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home, n. and a.
A dwelling-place, house, abode; the fixed residence of a family or household; the seat of domestic life and interests; one’s own house; the dwelling in which one habitually lives, or which one regards as one’s proper abode. Sometimes including the members of a family collectively; the home-circle or household. In N. America and Australasia (and increasingly elsewhere), freq. used to designate a private house or residence merely as a building.
The place of one’s dwelling or nurturing, with the conditions, circumstances, and feelings which naturally and properly attach to it, and are associated with it. a home from home, a place away from home which provides home-like accommodation or amenities; also (outside Britain), a home away from home.
A place, region, or state to which one properly belongs, in which one’s affections centre, or where one finds refuge, rest, or satisfaction.
One’s own country, one’s native land. Used by Britons abroad, by inhabitants of (former) British colonies and territories, and by those of British descent in the U.S., for Great Britain = the mother-country, the ‘old country’. (Cf. at home: 11b.)OED
What is home? Where is home? Can only one place be home?
These are the questions in my head right now, as I settle back in to life onboard after my 4.5 week trip back to the UK.
Going home, at last
Edinburgh was my home for nearly 16 years. Before that, I knew the city well. I grew up an hour away and we often had family shopping trips, and later on, Colin’s brother lived there. When we moved from Edinburgh to my hometown of Kelso last November I really thought I’d desperately miss Edinburgh. The buildings and cobbled streets, my favourite coffee shops, the old railway lines I walked. Being able to see friends easily, or eat any cuisine I fancied. The poured concrete corridors of the Scottish Parliament building which look cold, but were so comforting to me.
In the end, the coffee was what I missed. The friends and work were still there, in digital form. I found a renewed appreciation for Chinese and Indian takeaway food, robbed of my access to poke bowls, Lebanese mezze and real Italian pizza. But the coffee I couldn’t replace. Until I bought a Nespresso at least.
Ever since we moved on to Mirounga, a month after leaving the UK, I pined for home. It was absolutely at its worst for the first two or three weeks onboard. I felt so utterly disconnected from my life and my people. Giving up work felt like severing a tie to my former life. It was only finding a small community that made me start to feel settled. Ironically, that community has dispersed, but it gave me what I needed at the time.
I got more comfortable, but I still counted down the days until I went “home”.
I had ideas about what my trip back to the UK would be like. Everything would feel kind of hazy and strange after 4 months in the Caribbean. I would be completely dazzled by supermarkets and shops, and overwhelmed by traffic and choice. There was a possibility I might feel very cold. And of course, that I would miss Colin and Mirounga badly.
I’m surprised to say that none of those things were the case (sorry Colin).
From the moment I paid for a cappuccino and a decaf flat white at Caffe Nero at Heathrow using the app and staggered out to my brother’s car balancing them with my heavy carry-on, I was home. Instantly.
And then, I was just too busy to think about anything but there here and now.
A few people have asked how I spent my time in the UK, as I deliberately stopped posting to our Mirounga feeds to give myself a break. So, here’s a potted version of a journey home…
4.5 weeks of normality
My flight back was my first solo transatlantic. Didn’t love it. But survived. After an overnight flight where I didn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes, my brother Richard was waiting for me at Heathrow.
We drove back to his home in Lincolnshire, and that afternoon I had my first real taste of home – a trip to a ginormous Tesco! Yes, it was shiny, and impressive. But I didn’t have the urge to buy all the things I’d been missing for months. It was frankly quite relieving. And then, with Richard driving like an utter lunatic along backroads home, screaming and laughing, surrounded by the smell of British summer, I was a teenager again.
The next day, pulling on jeans again felt like rediscovering a person I’d missed. We set off north. On the way, we drove through Tuxford, past the first home I lived in, recently sold, and past landmarks I just remember from early-childhood.
We stopped into Wickerley, South Yorkshire, to see my Grandma Joan on the way up to Scotland. It was hard – this fiercely independent, always critical, very traditional 94 year old woman we loved to hate barely recognised us. After a fall last year she’s just not quite there. I think she only really knew me because she sees my mum, her daughter, in me. It was a short visit.
