The concepts of home and identity have dominated January. At the turn of the year I was invited to an event marking a friend’s confirmation of his newly awarded dual nationality status. Born and bred in Washington D.C, my friend has worked in Edinburgh for a long time. However the confirmation that he belongs to and represents both the American and Scottish nations is perfect for this guy. He’s a good man – from what I can tell he’s one of the best (he’s probably an acquaintance more than a friend although to be in his company you would never know it) – and his character contains the more endearing qualities of each country’s more truthful stereotypes.
I once observed him at an event in Philadelphia where he was part of a delegation of 20 or so Scottish artists, showcasing their work to an American public. Wearing a kilt whilst speaking with a soft American lilt could have been jarring, cliched even. In reality it felt like a warm embrace – if you’re with Jeff it doesn’t matter if you’re in Scotland or America. He’s home and he will make you feel that you are, too.
The timing of Jeff’s dual nationality couldn’t have come at a more poignant time for me. I couldn’t celebrate with him as I was saying goodbye to my childhood home for the very last time. Brought up in Seaham, County Durham (England) I couldn’t wait to leave and never thought I’d want to come back. The tiny ex-fishing village turned not-quite-so-tiny mining village of my childhood suffocated me and my dreams – or so it felt at the time. A few cities later and here I am in Edinburgh.
Mother of a Scottish boy, champion of Scottish culture.
Scotland is home, and for at least four years I have felt as Scottish as I have ever felt English.
Then my parents sold my childhood home. My safe haven since age three. It’s where I blew up condoms and used them as water balloons; where I first aspired to be Dorothy, Alice and Charlie; where I first dreamt that I could create a world as exciting and as colourful as Oz, the rabbit hole or the chocolate factory, if not on paper at least in my own head; it’s where I screamed my way through my teens and it’s where I always felt safe. I haven’t lived there for 16 years but I have never stopped thinking of it as home.
As my twenties ticked by, I realised how much there is to love about Seaham. It’s history, it’s potential, and bloody hell it’s beauty. No wonder Lord Byron spent so much time there (not forgetting a certain Milbanke).
Yet despite myself, I had convinced myself that England was no longer home. I had never felt truly homesick for Seaham in the way I did for Manchester (where I lived prior to my move to Scotland), and my instinct tells me that Scotland is not about to let go of me, nor I her.
When my Mam and Dad sold the house, I went down to say goodbye. Driving down the A1 I realised what I was saying goodbye to. The memories and associations pour from the house from the second I pull onto the drive. The pink dress for my 5th birthday, re-writing Alice in Wonderland in my ‘office’ (otherwise known as the stairs), the Christmases, the meals with grandparents now gone but deeply missed, the meals, the rows, the drunken 3am chats with my Mam, the music I discovered, the various versions of myself I became and then left behind.
When the new owners strip the wallpaper off the walls, they will be given a virtual tour of the early loves of Emma Walker. In the living room they will find out about my young passion for Philip Schofield, the hall will spill secrets about Shakin’ Stevens and I blush to think what they’ll learn in the airing cupboard.
In the week leading up to the move I had panicked that the part of me that is English – that is Seaham – and all that that means will disappear now that I don’t have a reason to visit quite so often. Then I think about Jeff, and he reminds me of how lucky I am to have two places to call home. My heart is in Scotland now but my north-eastern English roots are planted deep within me and I will carry them with me wherever I go.