A place called home

Debra Broughton

A place called home

Where am I from? Where do I live? Where is home?

These questions have been bugging me for a long time. Where am I from – well you can tell from the accent. Though after spending most of my life in a variety of elsewheres that include small town France, big town Amsterdam, and Midlands town Birmingham, my London accent has softened a little.

I am from England.

I live in England.

England is home.

Simple, isn't it? But it's taken me many years to get here to this place where I live, where I am comfortable, and at home.

I grew up in a city, where walks in the woods were as close to nature as I knew. Where buses ran every 5 minutes, trains every 15, where there were corner shops and supermarkets. Cinemas and music venues, pubs and nightclubs, restaurants. I grew up loving London and never imagining I would move away.

I'll let you into a secret – London is still in my heart and soul. Though I've lived in those other places, London is the one place I that I don't live any more and yet I still have a sense of belonging. It never goes away. It's in the DNA. But now I know there is more to it than that small island of city life in the south of England. That there is a whole country north of the river Thames.
A few months ago I moved into a house in the middle of some of the best countryside that this country has to offer.

The great outdoors

I live on the side of a hill. Everyone who visits my house strides straight to the window and admires the view.

It is quite a view – and the main reason I fell in love with the house.

There are horses grazing in the next field – a little further on there are sheep and highland cattle. There are trees and fields and dry stone walls. Curves and sweeps of pasture cut by swathes of trees. When the sun shines, it's an English idyll.

We have footpaths from the door, past the horses, the highland cattle and the sheep. You can walk down to the reservoir, or up across a hillside and over to a country house where deer roam, and in summer families wander through parkland or grab an ice cream and sunbathe on the grass.

And when I get home from all of that, I can watch the sun go down on the hillside from the comfort of my home. Like I say, it's an idyll.

But there are other days, when the wind blows at 50 miles an hour, whipping across the valley and straight into my face. Rattling the windows, pulling at the roof tiles, and knocking to the ground anything that gets in its way. It howls down the chimneys and rattles at doors. Then there's there rain that sneaks in through cracks and gaps in windows and walls. Downpours that turn the footpaths to rivers of mud.

This winter the cold was so fierce that twice in a week we woke up with no water because the mains water pipe had frozen solid.

If I lived in a city, there would be other homes to shield me from the buffeting wind. The city warmth would melt the snow and thaw the ice before the pipes froze over. But where would I be without the highland cattle, the sheep and horses? There would be no owls hooting at dusk, no hawks hovering on the breeze. How would I live without the rhythm of the sunrise and sunset?

No time like the present

This place where I live is an insane mixture of styles. Around 20 years ago someone decided that there should be Tudor beams and screwed them to every ceiling. They painted every square inch of woodwork the darkest brown. There are Edwardian brass taps and Victorian cast iron radiators. And there's a farmhouse kitchen, with wallpaper that reminds me of bare plaster walls in a café in the south of France with cheery Provençal curtains and blinds.

This clock is mine – an oversize timepiece that worked brilliantly on the 4 metre high wall of our flat in Amsterdam. I have no doubt that it will do again, once the gas lamp style light fitting and those damned beams are gone.

I kept my curtains from Amsterdam too – I had to pay a premium to have them made up because they were so long. The man I sold the flat to offered me a ludicrous price for them so I took them down and stored them for two years until I found a good home for them.

But back in England after 10 years abroad, I looked at English houses and at my furniture and I realised how much I'd changed.

I'd emigrated with a pair of Chesterfield sofas and a drop leaf table away and returned to England with an oversized clock and a folded glass coffee table. The sofas are long gone too, in their place a pair of sleek black settees.

Heating issues

When I say that I moved back to England from Amsterdam, people ask me why.

Maybe they just don't appreciate just what they have at home. I guess they're used to the beauty of the landscape, the way the light plays across the hills and the sky is ever changing.

Most people assume that Amsterdam is warm like the south of France, but I like to point out that it's on the same latitude as Birmingham, which is not exactly known for balmy temperatures. Though, true, there are warm summer's days in the Dam. Some years there are even heatwaves. But even Birmingham has a heatwave now and then.

Much of the year it is decidedly chilly where I live. In winter, people snuggle into down jackets, thick socks and hiking boots. If it's really cold I’ll put on an extra fleece. If the temperature climbs above 15 deg C the hardy locals will take off their coats and pull on their shorts, but it's taken me 24 months to get used to the cold.

I might wait until the red hits 18 C before my shorts see the light of day, and I'll always take something to cover up, but when the sun comes out, I'm more like a local than I was when I first moved here.

Good lighting

One thing I love about this part of the world is the light. Sure, there may be a rain storm on its way but just take a look at the light striking the side of the hill. The purple glow of storm clouds. The clarity of post- rainshower sun. And there's the hit of sunlight on water that makes you blink and reach for sunglasses.

This is a landscape defined by water. I can walk from my door to one of four reservoirs. In wet winters rivers spring up everywhere – even in my garden. Light sparkles on water but the clouds turn it silver and storm light transforms it into steel.

When the sun does come out at the end of a rainy day, it feels like an old friend. But, to be honest, I like the clouds too. The soft diffuse light that lets you really see the onion skin weathering on the rocks that grace the plateau of the mighty land mass of Kinder Scout, that lets the silver birch forests shimmer like they're dancing to a tune hummed by the wind. The crepuscular rays when rain is coming, or just been, like heavenly fingers skimming the surface of the land.

Now and then there are sunsets like you've never seen – lavender skies, streaked blood red by clouds and contrails. Golden rays that light up the hills as the sun sinks below an inky horizon. Angry sunsets where the sun is swallowed whole by rain clouds.

Sunrises waking you with fingers of brightness, glowing light that creeps up the valley. Misty inversions down by the reservoir, when a ball of low cloud turns silver and then disappears as the morning mist retreats. Pink winter light waking up the frozen ground, and the amber glow that leaps across the valley, sweeping away the early morning frost.

A work in progress

I've been in this house just over three months, and though the going feels slow, we've made a start. Explored footpaths and hillsides. Got acquainted with the friendliest of Shetland ponies. Met neighbours and their dogs on muddy walks.

And then there's the house. I've spent weekends ripping down beams, pulling off wallpaper and painting woodwork. It's been a challenge. The inevitable problems that are always discovered after the purchase has been made. A wall came down. Windows leaked. Heating broke down. Pipes froze. The heating thermostat doesn't work because it's not actually wired to anything.

The list goes on.

But though progress has been slow – much slower than I'd like, things are changing. And I have time. Now I've found this place where I live, where I'm from, this home, I'm planning on staying around here for some time to come. Things are changing.

Even as I write this walls are coming down. Fittings ripped out. The rebuilding is starting to make this place where I live into my home.