Back at dad’s house, in Scotland, we walked by the River Tweed as we waited for our Chinese takeout. I was home. Dad’s cats gave me a warm welcome, but not as much as the comfy bed waiting for me in my childhood bedroom.
Edinburgh, and family
The next day, Monday, I repacked for a week away and, in Dad’s old Citroen, drove up to Edinburgh. I spent four days there with Colin’s brother Alastair, his wife Rose, and their lovely old cat Cassie. It’s no surprise that within hours Rose and I were trawling a charity shop, one of our favourite joint pastimes.
In the city
I had a busy few days. On Tuesday, I was early into town, so I spent some time wandering my old neighbourhood of Broughton, sipping coffee from my favourite cafe (Artisan Roast) and walking past my old yoga studio and my old home. It was so strange to follow my fading steps back to Ivy, a beauty salon I adore, for a massage with Clare. Then I met my best girls from the Parliament – a group of women I’ve spent years laughing, dancing and singing with on our Karaoke nights, and dear friends. After a drink in a beer garden we had dinner at my favourite Broughton restaurant, Eden’s Kitchen, and drinks at The Voodoo Rooms where I’ve spent many happy nights.
On Wednesday I went back to town to get a facial at Ivy with the owner, and another good friend, Amanda. It was so cathartic to catch up. Then, after a quick shopping trip, Rose and I met up for a visit to the Dean Gallery for a Ray Harryhausen exhibition.
Reminders of a days past
Thursday was another busy day in town. I spent a whopping 5 hours in the hairdresser’s chair at Lipsticks, Lashes and Locks getting a trim and putting a little fun into my hair. I’ve always done this when I’ve needed to assert or find myself – a hair colour change, a piercing, a tattoo…
Running late, I found my former teammates and colleagues from the Scottish Parliament’s research service in The Meadows. We sat on the grass chatting and laughing until it got too chilly. It was lovely to remember my happiest times at the Parliament.
A last bastion group of us found ourselves in the Guilded Garden. This is usually a bar area set up for the Fringe. There’s not really a Fringe this year, but sitting outside Teviot House, on a picnic bench, drinking out of plastic cups for hours, it could have been. It felt so natural, catching up with the boys and taking crap about indie music, eating pizza and stealing a friend’s hat. I left so late the buses had stopped running and I had to get an Uber – Rose has just about forgiven me for my teenaged “I’ll get the next bus promise” texts!
And then on Friday, it was time to say farewell (for now) to Edinburgh…
I collected my friend Milena in Musselburgh and we drove up to spend the weekend in a glamping pod in the Cairngorms. It was stunning. From the moment we stopped the car in Glenshee to take in the view I was completely at peace.
We spent the next day enjoying two hikes. One on foot from our campsite at Strathdon, and the other through the Abernethy Forest from Nethy Bridge. Both were beautiful, and memorable. Both left us trapped and fighting through foliage. As we walked we admired wild mushrooms and talked about the other realms we were on the borders of. We ate wild blueberries and brambles, and paddled through a stream barefoot when our way was barred. the 30km we covered was painful for my bad hip, but when we sank into our hot tub at the end of the day with a glass of rosé it melted away.
The days that followed were captured in the snapshot week Colin and I wrote about, but Milena and I continued our adventure back in Kelso, and then I settled in there. We’re agreed that we make excellent travel companions – we both love getting lost, scrambling up cliffs, rum, and the same food.
I won’t repeat my first week in Kelso here. My second week in Kelso was supposed to be sedate, but me being me I filled it. I had really hoped to get more time to see a couple of friends again properly but I just didn’t have a chance. My focus was to spend some proper time enjoying The Borders with my dad, and doing some walks my mum was never willing to tackle.
On the Sunday, we visited two ‘linns’ – small waterfalls. Both were a short drive from Kelso, towards Northumberland and Berwickshire. Hethpool Linn and Roughtin Linn are both beautiful, but the latter was the most memorable. The evening light gave the forest we scrambled through an eerie light, almost as if we were walking into fairyland. With mossy trees, caves, mushrooms, and just a few hints of the coming autumn, it was magical.
