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Wednesday 18 April 2012: Home

Who has not felt how sadly sweet
The dream of home, the dream of home,
Steals o'er the heart, too soon to fleet,
When far o'er sea or land we roam?

Thomas Moore



This has been my home for longer than any other that I have lived in throughout my life, and it is the only home that Immy can remember having lived in.

How do we come to feel that a place is home?

A tricky question.

'A home is a place of residence or refuge. When it refers to a building, it is usually a place in which an individual or a family can rest and store personal property. Most modern-day households contain sanitary facilities and a means of preparing food.

Since it can be said that humans are generally creatures of habit, the state of a person's home has been known to physiologically influence their behavior, emotions, and overall mental health. The loss of a home (due to whatever reason, be it through accident or natural disaster, repossession, or in the case of children simply the decision to move on the part of the parents) can be a valid cause of relocation.
Some people may become homesick when they leave their home over an extended period of time. Sometimes homesickness can cause a person to feel actual symptoms of illness.

It has been argued that psychologically "The strongest sense of home commonly coincides geographically with a dwelling. Usually the sense of home attenuates as one moves away from that point, but it does not do so in a fixed or regular way."

Furthermore, places like homes can trigger self-reflection, thoughts about who one is or used to be or who one might become. '

When I was a very small child, my home was in Co. Wicklow, in Ireland. Then, it was in Dublin. For a long time after we moved from Dublin (I was 13 at the time) although we lived in Scotland, I continued to think of our house in Dublin as my home. The big sash windows with views over Dublin Bay and our garden with its laburnum and lilac, cherry blossom, silver birch and crab-apple trees; the threadbare hall carpet and the sound that the front door made when it banged; Irish voices in the garden and Foxrock church on Sundays - these were the cornerstones of our lives and not easily replaced. My mother had rented a huge house near her parents in the wilds of Argyll, but it never felt like home. Gradually, at some indeterminate point, I must have come to think of the house that she eventually bought (and where she still lives, 35 years later) on the shores of Loch Etive as home.

When we move out of the parental home and set up a home of our own for the first time, does this automatically become our 'home'? I don't know. I suppose it depends on how comfortable we are with the thought of returning at some time to our parents' home, and how much emotion we invest in our new pad and the surrounding environment. There comes a point, for most of us, at which we realise that our parents' home is no longer the place that we want to call home because we feel more 'at home' in the space that we have created for ourself, no matter how small or humble.

For me, I think my first real home with my husband was the tiny flat we moved into together in Oban in 1980. Of course, others followed, including three that really felt like 'home' in Laurel Rd in Oban; Upland Rd and then Melanesia Rd in Auckland. For Christina, the sunny house by the creek in Melanesia Rd is the first home that she can remember and for a long time after we moved to Bahrain, she held this firmly in her memory as her real home.

We initially moved to Bahrain for just two years. To begin with, we took a house that didn't ever feel particularly like home but 18 months later we moved into another house where we were living when Immy was born, and that really did feel like home. It was on a slightly run-down compound with huge gardens and mature trees; there were lots of little girls among the families living there and many of our neighbours from that time have remained friends to this day, scattered as we now are between Bahrain, Ireland, Scotland and Kenya. I didn't want to leave that house but it was becoming too small and when we found this place, it seemed impossibly grand. Somehow, over the past twelve years, it has become home. Immy had only been walking for a few months when we came here and Gypsy arrived here as a puppy nine years ago; she has never known another house with us.

Much more than that, though, every house that we have lived in in Bahrain has been located within the same square kilometer, I think. We have used the same shops, garden centres, petrol stations and supermarkets for 16 years. I have become used to the same trees; watched gardens develop and even noted that one particular piece of graffiti - the name 'Nilish'! - on a nearby wall has remained there for about ten years now! The strongest sense of home commonly coincides geographically with a dwelling. For me, it's more than that.

As a person who has had a fixation with maps and atlases since I was very young, it's always been important for me to have a sense of place wherever I am, in relation to the surrounding areas. To know that I am within two hours' flying time of Oman, Lebanon or Egypt; that Iran and the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz are 'across the water'; that Kenya is not that far away and that the swaying moonlit date palms in the warm night air stretch from here across the Arabian Peninsula to the Red Sea has given me a sense of place and, perhaps strangely, belonging.

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