Sunday, 15 February 2009

Home thoughts

Well, I said I might write some more about home in the last post (what is home, where is it, what does it mean..?). So here are a few bits and pieces on the subject. I think this may well turn into a series...

First a song. There are so many songs about home...about a home country (Scotland excels in this area), about a family home, about missing home, about a singer getting home from the road (Canadian James Keelaghan's 'Sing my heart home' is lovely). I can't find the Keelaghan song online so here's a well-known favourite on a similar theme. I suppose this one partly came to mind because I was reading and writing with at least two of you recently about this this clip is from 1967 (year I was born) I once had a boyfriend who looked spookily like this version of Art Garfunkel (minus the crazy 60s fashions, mine was an 80s boyfriend who dressed like Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street' even whilst at uni...oh, it's a long story...). Anyway here are the guys:

I don't often post any song lyrics on here...strangely perhaps...but look at these again:

“Tonight I'll sing my songs again
I'll play the game and pretend
But all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity
Like emptiness in harmony
I need someone to comfort me”

What writer hasn't worried about 'shades of mediocrity'? What a lovely set of lines.

Secondly a photo. Poetikat posted some photos of her writing stations at home the other day and apologised for the mess in one of them (p.s thanks for the sheep pic, Kat). I laughed because her places were so NOT messy! I am never exactly a candidate for housewife of the year but last week (what with the dog and the sickness) things were particularly slovenly round here. So behold my downstairs work station the other day (there is one upstairs too...I haven't worked up there for a while though). It is not usually quite this bad...

I did have some great views in the other direction too – complete with recovering Small Girl on sofa, days-old ironing, random musical instruments, toys - but my tidy man would much rather we did not share these with the outside world. As usual he is probably right...

And then here are some fairly random thoughts on the subject of home.

I have lived in 29 different locations (and in this I am counting any house/flat/etc. that I stayed in for longer than a couple of weeks, no holiday places, just longer residences). Once as a sort of writing/memory exercise I racked my brain to remember them all and then tried to remember as many details about each one as possible (visual details, people I knew there, things that happened etc.). It was a very interesting exercise...not all details to be repeated here though! One reader asked where I had lived so, in chronological order, I lived in:
6 places in the North East of England (up to age 16),
2 in London,
3 in Madrid (all in 1985/6),
3 in Cambridge (England),
1 in Nottinghamshire,
10 in Leeds (West Yorkshire),
1 elsewhere in West Yorkshire and then
3 in the fine county of Angus in Scotland (2002-now).

And please don't waste any time on...'I think I knew someone who knew a Rachel living there then' because, of course, I probably wasn't Rachel at the time in question (it's complicated, I know, sorry about that). Rachel was only born in Angus, as it were. Is that weird? Unquestionably...

Anyway, maybe because of the above list I tend to think of home as where particular people are (my Mum to begin with, then certain friends, and now of course Mark and that girl) rather than bricks and mortar. We do have a (family) home now and we expect to stay in it for a good while (that or we take the bloody solar panels with us...). However I have been around enough to know that life can change your direction at any point. We like it living where we are now and I am as happy as I've ever been (despite the odd tearful week here and there...I'm just the tearful type sometimes) but if, for any reason, we had to I'd to another to number 30 in the list of places. Maybe some of you are like me in this regard or maybe some of you are more like one of my best friends who gets hugely, significantly bonded to the house she is living in. She has a huge physical sense of 'home', feels very rooted where she is and moving is always a very big deal for her. How does this work? Do I just have very short roots? Is it because we moved quite a bit when I was younger?

I always find it interesting when we go away that Small Girl starts to refer to wherever we are staying as 'home' – often within hours of arriving there. From what I can gather if her Dad and I are there then it is 'home' (whether it's a hotel room or a tent or whatever) but I don't know if this is normal? Are other people's kids like this? Or is she just like me...not one for the deep geographical roots? Wherever she lays her teddy bear...and all that.

