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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Away from Home

Strange this business of being an expat; especially if, like Granny, you fell into it by mistake more or less in the first place. She's going home on Wednesday: back to England that is. Or is she going away from home?

When she first arrived on the island it was clear to her that she had come for Beloved and that her roots were still dug deep into London - and England in general - soil. They are still are in a way. You can't change who you are, just like that. And, besides, practically everyone who means anything to her, apart from Beloved himself, is still back there: her friends, her children, her grandchildren. But she's also found she's put roots down here, now; inasmuch as you can put roots down in this dry hard soil, where you hit solid rock all too soon.

Partly it's a result of owning - if you can "own" in any real sense - a piece of land; something she never did before. After four and a half years she knows it end to end, what grows where and when, where the lizards hide, where the rabbits come from, how the colours of it shift through brown, ochre, grey, green, according to the season. And it's not just her land. It's riding across the island, from north to south, from east to west, seeing the light and the cloud shift and change, amazed by its uncatchable beauty, the rock, the smooth volcanic cones- ancient and much more recent - the sky, the endless little circles of protective walls, the livid green of the vines and the crouching fig trees, feeling that every inch of it, where it's at its barest and most austere, most weird and unearthly, where it's most inviting, where open, where closed, whether arrid, arrid, arrid or shooting up green and flowers -and everywhere at all times the feeling, if not the sight of the sea - has become part of her in some very essential way. She has come to hate leaving it, almost as much as she hates leaving London when she has to do that.

Not that she has any regrets about hitting an English May. Even though it means leaving behind not just Beloved but her daily trips with the Beautiful Wimp; here he is going fishing, lucky dog...

Nor is she wholly unhappy to leave behind for a while the wind battering the island at this time of year. It gets her down and not just her; the islands has a high depression and suicide rate. Nor unhappy to leave at a time when, local elections four weeks away, the politicians are trying to pretend they do care about their electorate, their island, and not simply about putting money in their pockets. While those few who do appear to have better ideas are all too busy fighting each other to make much impact. Granny doesn't know which is the more tiresome; especially given that at least some of the above, come to think of it, shares a resonance - or two - with her other island. Odd that.

But in either case, wherever she is, despite the sense of belonging, of feeling both passionate and despairing about whichever place it is, she continues too to feel this gentle ambivalence, an almost pleasant melancholy, being happily in one place, while aching slightly for another. Quite a creative condition really; perhaps it's a good one for writers. Sometimes she wonders whether being totally and only at home in one place would ever suit her.

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