My brother once accused me of being like a salmon.
I took it as a compliment, as one does. Back in the days before I was vegetarian (seventeen years ago, though it gives me palpitations at the thought of my ever-increasing antiquity) I used to enjoy the occasional smoked salmon, and with their leaping about in rivers and swimming en masse to their breeding grounds, they always seemed far more interesting than your common, run of the mill fish.
What he meant, of course, was not that I was pink, or smoked, or in possession of a particularly impressive leap, but that I, in the manner of a salmon, had returned to the place of my birth to breed. Like an Atlantic salmon, I had swum upriver and laid myself down to spawn on the gravel bed of Southmead Hospital, Bristol, where I myself had similarly been born some thirty-four years earlier.
This is nothing new, I suppose. Plenty of people like to live closer to their families once they have had children. My own mother, much to my father’s eternal irritation, moved to a house around the corner from her own parents once she was in possession of a small child, that child being me. And now I too was destined to share the same fate. Sacrificed on the altar of convenience and a ready babysitter.
I never thought I would return. When one is tired of London, I would say with a languid sigh over an overpriced cocktail, one is tired of life. I believed myself to be living a life of unrivalled glamour, living in a one bedroom flat next to Wembley Stadium; the frequent circling of helicopters above the roof of my building looking down upon whatever football fixture happened to be going on that week convincing me that I was living in The Actual Centre of All The Action. Once I popped out for a pint of milk and ran into Olly Murs and Caroline Flack filming a crowd scene for X Factor, would you believe! I was living in the midst of The Smoke, The Glamour, The Hub of All Things, or at least, all things Saturday night television. Why would I ever return to boring old Bristol, whose only offering to the world of light entertainment was Casualty, which despite being a hospital that rather inconveniently seemed to blow up on a yearly basis every Christmas special, was so embarrassed to be there it was pretending it was somewhere called Holby.
But return I did, and added my name not only to the teeming masses who were apparently deserting London in droves, hounded out by Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes buying up the more interesting bits and leaving everyone else to flee down the M4 in search of a semi that didn’t require a trust fund or daddy to sell his superyacht, but to the staff of the actual school I attended when I was a teenager. For what is going forward in life if it doesn’t also entail going right back to the place where you started?
And though I know I shouldn’t care one jot for the opinions of other people, least of all those I lost touch with decades before and now bump into on a regular basis, usually when running around dressed as Santa with a child on my back in a reindeer costume, or putting the bins out in my dressing gown, it pains me to think that they probably just assume I never left.
“I USED TO HAVE A LIFE!” I wail dramatically to them in my imagination. “I used to live in London! FOR TEN YEARS! And JAPAN! I lived just outside Tokyo! And I lived in Gran Canaria for a bit too. You know, the one in the Canary Islands. That’s practically AFRICA! I haven’t just been in this street hiding under a rock for twenty years!”
Then I remember that I still have a life. It looks very different from the one I imagined ten years ago, where I thought I would basically be Nigella Lawson, swanning around in some ludicrously overpriced part of West London where people build multi-storey extensions in their basements, in a giant kitchen with the biggest Aga in the world, rustling up nutritious home cooked feasts for my banker husband called Giles and umpteen adorable children with artfully dishevelled hair, but it’s not too bad, even if I did have to return to the land of my birth to get there.
Maybe this is where I belong.