Which reminds me...a lot of people refer to a country as 'home'. I was born in England, my parents were mostly English, I lived in England for 34 years in total and yet...does England feel like home? Yes and then, most definitely, no. Did it ever? In some ways yes, in many others no, no, NO! I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the place which I think is not that unusual (all those singers who miss their homes...they still go off again as soon as they can, don't they...). All I know is there is a lot about England that I do not miss, that's for sure. I have thought a lot about poems about England but not written that many – one only-slightly flippant one called 'Got the Bridget Jones, Love Actually, Four Weddings blues' (in 'modern world' on site), one downright silly one called 'Between the lines' (in 'writing') – but maybe more are on their way and that's partly what this is all about. Maybe that's in turn partly because Scottish poets write so much about Scotland (not just single poems – whole books of them!) that this has made me think more about the whole subject of homelands. Jo Shapcott has a poem about England (taken here from Bloodaxe's 'Sixty Women Poets' pub.1993) called 'Motherland' and it contains fascinating bits like this “Even / the dictionary laughs when I look up / 'England', 'Motherland', 'Home'.” It also has this striking final verse:

“England. It hurts my lips to shape
the word. This country makes me say
too many things I can't say, home
of my rotting pride, my motherland.”

And...just because I can...I'm going to end this one on another of my favourite English songs...and speaking of the 1980s...

How can you go wrong with lyrics like that:

“I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
It's wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care”.

For a southerner (and you know the north/south divide in England rivals the England/Scotland divide quite spectacularly and always has done)...he's really very good.



Dave King said...

The Tonight I'll sing my song again verse really captivated me. And thanks for showing us your writing station. I don't know why, quite, but these are eternally interesting. The Guardian has a photograph each Saturday of a writer's study or an artist's studio with a commentary by the owner. It's always the first article I turn to.

Rachel Fox said...

That photo shows where I do my blogging, emailing, fiddling, editing and so on. I don't really write poems there...that tends to be upstairs, on trains, other places...I don't really know why.

And yes, it is a great song.

Kat Mortensen said...

It's another busy day - I've only looked at the photo so far, I'll read later if you don't mind, but that is just NOT messy! The other side of the room in my office houses two upended teak loveseats, a rocker, 2 vacuum cleaners and various detritus that has no home. I just chose not to show it.
You have records! (I should have expected that from a d.j.) We have tons of them (and right now, no turntable). Gotta run, but I'll be back when I can.


Rachel Fox said...

Yes, lots of records, I don't play them as often as I might...CDs are so easy and last so much longer...then of course there's the play-everything-laptop playlist. Apparently we had 17 days of solid music on the computer...and that was before Mark started loading all the cds we've obtained in the last 6 months or so (we're a bit behind..).
So, the poor old records (mostly 12" singles but some albums too) sit there...wondering when their day will come again...

hope said...

We should have a "share your space" photo day. :)

We inherited vinyl from both our parents and our turntable died years ago. We were just talking today about that. I understand you can get one now that hooks up with a USB cable to change that vinyl into CDs. :)

deemikay said...

I remember being very happy when I learned Homeward Bound on the geetar. :)

I've had several homes as well... in fact, I went to 7 primary schools. Moving about is good and possibly means home is always with you.

Possibly also why, when I go on holiday, I like to move about - having a hotel bed for more than two or three nights just seems wrong to me. :os

Anonymous said...

Another fine post, Rachel - conversational, discursive, but rooted in the topic throughout.

I'm one for digging in, I think. Although having said that, I can always recognise in some alternative territories - Western Cornwall, Connemara, south-eastern France, New York - potential settling grounds.

Rachel Fox said...

Hope - yes that vinyl will be worth something one day. We do play ours...sometimes.

David - that's a school a year! No wonder poetry seems sensible to you...You were one of the S & G posters...Ken A was another. We all have great taste. I heard Garfunkel being interviewed a few years back...he likes to just take off and, across continents. I liked him very much.

And Dick - thank-you. I'm not writing much poetry just real reason...hence a lot of energy and thought going into these I suppose. It's all writing and thinking...I don't really divide things up so much. All your places sound good...I'm reading a book set in Western Cornwall just now.


Jim Murdoch said...

