This has always been a tricky little topic for me.
Age three, my parents separated. So, I grew up with ‘home home’, my grandmother’s house (where my mum & I lived for years following the split), ‘dad’s home’ – and I also lived at my aunt’s house during the holidays while my mum had to work. In any case, ‘home’ was always a term in flux.
On a wider scale, ‘home’ often refers to where you are from. In my case, this is Birmingham.
I had never known anything different to Birmingham until I started studying at the University of Cambridge. During this time, I saw Cambridge as more my ‘home’ than Birmingham; after all, it was the first place I had ever discovered alone. The winding streets, the bustle of tourists – I found it magical and new and completely and utterly mine.
Alas, this was temporary.
After discovering I was to move to London last summer, there was a moment – you may possibly remember it, I wrote a blog post – where I sat in New Street station (or should I say, ‘Grand Central’) and felt slightly sad to leave Birmingham.
I’m not really sure why. My memories of Birmingham are not usually wholly positive, harking back to a time where an awkward teenager who didn’t quite fit roamed, yet to discover the breadth and the possibilities of the world outside the city she was currently residing in. Nevertheless, in Grand Central last year, I felt a small spark, a flicker, of what I think some people may feel when they think of ‘home’.
I haven’t felt that towards Birmingham since.
Each time I go back to visit Birmingham, there is a change to the city. A new coffee shop or restaurant is created, my usual bus no longer stops by my house – there’s even a new tram system which has been implemented. The city itself is slowly shifting towards a better future, a more streamlined look. It’s fabulous and fantastic – but it’s no longer the Birmingham of my upbringing. I feel with every new building that is built, with every new brick laid and splash of paint applied, the city is slowly shutting me out. I feel alien.
I have changed, the city has changed. We just don’t fit.
Less alien, however, is the once unfamiliar and intimidating life in London. Each day I step onto the Victoria Line with precise regularity. I understand the ins and outs of what you should and shouldn’t do here. I’ve adapted to the late nights, the early mornings, and I’m haphazardly juggling everything accordingly. My 10 months here have absolutely flown by in a whirlwind of tube journeys, brunches, Friday drinks and canal runs.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Central London still seems like an institution. Impenetrable.
But I have found an absolute sanctuary in my edge-of-Zone-2, pokey, £££££££ per month flat in Hackney Wick.
I’m currently writing this post in an #edgy vegan coffee shop and lunch spot called Mother, in Here East, a building which was once used by production/news companies during the Olympics, but which is now formed of empty spaces that are slowly becoming occupied by independent businesses. It’s an ideal spot, overlooking the canal in the sunshine – a people-watcher’s dream. Looking around, I can see a diverse stream of people walking and cycling along the canal today, or sunbathing, or drinking coffee, or having breakfast/lunch. There’s ‘90s music playing. I’m drinking a smoothie that has ‘cacao’ in it. I’m about to go to the gym.
I’ve never felt so free as I do here. I’ve never felt so accepted, even in Cambridge. Perhaps I wholeheartedly fulfil the artsy stereotype of the people who live here - I mean, I am currently wearing my mom jeans, an oversized cotton shirt thrown on over them, typing furiously on my Macbook with my large, taupe glasses on.
But perhaps I feel at home here in Hackney Wick because I’ve realised I don’t even have to try to fit in here, because everything and everyone is just so different. I walk along the canal and see people tending to their boats, some painting them, some watering plants on top of them, some hosting BBQs and drinking cider on them. Each and every life here is different, and it’s liberating. I’ve never felt like this before.
It’s made me want to try new things – for example, I went bouldering a couple of weeks ago with my housemates. Bouldering. It was incredibly fun, but I couldn’t quite get over the fact that I had done that, and enjoyed it. Me.
I feel less scared to be me. To discover new things. To fuck up.
And perhaps this is what home feels like. Finding a place that allows you to be content in your own skin, your own body, your own mind. Finding a place that allows you to roam free. A place that accepts the fact that you’re a theatre-going, gin-and-elderflower drinking, life-drawing, book-reading, gym-going, (bouldering), stressed, single, account executive who is still figuring herself out and wanting to meet lots of different people with different experiences.
No doubt, I could go all statistical and strategic and say that factors such as age demographic, etc. widely affect attitudes/preferences towards a place. I don’t doubt that in the future, Hackney Wick will no longer feel like home – we are, after all, creatures who are in constant change. But right now, I’m home, and I’m happy.