So a lot of people have told me they enjoyed my blog about Ghana, and some asked for more. I've got no more to say about Ghana at the moment, though if I ever get in an organizing mood, I might add some more pictures. And if I return (which may well happen once or twice) I might feel moved to add, expand, clarify, correct, or whatever.
Then a few people said something along the lines of "That was interesting because you looked at the place as an outsider, but not just as a tourist. Tell us about other places".
And a smaller number, who know me quite well, pointed out that, actually, I'm an outsider now wherever I am. On reflection, that's a good point. I'm not from the place I live in and I don't live in the place I'm from.
So before I regale you with tales of various places, perhaps I should begin with a post that says why that is.
I worked out that, in my whole life, I have kept each address (on average) for slightly less than three years. I'm not quite the wanderer this makes me seem, since 10 of those addresses were within a five-mile radius of each other. But when I think of the word "home", it tends to conjure up a picture of my current address, or the town I'm in at the moment.
This is a stark contrast with, for instance, my Dad, for whom "home" always meant the area he was born in - South Wales. He left as a teen (there was no work there), got a job, later joined the army. He lived in London when he left the army, met my Mum, and produced my brother and I. All the time we were growing up, though, if he used the word "Home", he meant Wales. Each time we moved house, he's say "Next move, we're going Home!". He finally achieved that dream a few years after he retired - but for more than 50 years, he never thought of the place where he was living as "Home".
So: I was born long ago in London, in the East End. I have very few memories from that time - I moved out at the age of four. There are a few mental images, not very coherent, of those days.
I remember (probably my earliest memory) sleeping in a room on my own for the first time. My father leaves the room and closes the door. There's a glass skylight and the lights are on outside. I must have been very young, because I see the light through the bars of my cot. There's no more to that memory than that.
I remember being in the playground outside my grandparents' block of flats ("apartments" for US types). Grandad comes out to tell me food is ready. I'm very small, I know, because I'm lying inside a concrete tube - part of the play equipment - which Grandad pokes his head into. It's too small for him to get in.
There's a very vague memory, like a still photo, of being in the street behind where we lived, and my friend Bobby had a tricycle. A red one, I think.
Another memory, which must be not long before we leave London, because my brother is already at school, and I'm waiting with Mum for him to come out. He's the last to leave, and some mishap has left him with a big lump on his head and a plaster ("band-aid"). He is led out by the nurse. My Mum says "Oh, no, not again!"
My last two memories of London are in a definite sequence: first, Dad telling us that we're moving "to the country". Secondly, we're on the train with Dad (Mum is in the truck with the moving company) and Dad says, gleefully "Bye-Bye, London! I won't miss you!".
So, the place we moved to was Basildon, 30-odd miles east of London. Modern Basildonians would laugh to think we considered it "the country". But it pretty much was in those days. It is what was called a "New Town", one of a number which were built in the 50's to 70's to ease the overcrowding in London. It was a good place to be a small kid when I was a small kid. We moved into one house which lasted about 2 years (and my friend Bobby and his family moved in about three doors away) - Mum found the house, a three-story, too big to manage. Our second house backed onto a huge area of fields and woodland which I would spend all my time in, climbing trees with my friends and having imaginary adventures.
The trees were individuals to me. Some of them had names, but all had personalities, and each had their own strategy for the highest possible climb. There were the Twin Trees, growing alongside a stream bed, which leant towards each other and were the same height. From the top of one of those, you could see the roof of my house. Then there was the Junior Tree, so-called because, when my best friend George and I (then in Infant's School) went to climb it, an older boy told us "only boys from the Junior School are allowed to climb that". Nonsense, of course, although we half-believed him - and it didn't stop us once he was out of sight ( in fact we always got an illicit pleasure from breaking the rules, and climbed that tree more than we did before the incident) - but the name stuck.
Sometimes I think I'm remembering someone else's childhood - because I'm allergic to trees now (especially oak, of which there were hundreds) - and I hate heights. I remember climbing trees to ridiculous heights. If I were that high up now and that insecure, I'd probably need to change my underwear afterwards.
The woods are all housing estates now, and no modern parent could imagine waving goodbye to their children after breakfast and not expecting to see them all day, or ask where they'd been - but that was normal in those days.
These days Basildon's not that attractive a place and although I grew up there, I haven't been back in many years. From time to time I pass through on a train on the way to my mother-in-law's when I'm in the UK. There are certain things I look out for as I go through, but for the most part it is almost unrecognisable to me.
I got married to a Basildon girl, we got our own place, we split (Basildon at that time had one of the highest divorce rates in the UK. Is that still true? I'll look it up sometime). I spent several years moving from place to place within the five-mile radius I talked about before. More details of this phase may surface in future episodes, but basically I didn't have a stable address for quite a while. Then I got a flat of my own, where I lived for the last two years before I left the area.
So, my roots are not in my birthplace, nor where I grew up.
I spent a lot of time in Wales, where my Dad was born, as a youngster. Whenever Dad got time off work, that's where we'd go ("Home", of course). I was around the age of 11 before the idea of taking a vacation anywhere else occurred to anyone. And as an early teen I'd often head to my aunt's or my Nanna's for a good part of the summer. I'm still quite fond of Wales, but it's not "Home", not for me.
So eventually, I left Basildon, when I became involved with the light of my life, Liz, my wife of several decades now. We moved to Maidstone in Kent, the to Southampton, then to the New Forest, then to Surrey. I may well talk about this part of my life in future posts - those years were crowded with, well, things happening. Not the least of which was the birth of my two offspring, now both out of the nest.
Then the first BIG move - to New Jersey in the USA. We lived there for 8 years, and I still hold the town of Maplewood in considerable affection, and count a considerable number of people there as close friends. Well, not close geographically, but you know what I mean.
Then in 2014 the second BIG move - California. It may not seem that big a thing to move from one State to another, but it's 3500 miles from London to NJ and 2500 mile from there to California, so the difference isn't that great. The town of Pleasanton was, well, pleasant, but at this point we were renting and that is horrifically expensive there. So we moved again, a mere 30 miles or so, which saved us about a grand a month. We now live in Benicia, a very fine town, and we've been here a little over a year. Well, I say we've lived here... I spend about a quarter of that time elsewhere, and Liz more than that. But that's another story.
I have friends that I keep in touch with and see from time to time that I met in all of these places (though many of them have also moved on to pastures new). But I don't feel deep roots in any one place.
Sometimes friends or relatives will ask "will you move back to the UK one day? Would you like to come home?"
The answer to the first part of the question is, I don't think so, though I guess it's not impossible.
But the answer to the second part is, there is no "home" in that sense. If I ever moved back to the UK, I have no idea which part it would be - it wouldn't be a return to my "roots", which have pretty much withered away. I guess it would depend on why we'd moved, and what our finances were like at the time.
Given that my accent hasn't changed,, despite the length of my time in the States, I often get asked "where are you from?" My answer is usually "How long have you got?"
Jonesey, the man with no roots.