On Monday I walked alone along the River Teviot to Roxburgh and back, which was surprisingly painful for an easy 10km walk.
Despite the pain in my hip, Dad and I drove to St Mary’s Loch and the Grey Mare’s Tail the next day. We’d never walked to the top of the Grey Mare’s Tail, and on a hot sunny day, it was definitely a challenge. Luckily I’d bought hiking poles, which helped, and it was completely worth it. We celebrated with a very late afternoon tea in Moffat, and then Dad dropped me off in Melrose to meet my old friends Jenny and Leah for a pub dinner. I’ve known these women since I was 16 and it was lovely to be all in one place for the first time in decades.
On Wednesday after an Airbnb changeover, we spent the afternoon at Five Sisters Zoo. This was a favourite of my Mum’s, and somewhere I love. The animals were somewhat reticent but we did get sight of some adorable wild cat kittens. We also visited the outlet mall at Livingston and I couldn’t resist a quick French Connection splurge.
Thursday was another hike – this time up the Eildon Hills, with Ali and Rose. I was in pain but Rose massaged life back into a seized-up calf (“like massaging a tree trunk”) and we made it to somewhere I’ve wanted to walk all my life. We were rewarded with gelato and pizza from Becatelli back in Kelso, but not before Alastair and Dad tackled the ivy creeping into part of the house.
Everything good must end
And then, feeling like I’d barely arrived, I had to spend Friday packing, this time two checked bags with goodies to take back to the boat. We did at least enjoy a zoom wine tasting with Wine Events Scotland before a beer in the square with the folkies.
Whilst I’d kept my days in Kelso busy, my evenings had something of a chilled vibe. I spent a lot of them, after dinner, curled up in bed with Dad’s cats watching Pose. Kasha and Willow are my little shadows when I’m home, and it’s the cats that make me feel so settled.
Back to England
The next day we drove back south, taking time to stop at my friend Gemma’s food van on The Carter Bar as we crossed the border. We met Richard and his girlfriend Louisa at Fountains Abbey, somewhere Richard and I remember well from childhood. We loved creeping around, climbing, and quoting Labyrinth at each other in the blazing sun, at least until Richard tripped and hurt an already-injured ankle.
The next couple of days were absurdly chilled out. With Richard injured and the weather starting to turn we mostly curled up and watched movies, and those whole first series of Outer Banks. Richard’s cat Indy fastened herself to my lap – perhaps cats are what make me feel like I’m home? We had evening slushie runs to the garage, and I got to play with Louisa’s Dyson Air Wrap and make my hair straight for the first time in months. When they were at work on Tuesday, I walked into Boston to explore. It was… not good. But I needed to be outside and walking, it’s what I do.
Having this much time with my brother is so rare, and a little rest was what I needed.
On Tuesday evening, Richard drove me to Cambridge, for the final leg of my holiday…
Colin lived in Cambridge from 1999 and I moved there in 2002, so we spent 6 years kicking around the city before moving to Edinburgh. I love it there.
Mark and Livio are family to me. We used to see Mark a good 6-7 times a year despite our distance. Their flat feels like home, even if I sleep in the living room. The last time Colin and I were there was the weekend where the first Italian Covid outbreak made the news. I’m not sure I’ve ever gone as long as a year and a half without visiting and I thought it might feel weird. It didn’t. Sitting at their dining table, eating pasta and drinking red wine – it could have been a week between visits.
My three days in Cambridge included catching up with a couple of our old Uni friends for lunch, spending hours in BrewDog, breakfast with our dear Malikins, and a trip to a wine bar and dinner with beloved Lucy. A wander around the Botanics with Jason meant that I got to see most of the people I know and love in Cambridge. In-between, I got some last-minute shopping done in town, and got to wander around yet another place I call home.
Lincolnshire – again!
