We piled the children into the car, and drove 650 miles for the pleasure of two and a half days in our old haunts. Admittedly, if you're American, you probably do that for lunch, but believe me, it's not normal here.
We spent a day and a night in London with L's best friend and her family. The girls were so delighted to see each other, and so exhausted the next day having bounced off the ceiling for three hours after they were supposed to be in bed. But that joy, even allowing for the fall out, was worth the journey. They're at that wonderful stage where time is totally elastic, so the fact that they haven't seen each other for a month means nothing. A month, a week, ten minutes while one of them goes to the loo, it's all time apart, and immeasurable. And when they are back together it's as if it has never been.
It wasn't unalloyed joy though. In fact at times it was downright odd. I turned off the A40, down the road my brother used to live on, and thought "nearly home". And then had to gulp down the knowledge that it isn't home any more. I bumped into six people I know at the swings, including the lovely I'm a Mommy Get me out of Here. The dentist's receptionist ran out to give me a hug. The guy who helps in the playgroup we used to go to grabbed the girls out of their pushchair and got ice cream all over himself for his pains. And each time I had to remind myself again that this wasn't home, and that we had done a good thing in moving away from these people who love me and love my children.
But then I snuck back into our house (they're having building work done, and weren't there, so I blagged my way in (seduced the builders, you know how it is), and was actually really pleasantly surprised - they're doing everything I'd have done if we'd been staying there long term and had the money. It's going to look lovely. I tried to sneak some photos, but that was a step too far for the builder...) and you know what, that didn't feel like home. Maybe it was because the carpets were ripped up, and all the paint colours we had thought so long and hard over (yellow for L, because we didn't know what she was; green for S and A, because we did, and there's only so much pink you can take) had been replaced with natural calico, but it didn't feel like my house.
I was filled with a frail and sad exhilaration, which I really ought to have recognised for what it was [...] it was nostalgia, and what inspires nostalgia has been dead a long time.
And, although I rarely remember phrases I have read in books, indeed, I quite often forget I have read a book entirely, that sentence echoed in me, like a slightly irritating itch, from the moment I turned into our old haunts, until I was safely back outside the M25 on the way to my parents. So much that the first thing I did, on getting back here at midnight last night, was to go and look it up. To examine it. To see if what I had been feeling was a frail and sad exhilaration or just self-pity. Or exhaustion.
Whatever it was, we are back now. And I am glad to be back. If that sometimes felt like home, we are now at the stage where this always does. But the gloss has come off it somehow. I am suddenly conscious that if I wander into town here, the only person I am likely to meet who knows my name is the postman, and he's not going to care whether he sees me or not. And although I hope, and believe, that both L and I will find new friends here, and that I will become part of this community, it is going to take time and work. And the longer it takes, the worse the nostalgia will get.
Image from Amazon.co.uk. As usual.