Tuesday, September 22, 2015

This Must Be The Place

I could persuade none of the kids to go to the allotment with me to dig up some leeks and the last row of potatoes. It was a damp late afternoon and a chill air was also making its presence felt: they were staying firmly put. Arriving back as the day was fading, the sight of the lit interior from outside told me why I had been out alone. I didn’t blame my kids for wanting to stay in – they were curled up on the sofa in the warm embrace of home. Now that autumn is here, I too am disinclined to stray any distance from home. Mind you, I have always been something of a homebody; I have done a bit of travelling but I lack a certain wanderlust.

When it comes to travel, I am a product of my parents: a mum, for whom moving from a small Lancashire mill town to London was such an adventure that she barely travelled anywhere ever again – she never went abroad in her whole life - and a dad who travelled extensively during the Second War but, on returning home in 1945, said he’d seen more than enough of the world to last him a lifetime, thank you very much; he never left these shores again.

It was probably the warm glow of the lampshade through the window that got me thinking of the pull of home. In the version of This Must Be The Place (Na├»ve Melody) from Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense film, Talking Heads’ David Byrne sings, “Home is where I want to be/pick me up and turn me round”, all the while swaying onstage with a symbolic standard lamp. Sometimes we need to be away from home to appreciate that is where we belong. The desire to go home can also be overwhelming: at the heart of William Golding's Lord of the Flies Ralph, the leader of the marooned boys embattled by heat, imagined beasts and the others’ betrayal, gazes out to sea in a momentary memory of winter at home: “behind the cottage there was a sort of shed and you could lie up there, watching the flakes swirl past…you could go indoors when you were cold and look out of the window, past that bright copper kettle…”

We also know that sometimes it is better never to leave in the first place. In Dickens's Great Expectations, Joe Gargery visits London and instantly knows where he belongs. He tells Pip, “I’m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’ meshes…should you ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith there.” More recently, and perhaps more prosaically, The Clash expressed a similar sentiment: on the cusp of stardom, they sang forlornly on Garageland of “people ringing up making offers for my life/But I just wanna stay in the garage all night.”

Home, though, is not always the one we have built for ourselves and our families. It can be a place or time where we felt most at home. I sometimes think life would be a lot simpler if I could return to the 1970s council house I grew up in and skulk about in the back bedroom listening to David Bowie LPs. In the wonderful Jack Rosenthal-penned 1984 film, The Chain, Leo McKern’s character does manage such a homecoming. The plot follows seven households, each defined by a deadly sin, moving up the property ladder. It begins with a young man moving out of his mum’s Hackney terrace to a rented flat with his girlfriend, and ends with a greedy couple, Nigel Hawthorne and Judy Parfitt, achieving their dream of owning a luxury Knightsbridge home. This home at the top of the chain is being vacated by the rich but terminally-ill McKern who, in a deft cyclical touch, is going to lodge in the Hackney bedroom vacated at the start of the ladder. It is, of course, the house that McKern’s character grew up in as a child, and he is coming home.

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