blogs. I came here in 2005 for five months (with IF) to write all of my diaries, that I’ve kept since the age of 11, into my laptop. I spoke fluent French, so thought it was an obvious choice. I loved the countryside and peaceful roads and am still here, 14 years later. Did I plan to stay here that long? No. Is it home? Yes, it’s where I live. Is it ‘home home’? No, of course not – that will forever be Somerset.
So why am I still here, in France? I have a great life: the area we’re in is peaceful and sociable – strangers say Bonjour to one another when they pass in the street. It reminds me of Somerset, forty years ago. I have a successful gardening business and I have time to write – I published my first novel last year. I enjoy living in a different culture and have as many French friends as I do British. I love river-swimming here in the summer.
And what about Somerset? All my family are in Somerset and I have a wonderful time whenever I’m there. I feel at peace there: I love the energy of the land: my roots are deeply embedded in South Somerset soil. A detached cottage in Corton Denham has been on my Birthday and Christmas list for the past 25 years. If, by some miracle, I ever unwrapped a set of keys, would I head back? Yes. In a flash.