‘Home is where the heart is’, a warm and well-worn phrase that you’ll most likely know. It’s a comforting phrase, one that’s been sewn into cross stitches across the land. For a long time we had a trite painting with that same inspiring saying hung up in our kitchen. But, as with so many familiar phrases that purport to concentrate generations of wisdom into a neat little saying, it isn’t quite as simple as that. The phrase seems to suggest that a place never feels like home until it’s full of mental associations, of memories and of comfort.  

This is how I thought it would be when returning home for Christmas, and – foolishly enough – when returning home for Easter as well. I’ve lived in the same house for my entire life, and, therefore, a considerable amount of experience has been accrued between its walls. I remember how, when leaving home for Cambridge, every object seemed suddenly to shout out a memory at me, imploring me to stay. It was a bedrock of security. 

“my university room is a temporary inhabitancy, a prop ready to be dismantled, folded up and tucked away at a moment’s notice”

My room at Cambridge, however, is quite the opposite. Very little has occurred in that room outside of work and procrastination, with no person aside from myself having ever graced it with their presence. Of warm memories in that room there are very few. Unlike at home, where every object is ready to transmit memories by something as simple as a touch or an odour, my university room is a temporary inhabitancy, a prop ready to be dismantled, folded up and tucked away at a moment’s notice. As much as I love University life, I was looking forward to returning home. Also, I was looking forward to spending time with my family, to chat away the evenings rather than clack them away on a laptop. As nice as it is to be productive, to know that you’re shaping time to a purposeful end, it does become rather arid after a while. Because I do the majority of my work in my room, it was little more to me than a workspace primarily, with a little leisure on the side. This, along with the fact that time is so concentrated here, made an hour of stretching out and doing nothing feel like a mortal sin. It would soon feel like the room was constricting, pressing down upon me in my procrastination shame. Needless to say, procrastination shame and procrastination repentance was another constant feature of that room. Doubtless, I was looking forward to getting back to a space that didn’t feel like it was pressing me into action, but exhaling gently, so that I could afford to stretch out.

So, when returning home, I expected to fall immediately back into comfort. This was where my heart was, after all. But somehow, when I walked through the front door for the first time in eight weeks, everything felt a little cold and strange. I had the sense that I wasn’t connected to a single thing in the house. My bedroom that I’d expected to welcome me back now seemed cold and distant, even though it was exactly as I’d left it. All the books, records and so on that I’d remembered leaving there with a heavy heart, and so looked forward to returning to, were there still. But somehow it wasn’t mine anymore - it was more like an extremely familiar hotel room. 

“some of our happiest moments are when we’re in two places at the same time”

Not that I wasn’t glad to be back; to see my parents again, to have dinner and watch TV with them was all lovely. But something about the whole experience had been irrevocably altered. It wasn’t like coming home, because no-one around the table really thought it was a home for me anymore, not a permanent home anyway. Now it was just another place to stay. I knew that, my parents knew that, and everything was a little displaced as a result. Like an old band re-joining for a comeback tour or, even worse, a single comeback concert, we were enjoying an experience whilst also being aware that there was a certain hollowness to it. The awareness that soon the novelty would wear off, that they would all be back to their ordinary lives. Even when they’re going through all the old hits, and the audience are jumping up and down with glee whilst they belt out the words, there’s a shared knowledge amongst everyone in the room that there’s a futility to it. The audience members might be able to briefly glimpse the time when they were younger and relatively free, and the performers might for a while glimpse the time when people cared about what they sang. But they can only see a little way. The film of time stands between them and the past, leaving it distant and diffused. Beneath the desperate entertainment and nostalgia, there’s a quiet sadness, a sadness not too dissimilar to myself and my family chatting around the dinner table. They know as well as I that this can no longer happen every day, that it can never be the same. Home is where the heart is, but the heart changes with the home.  


Mountain View

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I don’t mean to paint a melancholy picture here. The simile of a reunion tour wasn’t perhaps so accurate, since my parents and I sitting before the TV don’t quite have that same stench of desperate, affected nostalgia. Time may change a home, that’s true, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It may often be sad and painful, but it is entirely necessary. To hold onto those images of the past too hard is to strain them, squeeze them of all their essence until they’re devoid of substance entirely, little more than a parade of phantasms. We saw this with the Bananarama comeback tour. Like Empson pointed out in Proust, some of our happiest moments are when we’re in two places at the same time. To be aware that as we delve into the past we forge a new experience, which is all the more powerful for being a composite of the two.  

Yet despite all of this, I’m sure it will still feel strange when I eventually return to University. At first doing my university work from home made me feel a little lost between two places that meant different things to me, a little displaced. My bedroom became the place in which I sit and tap away all day, without the time I normally would have to actually talk to my family. We’re each all in our different rooms for much of the day, doing our own things, occasionally meeting each other in the kitchen and exchanging a few words. Not a far cry form uni. But bit by bit, after settling into the strangeness of this rhythm, my home began to feel more like home. And when I do eventually return to my room at University, it will no doubt feel as cold and strange as it did on the very first day of freshers week.. I suppose your home is little more than where you are.

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