There’s no place like home
It is amazing to come full circle. To look back and realise that in the words of a well known film: ‘there’s no place like home’. I used to watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ every Christmas as a child and tears would stream down my cheeks, as I heard Dorothy recite wistfully: ‘there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home’, as she clicked her heels together, wearing her wondrous sparkling red shoes.
These words always resonated with me, possibly because mum and I were nomadic when I was a baby, wandering from single mother’s refuges to caravans in people’s back gardens, to a chalet, also in someone’s back garden. The move from Australia to England, when I was two, also instilled a wanderlust in me which I thought would never go away, just like aborigines go ‘Walkabout’. So, I have always been nomadic, always seeking to feel at home in some way, but it never quite happened until recently.
Throughout my life I have cherished my childhood memories of years spent in Westgate, or rather, to give it its full name, Westgate-On-Sea. I remember vividly, going down to the beach, possibly West Bay, at about seven in the evening ( I think I was about eight years old at this time). I would stand for ages shivering in the freezing water as it lapped around my waist and it would take seemingly forever before I would pluck up the courage to dive in. I am exactly like this today.
I also remember long, balmy Summer evenings spent in my friend Michele’s dinghy, trailing my hand in the water and looking upwards at the sky and outwards to the horizon. I would feel as if I would float forever.
Michele and I would also play Flower Fairies, dressing up as the various fairies, with items from her mother’s well stocked wardrobe. My efforts were often met with mockery from the exacting Michele, but I didn’t mind. We laughed a lot and had loads of fun sliding down the stairs on blankets and many midnight feasts together. We would howl with laughter at the various gaseous explosions we would make under the bed covers, naming them ‘SBD’ and ‘LBD’ (Silent But Deadly and Loud But Deadly. There was also the ‘Pea-souper’, which was especially pungent. These are, without a shadow of a doubt, the happiest and probably in truth the only happy memories of a tough childhood.
I used to read a comic called ‘Mandy’, when I was about seven and longed as I got older to be a character named Angel, who helped the poor. She wore a long cloak and went out at night. From memory I think she was very rich and was dying. I would walk around in a daydream imagining I was her.
At that time you could buy penny, or even halfpenny sweets and I loved going to the Westgate corner shop with Michelle, to buy 10p’s worth. I used to love the white chocolate mice and cola bottles especially. There were also sherbet fountains which were great as you would dip the liquorice in the sherbet, which made it exciting. I am not sure what all this did to my teeth but who cared at that stage in my life.
I also remember heading out from my house in Chislehurst Avenue, once again with Michelle, to the nearby cornfield. We would play imaginary games for hours in the high cornstalks and it seemed so fabulous to bury ourselves in the corn.
School days spent at the private girls’ school I attended in those days (yes back in the 80’s!) were a mixture. I remember long days waiting for the bell to ring, while pigeons made their strange throaty noises in the many trees outside the windows of the classroom. I remember playing jacks for the first and second year and then when I got older, eating toast in the sixth form common room at break-time.
I discovered what it was to rebel and decided to systematically break every one of the ridiculous school rules. After all who would measure a shoe’s heels to one and a half inches! I chuckle to myself at the memory of being caught one day when hiding in my friend’s room. Sister Julian came in and asked “is there anyone in there Elsie?” “No sister”, was the response. Sister Julian then checked everywhere until when she opened the wardrobe door, my head popped out and ”‘hello sister” was my opening line. I suspect she tried to sound angry when she told me to “get out”, however I wonder if underneath she was trying to restrain herself from laughing.
The nuns were a mixture of cruel and Kind. I was a mess in those days, struggling with the early onset of depression which I then battled for the next thirty years. However that is a different story. Sister Catherine accused me of doing a rude drawing on the board (of our history teacher) and despite protestations of my innocence (Natalie Smith had in fact drawn the picture!) I was sent outside to think about my misdemeanours. It amazes me how someone can accuse someone else of something with absolutely no evidence.