I've moved house 13 times in my life and each one has been in Scotland. Home will always be my parents' house which of course is no longer my parents' house because they're both dead. I call where I live now 'home' and this is the flat that Carrie and I have lived in the longest so it has the greatest claim and yet it's just the place I live. If I left here tomorrow I wouldn't keep looking back longingly; it's just a flat. This doesn't mean that I look back longingly at my parents' home. I had the opportunity to move in once my mum died but didn't.

Rachel Fox said...

A very different experience in some ways, Jim. There is a house I was born in and lived in till I was 6...but then my Dad died and everything changed and off we went. It's odd to think that if he hadn't died we would probably have lived there for ages...That would be a clearer geographical, physical home.

I like David's idea about having home 'always with you'. I'm not sure I feel that but I like the idea of it. It sounds like happiness...bit fairy tale but happiness all the same.


Art Durkee said...

Let's see . . .

Born in Detroit, MI, lived for a year in Cleveland, OH, parents went to India, lived in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, and summered in Kodai Kanal down in Kerala, returned to the US, lived in five different places in Ann Arbor, MI, went to Surakarta, Java, Indonesia for a year, Beloit, WI, for a year, Madison and Cambridge, WI, Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, Taos, NM, San Francisco area, back to Beloit now. . . . and a lot of time on the road.


Just this past month I was in Ann Arbor briefly, and for the first time in over 20 years it felt like it MIGHT be "home." I'm used to not feeling like any place is home. I'm often happiest when traveling; those long road trips, the truck and tent start to feel like "home."

I've got a huge collection of vinyl in the basement now, both mine and my late Dad's. I also have all his stereo equip including turntable, all in working order. I've got a lot of experimental music on vinyl that was too obscure (read: uncommercial) to ever make it out on CD. I'm all set up to start digitizing, when I have time to get around to it.

Look what you did! You had so many interesting topics to reply to in one post that my reply is almost as long as your original post! :)

Now for your lagniappe:

One of my favorite bands is The Austin Lounge Lizards, our of Texas. They're a bluegrass and country satire band. They can play anything, but they're too smart-mouthed to ever work in Nashville.

You mentioned how often "home" comes up in Scotland folk music, nostalgically, usually. There were hoards of Scots immigrants who came to the southern Appalachian mountain regions, which is where bluegrass and old-time roots country music both developed. Both genres continue that strong home topic in the music, especially in bluegrass.

Well, the Austin Lounge Lizards have their version of the bluegrass-nostalgia-home song called "That Godforsaken Hellhole I Call Home." Truly one of the funniest songs I've ever heard, because it's so TRUE.

Rachel Fox said...

Hey Art - enjoyed your comment.
I lost my travel bug and would quite like to get it back! I wish I knew where it has gone...Maybe I should set out on the road with you...sounds like fun and you go to some beautiful places I know. Everything is so small here in comparison!

I love the band you mentioned...had never heard of them before. I love bands with a good sense of humour and I always like to see older guys acting they way they want to instead of wearing shirts and ties and all that!

Thanks too for lagniappe - never heard of that word before.


Art Durkee said...

My pleasure!

The Austin Lounge Lizards do a blues version of George Orwell's "1984" that is simultaneously hilarious and really creepy. Great stuff.

You'd all be welcome to road trip it with me any time. You're right on target about scale. Many Europeans, and even many northeast Americans (what we call New England), have no real sense of how BIG this country is, out here in the western half. I remember once a European acquaintance visiting some friends in New York City who thought he could do the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls as day trips from the city! Um, several-day trips, maybe. I also remember a New Hampshire friend being shocked that one could drive 6 hours out here, and only go one state away. LOL Heck, crossing Wyoming is a ten-hour all-day drive, and you still might not make it all the way across the state to the next border. But you'll see mostly open sky pronghorn antelope, and not very many people. Ah, paradise.

Rachel Fox said...

It does sound great. I've been pretty much stuck in all week with the sickly child...all part of the job of course but driving through an empty state miles from here is starting to sound damned attractive!

I never understand how some Brits can go all the way across the Atlantic just to go to a big fairground in Florida...but then they wouldn't understand much of what I do with my time either!


