When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood. – Sam Ewing
My journey from Japan back to Britain for a visit concluded when Emirates flight 17 landed at Manchester International Airport. From the window of my plane I could see I had arrived on a reassuringly typical day in Britain, it was overcast and drizzly. Whilst leaving the tin ark that got me safely to the homeland, I survey my fellow travellers. A good many of them were British expats coming back from the Middle East and Australia for a visit, they were all looking forward to that most British of things, a nice cuppa tea.
I have never much cared for tea, something that I have always jokingly considered emblematic of my outsider status here in the Kingdom of Albion. To not care for tea (nor that enthusiastically for football that other great British pastime) is as bizarre as a Japanese person not caring for sushi, it doesn’t just mark you out as eccentric it’s grounds to have your British passport revoked. As I queued to gain permission to enter the country with my fellow Britons, all of them but me bound together by their love of tea and football, I felt a tiny sense of isolation, an isolation lifted only slightly by a conversation with a lady about how unlike their passport photo anyone looks.
My lack of affection for tea and football not being sufficient grounds for being denied entrance to Britain I an waved through and walk towards the exit. The duty free shops with their once familiar brand names heralded the fact that I was now in Britain. The parents were there with smiling faces, glad to see their son after seventeen months.
It is, of course good to be back, nice to visit family, friends and visit old places and haunts. But I cannot say that they are old, familiar places. They would have been familiar before I left for Japan, but now even the route from Manchester Aiport to my brother’s house, a path I know well is experienced with a sense of disconnection, a feeling that one is observing the world, rather than participating in it. At first, I dismissed the feeling as a product of a jetlagged mind, but a week and half has passed since that day and I still feel the same way. It is also not an unwelcome sense of disconnection, it feels quite natural, like it’s how I should be feeling, which in itself is odd.
Despite the wisdom of writers like Thomas Wolfe, I never truly accepted the idea that you can’t go home again. Rather I choose to believe that whilst your relationship with your hometown will change, a new, possibly more mature relationship can be forged. No longer seeing the place will you grew up as simply that, with its hazy rose-tinted memories of childhood, but as a living, breathing and changing place that has an existence beyond just being the place of your youth. Those blue remembered hills are still structures you can re-climb now as well as recollect with nostalgia.
Old haunts are able to accommodate new ghosts.