Sister Mary Murphy, my headmistress was the one person who always believed in me. My parents told me that at the end of parents’ evenings, which comprised numerous negative comments, Sister Mary would say “Hope has great potential”. I felt she ‘got me’. She was in my young eyes, a true Christian. On one occasion she arranged for beef to be delivered to my family, who were very poor. In fact, I was the only child in the entire school, on free school meals!
And one final memory is my boarding days when the nuns tried to sort me out, I think, as I was doing my ‘A’ levels. I had a beautiful black and white Russian hamster hidden in my room and to stop it making a racket on its wheel, at night, I put my jumper over it. I then went to visit my parents one weekend, wearing my regulation olive green school jumper with many holes in it as a result of Morrisey’s frenzied nibbling! Sadly Morrisey was put in the pet shed and someone let him out, never to be seen again.
The saddest memory of that time in my life, is when I had an interview for Oxford University (St Edmund’s College), after only three weeks preparation work and messed it up (although I did have fun with one of the mature students there one evening). I was so nervous I could barely speak in the interview and in response to a question regarding what other hobbies I had in addition to visiting art galleries and museums, I replied “babysitting”. I felt like my life was over when I heard that I hadn’t got in due to my interview being too ‘social’ and became very bitter and angry towards God who I felt had blocked my path to my amazing academic future.
Looking back now, thirty something years later, I realise that the worst disappointments in life are often the best turning points. I know without a doubt that had I gone to Oxford I would not have been the greatest student there and furthermore, I would have become an academic snob, never become a social worker and never helped many of the families or young people I have worked with. But at the time, I wanted to die, literally.
In 1987 I found myself standing on the cliff in Westgate, aged eighteen, shouting out to a God who I wasn’t sure existed, ‘if you’re out there help me’. I was somehow later persuaded by my friend, who worked with me in Woolworths at the time, to attend the ‘Down To Earth’ mission led by Eric Delve in Hartsdown Park.
I found myself there almost against my wishes and wore my most gothic outfit, with spiky black hair, a white pan stick mask and black lipstick and eye shadow; in my mind, like Siouxsie from Siouxsie and The Banshees, although usually I was compared to Angie from East Enders. I found myself going forward to invite Jesus into my life and I felt a net of golden peace fall upon me. There began the most amazing spiritual journey which has kept me alive and helped me navigate my way through the myriad of disappointments I have had. Thank goodness one does not know what is ahead.
I went to live in Lancaster for my university years and spent thirteen years there in total. The Lake District is breathtakingly beautiful and, in my mind’s eye, the predominant colour for the counties of Lancashire and Cumbria is green, due to the lush green of the surrounding countryside and especially the hills. Devon which is another former address, is also very lush and green. However, my colour for this county is slate, due to the wonderful Exmoor countryside and the frequent rain that kept the grass so lush.
I have also lived in Sydney, Australia, as I was born there and went to live and work there after my years spent in Lancaster. It is truly breathtaking. The Opera House is magnificent and the depth of blue of the sky-I think there should be a specific range of words to capture the impact-I would use roaring possibly. The Eskimos have, I believe, fifty words for snow and I wish there were fifty descriptions for a true blue Australian sky!
I originally intended to live in Broadstairs and looked at a two bedroom flat there initially, which was newly refurbished and lovely. It was so exciting to finally move out of my parents’ house. I was very excited too about working as a social worker for a looked after children’s team and finally settle down in a stable job.
I went to look at the flat in Broadstairs, however I had a funny feeling as I drove away that something just wasn’t quite right.
That morning I had been sat with my mum looking at the property pages and I spotted a two bedroom flat, new on to the market, in Westgate. It was advertised as having a roof- top terrace, which my mum kept repeating to me like a mantra.
