Since I started the MA at Bath Spa in October 2010 I’ve been peripatetic. I was living in London then, in a rented bedsit that was my temporary home, and looking for a permanent base somewhere in the South West. During the course – or at least the taught part of it – I was travelling to Corsham once a week and staying the night with a friend near Bath. The journey was easy enough, my friend was hospitable, I was doing what I wanted to be doing, but nevertheless I began to get that restless feeling of being constantly in motion, never quite settled anywhere. Fortunately the purchase of my house was unusually protracted and I didn’t move to Devon until I had stopped the Corsham commute, as I was continuing to live in the bedsit for part of the week and carrying on with my work in London. Ping-ponging between two places was just about doable. Circling between three would have been too much like an ever-revolving door.
I moved to Devon in June last year; my work in London doesn’t finish until the end of July this year. Now that I’ve left my lovely bedsit I no longer have a London base, and so have less and less reason for being in the metropolis – where I’ve spent the greater part of my life – any longer than necessary. Once again I’m relying on the hospitality of friends, who have been incredibly kind and welcoming. But friends’ houses are not home, even though I may feel at home there. I take my home around with me, or at least a few indispensables, in a suitcase and a small rucksack. When people talked of living out of a suitcase I never quite appreciated what they meant; now that I’ve become one of those people I know all too well how it feels: not fully settling anywhere because you know that in a day or two, or if you’re lucky three or four days, you’ll have to pack up again and take the suitcase back to the other place, wherever that may be. I often feel as though I’m camping in my house – where I still have bags and boxes to unpack – rather than that I really live there.
This month I seem to be less nomadic, but in April I hardly seemed to stay still. As well as the Devon-London shuttle, I had an overnight visit to Sheffield and Nottingham, a day trip and a weekend in Bristol and a weekend in Oxford, all for good reasons but all meaning I couldn’t stay in one place, and all involving hours on a train. A little while ago I wrote a short story about a woman who got on a train and couldn’t bring herself to get off. I’m not sure I quite feel like that (which is probably just as well), but as I heave my case on board for yet another journey my heart sometimes sinks. Oh no, not again… I have my rituals, of course, to make myself more at home even on the train: seat by window, facing forwards, on the side that’s near the sea for the coastal stretch between Newton Abbot and Exeter, book or laptop ready in case needed, packed lunch, peppermint tea. Recently I’ve been spending more time than usual falling asleep on the train – a sign that I’ve had enough of being rattled around from place to place.
This weekend I’ll have been at home from Thursday evening till Tuesday morning. Then it’s a quick turnaround and then another trip to London at the weekend for things I’d already arranged. Being here for several days means it does feel more like home – I’ve even put my suitcase away. Having a carpet in the living room and being able to play the piano there helps a lot too. Yesterday I borrowed my neighbour’s electric mower and cut down my field of dandelions that passes as a lawn. And I hoovered the carpets and cleaned the bathroom, all of which makes me feel more settled. But then I can’t stay. Work in London calls, and it’s back on the train again. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve been losing things, forgetting things, finding I’ve come without essentials like clean underwear. I’ve been all over the place – literally – and have ended up with bits of myself scattered accordingly.
I know there’s a part of me that’s still hanging on to London. Although I’ve always wanted to get away and live in the countryside, as I now do, there are places and people I don’t want to give up. And there’s the convenience of London, the fact that at eleven o’clock at night you can stand at a bus stop and know a bus will come, or pop into a supermarket for that vital bar of chocolate you didn’t get earlier. But there’s also, of course, the noise and the dirt and the sheer volume of people and traffic, the unfriendliness and the constant rush. All of which I’m very happy to do without. My house here is at least twice the size of the little maisonette I had in Cricklewood, with plenty of garden and views over the hills; my neighbours are friendly and helpful; the town has good shops and cafes and plenty going on. Yet it will still be a wrench to leave London completely and plant my feet solidly in the Devon soil. Which perhaps is why I’ve chosen for the time being to be all over the place. What a relief to come home at last, though.