Coming Home: Thoughts on What Makes a Home

Photo by Hartwig HKD

It’s only been a year and we are going home. We thought it would be two or even three. Three years away from the red and blue lights of London, the estates, the winding streets of terraced housing, the tube, the grit. I was ready to leave at the time. London had become like a lover I needed distance from. Beloved, but murky, complicated, demanding. We yearned for simplicity, so we fled into the arms of a new job, a new country, far from family and friends though our hearts tugged as we left.

We have been on the shores of Lake Geneva a year, against a backdrop of the Alps and Jura, and the lake with its sail boats and twinkling lights. As the children settled into their new school, I wrote in bursts in my attic office. We saw the seasons change and have slowly built up friendships and discovered new places. We have a favourite restaurant across the border in France, a wooden chalet with a high vantage point, where they serve raclette and grilled meat. Round and round you go in the car, feeling sick with the circles, until the restaurant suddenly appears all alone on the mountain top. We have swum until our fingers shrivelled, skied and hurtled down hills in sledges over crisp snow. We have visited villages and hamlets, taking in exquisitely arranged flowerpots hanging over water troughs, fairy lights strung across villas and been delighted by cow herds, vineyards and fields of sunflowers. We have marvelled at the beauty of this country, and yet, in many ways it has felt more like a holiday than home.

Our house here, beautiful though it is, has not readily accepted our love and memories, or so it seems. Instead, the walls seem to me to be like Teflon. We are a passing disturbance through its existence. The sounds of our year here will be sucked into a vortex the moment we lock the door for the last time. I long for the old brick and mortar of our London house, where my handprint seems to sink into the fabric of the architecture, and mingle with the imprint of past and future dwellers.

Is it a trick of the mind, to feel distance from a place when you are leaving it, for treasured memories to fade into absentia because it is easier to say goodbye? On Friday we had a farewell party at the beach, a distraction from the bureaucracy of moving. It was a welcome reminder of what we have loved about Geneva. We took a picnic, and watched the children as they darted across the sand and into the surf, and brought us snails and pebbles. The kids have made bonds that I hope outlast our time here. The heat from sun and the cool, clear water healed my frazzled nerves. When I talked to friends, I felt connected again, no longer distant and lost in a maze of administration.

Geneva is used to this coming and going, part and parcel of the international community, tied to the bulge of trade, voluntary and governmental organisations based here. Like many before us, we are following the job, our adventure over. But it’s not unwillingly that we return. This year has reminded me that a home cannot be made overnight. A home may be built from material possessions but it centres on people and your love for a place. It comes from a common language and security. It is built from a sense of community, where the neighbour’s children run into your back garden and you nod or stop to say hello to familiar faces. It comes from walking around your neighbourhood and noting the shapes of trees and the kinks in the pavement.

It has been a wonderful year. We have learnt about people, and places, and in many ways we are less naive. We are also more adventurous. When we are out of the grey haze of selling cars, deregistering services and packing, we will remember the fun we’ve had this year, but also remind ourselves that this was the year we decided that London, sprawling clawed beast that she is, is our home. We are ready.

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