Wednesday, 10 November 2010

You can take the girl out of the South...

We’ve been here for six months now.  Six months which have flown by, and which have seen the girls settle happily into nursery, us embark on some epic building plans (no permission yet, we wait in hope), the whole family make some new, and hopefully to be good, friends, me start a new working life as a consultant, and baby number four make its very early, very nauseating, “appearance”.

So anyway, to mark six months in Scotland, we spent a week with my parents in Essex (yes, that’s my guilty secret) and I realised something.

I realised that the arable fields, thatched cottages and gentle lack of hills feel familiar, even when I'm in a part of the country I've never visited before.  That I can go into a shop in Cambridge, or Tonbridge, or Barnes (we did our usual flit around the South East), and not feel self-conscious.  That I can open my mouth and let the words come out without wondering what assumptions are being made about me.   I just feel at home, like that is where I belong.

Which is odd.  Odd on all sorts of fronts.  I have been made to feel nothing but welcome here.  We had friends staying last week, including, as it happens, another Essex girl, and she spent one morning wandering round town and came back saying; “People here are so friendly and welcoming”.  And they are.   Everyone smiles and chats.  They stop to smile at the girls, and ask about them.  People in shops pass the time of day, and chat about the weather (not as unremittingly bad as I feared, either).  Nor have I experienced so much as a minute of the much-vaunted (in certain areas of the press) “anti-English feeling”, perhaps because the English, and the Border, are only five miles away...

It’s not even an accent thing:  B, after being brought up in Edinburgh by one Scottish and one English parent, followed by eighteen years in the South, sounds (other than when very drunk, or very nervous) pretty much exactly like me.  I’ve met just as many people who have “English” (aka Posh Scots) accents as I have those who are identifiably “Scottish”  from their speech.   Even at the girls’ nursery there’s a range of accents from Scottish to English to Irish.  So however much it might feel like it, I don’t actually stand out because of that.

I think, loath though I am to admit it, that I am, in my bones, a Southerner. I suspect, that had we moved to Manchester, or Newcastle , or Birmingham, I’d be feeling exactly the same.    And I’ve never thought that before.  Other than a year in Moscow, I’ve lived my whole life, including the four years at University, within a hundred miles of London, and I suspect, from that vantage point, that I’ve poo-pooed the idea of a North/South divide, the idea that there is a difference.   

I’ve certainly been very sceptical of the idea that I had roots in the South – I remember saying as much to my mother when she questioned our move.  I said B felt strongly he belonged in Scotland, and I just didn’t feel like that about Essex, or London, or the South East.

I'm reading Map Addict at the moment, I'm not very far in, but the author, Mike Parker, mentions that he used to have a large map of the British Isles on his wall.  When people came to visit, he would give them a pin and say: "Put it in the place where you belong".  And it stopped me in my tracks, because, at the moment, I just don't know.

So I wonder.  I feel incredibly lucky to be here. The people are lovely, the house is beyond my wildest dreams (or will be when the Council and the builders have done their stuff) and the countryside is indescribably beautiful.  I don't want to be back in the South East. I don't wish we'd bought a house in Essex instead.  But Scotland itself is not, yet, home.  I wonder how long it will take before it is...


  1. Confusing comment alert!

    I know how you feel. I am a Scot by birth, Glaswegian, transplanted to the midlands as an 8 year old. University in Essex. Back to the Midlands for adult life.

    I still feel, intrinsicly, at home in Scotland. I can feel myself relax and stop worrying about what people make of me when I go back. I will always be Scottish, despite my accent taking a rather interesting route...

    And a part of me feels out of place in the south, like I need to prove myself, be something I'm not. It's very odd.

    But that all said, and despite my love for Scotland, my bones shout home the minute I drive over the Clopton Bridge in Stratford upon Avon. Where I no longer live. Boo.

    Maybe I belong in the middle.

  2. Oooh I know that feeling,I'm a Cornish lass who somehow ended up in Glasgow for 5 years, and while I did love being there, it never felt like home. Though perhaps because I was in the city I did get some anti-English feeling, though much more of the nebulous 'the Auld Enemy' type stuff but tagged with 'oh but not you Jo, you're ok, you're not like them' always left me wondering who the terrible them were.....
    I came home to Cornwall in the end, and dragged my Scottish hubby with me, I think now he feels the same as you do. Love it here, but not home.
    Good luck with the house plans, they sound fab! x

  3. Oh I feel for you, I was even worse, a Northern who lived in Berkshire for 14 years before returning back North. I have no idea where I fit in at all. I think I am just starting to think of the NE as my home, but I do miss Berkshire and all its ways even though my accent always marked me out. For me Home is where my children are at the moment.

  4. It's taken us a good 2 years to really feel settled since our move. It does take time. I feel the most important part of this post is your admission that you're an Essex Girl. Me too. It's like joining AA...I'm Lorna and I'm from Essex!

  5. Don't get me started on this topic. I could whitter on for yonks.

    When we were in Scotland, I used to miss green leafy country lanes. And trees. There weren't enough trees where I was. It took me ages to work it out. The landscape just felt a bit odd, and then one day I suddenly noticed why.

  6. I moved quite a bit around the US before settling in West Texas. Still don't feel that I truly belong here as "home," but I'm working on it.

  7. We think you belong in the South...

  8. So eloquent as always. This is a perfect description of my feelings. I think in England I definitely more of a South East girl than I am a South West. Strangely, though I felt more at home in Singapore than I ever have here.

    I do live in fear that now we've been gone from the S.E. for so long we do not fit in there and are ruined by Singapore and will never fit in anywhere.

    Either that or it's as the Alpha Male says and I'm "never bloody happy"...

    MD xx

  9. It's interesting how many of us clearly feel like this - I wonder if we'd have been better off two hundred years ago, all living in the village we were born in, and marrying the boy next door, even if he did have six fingers...

    Bumbling - Fascinating that you relax in Scotland, but feel that Stratford is home. It was the relaxing that I really noticed when we were down South. Which is not to say that I'm stressed here, but it's different somehow, isn't it?

    Podgypixiejo - Cornwall to Glasgow! Wow! And I thought co-ordinating Christmas between Essex and the Borders was tricky enough...! I suspect you're right though, and being in the City would be different again.

    Mad Mummy - you're absolutely right, of course, and I thought about putting something like that in the post, but although I couldn't, and wouldn't be anywhere other than where they are, there is still something that doesn't feel quite like home here. As I say though, yet...

    Lorna! Hooray! Doesn't it feel better gettting that out in the open?!

    Iota - go on, witter... The landscape isn't, on paper, that different here, after all this isn't at all the sort of windswept bare hilly Scotland of the tourist postcard, but something about it is, nonetheless, not the same. My girls don't like driving around near my parents because there aren't any sheep and cows to baa and moo at....

    TexasRed - let me know when you get there! (and if you discover the secret)

    Mrs T - honestly, I've been so horrid this last month, you're much better off with me 350 miles away xxxx

    MD - Will have to pick your brains on Singapore. L and I are (very extravagantly) off to see some friends there on a big girls' adventure in January. Any tips? (especially on getting there with a 3 year old?!). As for AM's comment, I suspect B feels the same way about me...

  10. As you say, we were obviously thinking the same thing this week! But after 20 years of living in Dublin, it does feel like home x

  11. I too am an Essex girl, have lived here all my life :-)....have u been watching 'This is Essex'? I watched about 10mins of it and turned it off...I'm ashamed to be represented by people like them...makes me wanna move lol


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