The Solitary Walker said...

Great song, 'New England'. Like the Kirsty McColl version too.

And talking of songs and home, what about Iris Dement's 'My Home Town' - and Kate Rusby's wonderful cover?

'Motherland' - sounds a shade Hitlerian to me...

... and while we're on the subject, anyone remember that GREAT German TV series 'Heimat'? One of the best - ever.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, SW, I like the song sung by Kirsty M too but I think I prefer Billy doing it on his own (of the two...sorry Kirsty, up in pop heaven). Sometimes it's just how you first know a song isn't it? I had a friend who used to play B Bragg at uni and his songs from that era bring back lots of (very drunken) memories. It wasn't a great time particularly but it's long enough ago to have nostalgia value. He has written some really good songs though. I read his book about England has its moments.

I never watched Heimat. Wasn't it the series that went on for hours? We've been watching the Sopranos recently...about the last people on earth to see it probably. I'm really enjoying it though it is fairly dark re human its own very American TV way.

The Rusby version of 'My home town' is lovely...but then pretty much every little thing she does is magic. She couldn't be less New Jersey mobster if she tried! Go Barnsley.


The Solitary Walker said...

My God, that 'Heimat' series went on for months let alone hours, Rachel. Absolute magic, though.

We saw BB along with Steve Earle, Emmy-Lou Harris, Joan Baez and Chrissy Hinde in Leicester at one hot 'Summer Sundae' open air event a few years ago. Magic too.

Marion McCready said...

'I probably wasn't Rachel at the time in question' - oh now this is intrieging!

Rachel Fox said...

You're not the only one with an alias you know!
If you do meet me at StAnza with the family you will hear me called a variety of names...obviously one of them will be the rather unimaginative 'mum'.

Colin Will said...

I'd be scared to photograph my room (ie, the room where I write, edit and publish). It's a tip, because life's to short to tidy, despite what DunbarJane says. (When her friends call she closes my door so they don't look in)

Very fond of S&G, particularly S, and BB would be a hero if I had heroes.

Haven't moved around all that much, but when we came to Dunbar 8 years ago we both said, "This is home," and it is.

Colin Will said...

Missed an 'o'. Tsk.

Rachel Fox said...

For some reason, Colin, it makes me very happy that you share my Billy Bragg enthusiasm!

And yes, Mark thought I was quite mad wanting to put messy photos of the house online. He's not wrong...


Art Durkee said...

I'm realizing how neat and uncluttered my writing space is, now. It's a little scary. I don't think of myself as a neat freak. I do know that visual clutter for me leads directly to mental clutter, and feeling scattered.

Interesting idea for a photo series, though, ennit?


I am jealous of your work spaces! Mine are the kitchen table and the bed. Alas. But occasionally I will notice a partially nude voyeur across the street in the Palmer House Hilton.

Rachel Fox said...

Your photos are always interesting, Art, so I look forward to any series of those.

Susan...the hotel over the street...sounds interesting. I am one of those lazy slobs who would live in a hotel if left to my own devices (with heaps of cash).


Liz said...

Rachel, regarding your post about your doggie, so sorry...I've been through death with beloved pets, it is awful because it is 'grieving' but sometimes not everyone understands the loss, making it harder to get through...x

And 'homes'...I still always refere to going to my mum and dad's as 'going home' even though I see myself really settled here.
I used to love going flat-hunting in Dublin when I lived there while others found it a drag.

Oh and a writers space - mine is sitting upright on a futon with laptop on knees and cat and dogs nearby...and yes a wee bit too topsy-turvy to snap but will do so one of these days. : ) Liked yours and the music - cheers.

Rachel Fox said...

Hey Liz...the weirdest thing about the dog story was that she was my Mum's dog...had only been with us a few years...was very old I didn't think I would be upset at all. I was quite surprised by my own reaction!

Our carpets are much cleaner now! Not much for the gravestone is it..?

Ken Armstrong said...

I love that Billy Bragg album - 'I am the milkman of human kindness I will leave an extra pint.' :)

Rachel Fox said...

No wonder you like that line - that's you that is!