THE MEANING OF HOME?
Feeling free to take a dump with the bathroom door open – is that your definition of home? A place with all your stuff in it? Your boat? Your camper van? A prison? A castle? Your lair? Your country? Your ethnicity? Is your home your Ipad, your Iphone? Anywhere where there’s Wi-fi? Somewhere to get off the streets to? Your piece of cardboard in an alcove down an alleyway off Soho? Your sleeping bag, your backpack? A care home?
I moved around a bit as a child. When I was little we travelled in a horse-drawn gypsy caravan. We moved on to a commune full of hippies (not your classic ‘home/family’ environment). From age 11-16 I was at boarding school (another odd kind of home). Then I hit the road again.
The other September I was biding my time in the warmth of a CalMac ferry terminal on the Isle of Coll when a plummy-voiced woman with a gaggle of kids came in out of the rain. While her offspring milled round about her, the woman told the man at the ticket counter that they were off to their other home down in Devon. “We love living up here in the summers, but the winters up here’d be the end of us.” The man presumably lived all year round on his Hebridean island, weathering the winters. He smiled, took her money.
I drank with a Dutchman in a beachside bar in the ‘surfers’ paradise’ of Taghazout once. He’d been coming in every evening with his laptop. He’d order a tea and sit at a table hunched over his computer for at least the hour it took me to drink my nightly quota of Stork. When I asked him what he did every evening he said, “Running my business.” Apparently he didn’t need to stay home to earn a living, just an internet connection. He could winter, like all the other snowbirds, on campsites across warm and cheap southern Morocco.
In a pub in Delhi I met a young English entrepreneur who shipped the high-end chess sets he had made in India to a warehouse owned and managed by that huge online shop we all shop at. The entrepreneur spent his summers at his parents’ house in Cumbria checking in with his friends, and the winters in India checking up on his workers and roaring around on his Enfield motorbike, dodging potholes, pedestrians and holy cows.
When I was 30 years old I counted how many homes I’d had in my life. Thirty-three.
On the rooftop of a fleapit hostel in Calcutta I met a Puerto Rican man. Let’s call him Ricardo. He told me he’d been born in Puerto Rico, but grew up in New Jersey. We talked and drank a lot and laughed. A year or two later I met up with Ricardo in Thailand. We travelled around together for a while. Ricardo had what he told me was scar from a bullet wound in his back. I don’t know what he did for money, what he lived on, but most of his tiny backpack was taken up with pharmaceuticals. (He seemed to know the location of pharmacies in every town and city we visited.) His passport was full to over-flowing with visa stamps. He’d been on the road for seven years. He spoke about eight languages, including Japanese and a smattering of Hokkien. He said he was never going back (meaning ‘home’), and he often talked about killing himself. He doesn’t answer emails anymore, so maybe he’s managed it. Meeting Ricardo made me think that having somewhere to call home wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
I’m 47 now. I’ve lived in far more that 33 places. I’ve liked most of them. (Not the bedbug-infested hostels of Sudder Street, although I like Calcutta.) I’m trying to settle down. For the time being home (and for me home, and I’ve given this some thought, is where my bed is. I love my beds) is a rented attic room in a raffish seaside town in Sussex. My girlfriend lives 45 miles away, inland. (Her bed is bonza, but not as nice as mine.) Next year we’re hoping to make a home together in another part of the UK. People make a home.
© Dan Boothby, 13/10/2015
(This was originally published in Hunger magazine, Oct 2015