On Friday afternoon the three of us drove up to Lincolnshire again, for my last weekend in the UK. By sheer coincidence the weekend I could visit Mark and Livio was the weekend they had booked a family glamping trip 20 minutes drive from Richard! It was a site they’d visited before, with our dearly departed friend Heather. Mark’s parents, his brother, and his 9-year-old niece were there, and Heather’s husband Luke with their nearly 8-year-old son Dexter. Between two pods, a bell tent, and two tents we were occupying most of the lovely woodland campsite.
It was a fantastic two days, and I didn’t feel at all out of place (Mark’s mum was glad to have the gender balance evened up!). Dexter and Sophia kept us all busy with games and piggybacks, and we spent the evenings roasting marshmallows and enjoying the crisp air. We saw hedgehogs, voles, and field mice and generally loved being in nature. We had a trip into Skegness, where we ate fish and chips, went to the fairground and arcade, and walked along the beach. It was a classic day out at the British seaside. Having the time with Dexter, who is every bit Heather’s kind, thoughtful and charming son, was so precious to me. I was sad when, after a visit to the Bubble Car Museum and a carvery meal in a roasting hot beer garden it was time to say goodbye.
Mark and Livio dropped me back at Richards on their way home, and the journey back to Mirounga began.
Going home… er… wait?
After a little more time with Indy on my lap, drinking tea, Richard and Louisa drove me back to Heathrow. I had a night there, enjoying being in a space that was 100% mine with a huge bed and hot shower for the first time in over a month. Then I was up early for an uneventful, comfortable flight back to Grenada. I had to quarantine for 2 nights until my negative PCR came back. The student apartment I was in was very comfortable, but the food situation was dire – I’d have either starved or spent a fortune if Colin hadn’t dropped off a care package of Ramen.
I was back to wondering if going back to the Caribbean would feel weird.
My tan had faded – would I be struggling in the heat again? Would the mosquitos bite me again?
Colin and I haven’t spent more than 5 days apart since 2002 and here we’d just had almost 5 weeks. And I hadn’t really missed him. We didn’t speak on the phone once. Would things be weird? Did it mean something that we’d been fine apart?
I’d gone back to land life, and all its luxuries – big supermarkets, comfortable weather, pints with friends, takeaway coffee, Amazon next day delivery, big beds with real duvets, flushing toilets, and being able to do laundry whenever I wanted to. Would I slip easily back into boat life?
I’d walked every day and enjoyed lots of hikes, and my fitness improved a lot – would that all disappear again?
I’d spent much of my stay at home in the company of cats, cats who made me feel at home – would I pine even more for my Schrödinger?
In the end?
In the same way that going back to the UK and slipping back into my jeans and life there was easy, jumping in the dinghy and hauling in my luggage in Prickly Bay felt just as normal. There was no adjustment period. I was home. Colin and I are just the same couple we’ve always been.
Actually that’s wrong. We weren’t the couple we’ve always been during our first months here. We bickered, and didn’t always understand one another. We’re back to being who we were. I feel like our relationship is better than it’s been in months.
Sailing, moving up from Grenada back to SVG. Cooking in a galley. Hauling rubbish and laundry ashore. Heading out for an evening paddle in our new kayak as the sun sets. Working. It’s all just normal life.
Even more so, coming back to Bequia brought us familiarity, and friends. We arrived straight into the arms of people we missed. We know that even though we’re all starting to say goodbye to this little slice of paradise we’ll see each other soon, in other anchorages in other countries.
I can only conclude, then, that we collect homes. No one place becomes the place we feel most at home.
Places, people, food… they all make a home. Hell, even furniture – the dining tables of a couple of our friends could be picked up and put anywhere and as long as we were sat around it with them, we’d be home.
Scotland is home. Edinburgh is home. Kelso is home. Iona is home. The Abernethy Forest is home. Schrödinger is home.
Cambridge will always be home. Anywhere my brother is will be home. Tuxford will always give me memories of home. London, which we only live in briefly but know well, is home. Our friends Jeff and Annika’s dining table was home in Denver, and then Jacksonville, and now Denver again in the new home we haven’t seen.
Bequia is home.
But above all, right now…
Mirounga is home.
Colin is home.