This has been a popular saying since Thomas Wolfe wrote his book with that title in the first half of the 1900’s (it was published posthumously in 1940). It’s one of those sayings like “You can never cross the same river twice” that is, on the surface, complete rubbish. Of course you can go home again. You can also spend all day going back on forth over any bridge you name, crossing the same river every time.
But these are not meant to be taken at surface meaning, like “When the leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears, it be time for plantin’…”* The home you go back to is not the same as the one you left, because both you and the people there have grown and changed in the intervening time. The river water you cross the second time is from further upstream.
Despite these linguistic caveats, I did recently return to the town I once called home. New Alresford, in Hampshire, England. It was Mum’s birthday, and my dad asked if I could fly over as a surprise. I took my Eldest Weasel, as she is calm, an experienced traveller, and she could pay for her own ticket.
I was very happy to be going to see my parents and my friends. I was less enthusiastic about visiting the UK in general, because the lackadaisical attitude to Covid precautions meant it was quite possible I would get infected while there. But we took masks and went forth!
The birthday surprise was great, and Mum was delighted, which made the whole trip worthwhile within 48 hours of landing. We caught up with friends and family at the lunch, and at Mum and Dad’s place afterwards, but the next day we got to stroll around my old hometown.
I left in 1996, and unsurprisingly, it’s changed quite a lot. The pub where I used to work has been rebuilt after it burned down. (I have an alibi. Not that I need one. I didn’t do it.)
The Post Office is now an Estate Agent’s, the Newsagent’s is now…well, NOT a newsagent any more. The Pizza Express has been replaced with something else that doesn’t do pizza, and my old school looks like a place that might provide a decent education, or at least place well in the league tables. The bookshop where I used to get deals on second hand books is still there, and I bought some second hand books.
The house at the top of this post is the one Mrs Dim and I first lived in when we were married. It doesn’t look wildly different from when we owned it – the windows are still the original drafty sash jobs, but there’s a skylight in the roof that must make the attic room more cheerful. The front yard has flowers in it, but the place is up for sale again, so the current owners must feel they need something more. (They can’t possibly be downsizing, unless they are hamsters or contortionists.)
I’d told myself I should be more positive about visiting the UK, and there were a lot of things to appreciate. The countryside is beautiful and green, despite the record-breaking temperatures, and it’s EVERYWHERE. From the moment we left the airport to the time we returned, green fields, trees, flowers, meadows, rolling hills and rivers made up the landscape.
The people we met were also positive and welcoming, even if they rolled their eyes while talking about the current political situation, or the handling of Covid, or the weather. The streets were clean, and when we went shopping with our crazy list of things to take back to Canada, we found all of them.
I don’t ever plan on returning to the UK to live. If I’d ever considered it, the opening times of the Alresford library made my mind up.
And yes, maybe Alresford only has 5,000 inhabitants compared with the 250,000 who live in Burnaby, but if you make it hard for people to visit the library, then they won’t go. And if they won’t go, you have “evidence” that they don’t need a library, so it closes. And people like Boris Johnson feel a little more secure, knowing the population has fewer resources.
So, despite Thomas Wolfe, I did go home again, spending good times with my parents, and catching up with friends at a local pub (didn’t burn that one down either. Or any of them. IT WASN’T ME!) I visited my brother and his family at their home, played tourist in my old hometown, told my daughter stories of the boy I used to be, and then….
I went home again.
*This is not true, and I do not wish to be held responsible for failed crops. Lucy Johnston said it once in college, and it’s one of the few things I heard in college that I can remember now.