So, I thought, ‘I will go and look at the flat in Westgate’. I rang and booked an appointment and my parents were also able to come. As we stood in the very spacious upstairs lounge area, I remember my dad telling me “you have to have this flat”. And the rest, as they say, is history. Four years later, I am thinking about redecorating as the paintwork is getting a little tired now.
It has gradually dawned on me that I finally have a sense of belonging. I have wandered around the world. I have lived in Devon, Lancaster and Sydney, amongst other places, but have never felt at home, always like a visitor. Until now.
Over the last four years, I have created: ‘the flat of love’, as my friend Lucy has named my home. I have a beautiful decorative tree in my upstairs front room, which reminds me of ‘The Faraway Tree’ by Enid Blyton which I loved as a child. I always wanted to climb up the tree into faraway magical lands. I suppose, in one sense, that I have climbed that tree as life feels somewhat magical these days, especially the golden gleams of the recent sunset swimming over everything in its orbit. Silver and gold are the colours of the sparkling sea, which for me depict Westgate-On-Sea.
I have loved shopping at the treasure trove that is: ‘The Westgate Bazaar’, from where many of the items in my flat have been purchased , such as; the heart shaped stones in my garden stating ‘love and peace’ and my other two grey decorative stones. One, which proclaims: ‘Believe in miracles’ is in my room and the other stone, in the guest bedroom, beside the bed, reads: ‘You are loved’. I feel this is a positive welcome for any overnight guests.
Christmas is especially exciting to visit the Bazaar, but I have to rein myself in or I could spend far too much money, especially on sparkly items. Last Christmas I noticed a lady looking longingly at a gorgeous snow white glittery hedgehog I had found, however I knew I could not really afford it, so I placed it in this woman’s loving arms.
I have walked numerous times along the sea walk from my flat, over the railway bridge and along the cliffs, past the Westbay cafe, to the rail where the cliff ends. I then walk back to my flat, a lovely one and a half hours of exercise. And on rare occasions I have walked to work in Margate, stopping to buy an aptly named, ‘Gorilla’ super smoothie near the Bus Cafe. I have never felt so energized-it must be the spirulina. Sadly ever since I got the first fix of this wonderful potion, the cafe selling them has been closed whenever I have visited.
The cliffs have been a source of comfort. I have had some dark days mourning the loss of a close relationship. I found myself writing ‘I love David’ on various cliff walls, knowing that he would never read my crazy messages, which were, the next time I visited, barely visible. It is odd how many people write messages on the walls around the cliffs; love messages, messages in memory those who have passed away-some are read but generally no one ever knows who the authors even are. I wonder why we do this?
I have, I must confess, drunk many coke floats at the Westbay cafe (my naughty treat). I have watched the sun setting on many nights and taken photos of the silver dance of the sunlight glinting on the waves. I have had some lovely evenings sat with Louise eating chips on a bench on the grass near the cliffs, looking out to the sea.
I have been sad, I have been happy, I have been in deeply unrequited love, but most of all, I have been in the right place, content in the knowledge that there truly is no place like home.
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It has the authenticity of history. I also wondered where dad came from. Having had a marvellous childhood, I felt for you, or at least your character.
Thank you for your kind comments. I need to explain the entry of dad. I appreciate your comments on childhood too. That was written from experience!
Beautiful conversational style and a lovely flow to the narrative.
Thank you very much. I really appreciate your comments.
This has such a beautiful nostalgic feel to it! I was a bit confused as at the beginning, she’s nomadic and from a single parent household and then later she has two parents and a home to return to - I’m not sure If I missed a bit that linked the two or explained the change. I loved the relaxed, chatty style too. It feels like you’re having a cup of tea with your protagonist, maybe looking out over one of the places she’s lived. Also, the idea of the ‘roaring’ blue sky is such a great descriptor.
Thank you so much for your helpful and very encouraging comments. I will link the change from the single parent household to the two parents; I missed that. I am so pleased you enjoyed the story. Hope
You’re welcome! I look forward to reading more of your work.
That's really kind of you to say so and inspires me to keep writing.