At home, where I spent twenty years from day one, I’d often sit in the garden at a big wooden table with a Yorkshire tea and watch the day begin, let the thoughts flood in. One of my favourite spots in the world, I’d think. Looking across the fields in the distance I’d remember twelve year old me striding with confidence in an emerald green dress along the lawn. I used to narrate things in my head, half hoping someone who knew something would take over and tell me the rest. What is home? This garden? This family? I have my lifetime of memories in these rooms. My bed used to be over there, in the other corner by the window and I’d gaze from my pillow at the crowns of conifers and the rest of the sky. I’ll never forget the Cheshire moon. Maybe the Cheshire cat has such a wide grin from looking up at that huge sky, the one that illuminated the courtyard below my window and my dreams.
Home was with my mum when we cycled around the Loire valley, singing along to Sam Outlaw or sat having dinner with our Air BnB host and her three pet chickens. “In France, this breed of chicken must be your pet for three years before you can eat it. By then, they’re your friends”. After our trip she dropped me off in St Cloud, Paris, where I would stay to finish the last two weeks of my internship and it felt like the last time we’d be saying goodbye. Drifting off to sleep I heard the gate outside my window shut loudly and I lifted my head in an attempt to see. Combined with the cigarette smelling apartment, this transported me back to home. Half asleep, I’d hear the backdoor shut, the porch light would come on, some feet would shuffle through the courtyard and faint smoke would flow through my window. I’d press my forehead against the cool glass, peering down, trying to figure out which of my brothers and which of their friends were there, wondering what I was missing. Back in St Cloud, I put my headphones in hoping to drift off at the sound of some sweet peace. Thinking of mum, I put on some Ornella Vanoni. I missed her terribly, which felt ridiculous, as we’d just spent two weeks together. We’ve had our differences, but in that strange apartment, with her departure, all I could think was how wonderful she was, how lovely and human. I remembered being about ten or so when we went to New York. Arriving at sunrise, travelling past Statin Island, she cried and said something along the lines of “just think about all those people who came to this island in hope of a life, a job, only to be turned away back on the ships they’d travelled on for weeks”. I remembered when she’d go to the shops, I’d hear the car engine start and frantic at the door beat my shoes onto my feet, wrestling the Velcro on my tiny trainers, wanting to go with her like my life depended on it. In Paris, there were weeks where I’d ring her everyday around 4pm as I walked from Metropolitan to the post office next door. I don’t know why. I think to check in but also scared of that time alone, missing and looking for home.
When I didn’t have friends come to Paris, I’d explore elsewhere. One of my most comforting trips was to Freiburg to see some Southampton friends who I’d be living with some months later in our final year of university. Wandering near the Bächle from the UniCafe, eating Flammkuchen, we swapped stories about our time on the continent. It was refreshing to talk about our experiences and realise that there are obstacles wherever you go, even if you’re in a beautiful European city. Home was hearing that we all felt lost sometimes. Going back to visit Southampton in December, the friends I’d lived with for two years welcomed me with a “welcome home, Lulu” sign. One of them erred cautiously around the question, “are you looking forward to going back to Paris”, I immediately broke down like a kid, “I don’t want to go back” I said laughing and crying at once, trying to make a joke out of my silliness. Well there’s only truth in jest. “But you love Paris”, she said. She was right. So what was it? “I hope this doesn’t sound unkind but I missed you guys much more than I thought I would”. Whether on the night bus to Bordeaux or at the airport from Basel to Southampton, I’d sit between time and place, waiting between countries and cities, loud mountains and louder seas and feel home in the knowledge that I was on my way to someone.
I don’t mind that home is no longer in Cheshire. It’s a feeling more than anything else. Home was when friends came to visit in Paris. It was sitting in Shakespeare and Company with my twin, drinking coffee and thinking. We explored Paris with mum, our little trio, the Rodin museum, the Irish cultural centre, Montmartre. I showed my parents my Paris and they showed me theirs. Home was how my dad counselled me in a bistro on Rue de Baci. Him or my mum had asked what I was going to do after university. Please tell me, my eyes begged, lost and misty in their clouds. Home is how you feel when the people you love smile at you, when you lock eyes and hear each other’s hearts beating.