Leaving Home



I find myself, again, surrounded by a collapsing home. It’s winding itself round with corrugated brown paper, mummified,  it tips itself into boxes, disappears into a mountain of cartons. Walls are suddenly naked of paintings, the plaster pockmarked. Rooms echo back at me when I speak, gone are the curtains and the fabrics and the fat cushions that absorbed the sounds.

The practicalities of moving are easy now – this is my sixth big move in 8 years – I parcel up glass, fold away my workshop, inhale deeply in my children’s rooms and bundle up too-small clothes and pictures they drew in primary school. But despite the necessary brevity of so many recent homes – 7 or 8 in less than four years – leaving a house is always hard; it marks us with a bit of itself and we inevitably leave a part of ourselves behind.

Each home has – as we hung those paintings, positioned tatty, dog-eared, precious-only-for-its-sentimental-history furniture – revealed some of its soul; you can’t help but be moved as you leave.

My outpost home was fashioned from a leftover of colonial times, a suburban box that we peeled open with a huge verandah, that we let the light and the air into by knocking its innards out into big flung-wide-welcoming arches. Children came home regularly then; we spilled outwards into a garden over which stood as sentinel the most beautiful flamboyant which, just before the rains, bled red into the pool. My outpost home grew necessarily fat. My beach-side homes, two of them, were loved for their very geography; Ant’s childhood home briefly our children’s, bushbabies that screeched outside my window at night, the push and pull of tide which – when high – woke me from deep sleep, when low kissed the beach gently so that I barely heard it. My two Zambian city homes had characters of such disparity it was small wonder one made me feel at home, one didn’t; the first an austere town house with high ceilings and an unseemly proportion of chrome to wood, ‘this isn’t you, it it’, said Ant sadly when he first brought me back to it. No, I admitted, just as sadly, it’s not. So we moved to one which was as impractical as it was unconventional, but which was much more Me (and Ant); it sat squatly amidst ten acres of bush so – within a spit of the capital – I could wake to the sound of guinea fowl cackling and gossiping at dawn. The little thatched cottage I spent six months in on a mango farm revealed itself as a sanctuary during a time of aloneness and confusion. You could have clambered over the walls, kicked the doors in, friends feared for my safety – security was questionable – but I never felt afraid. I felt cocooned. I sat up too late drinking beer, listening to the palms whisper secrets to the moon as I tried to find the answers to too many dilemmas.

And now here. This house. This house in the tea deep in the misty moist mountainous southern reaches of Tanzania, perched above the oldest forests in Africa, from which, at this time of year, comes the gabbling throaty call of the turaco which I see when I walk, flashes of crimson wing. I sit on this last evening on my own by the fire I have lit, as I have so often lit one, to while away lonely hours, to warm the room.  To watch the flames. Jip snores at my feet. She came here a puppy. Pili has journeyed to every one of those homes with us; the sight of boxes alarms her less. In the garden, beneath the plum trees lies Scally who faithfully curled at my feet, beneath desks in dozens of homes, for fourteen  years. Not far away, I buried another faithful old friend, Orlanda; she’s under the roses. I don’t remember how old she was when she went but she knew even more homes than Scally. She purred contentedly in every one of them.

Apart from Jip’s snoring, and the hiss and pop of the fire, the house is quiet. When I go to bed, turn off lights, I know precisely how each switch will give beneath my fingers, I know which doors need a little more encouragement to close, I know how to push the latch of my bedroom window so that it opens wide and the chill of the night settles upon my room so that curling beneath my duvet is especially delicious. Every home is possessed of quirks and whimsy, taps the drip, pipes that gurgle, a floorboard the speaks, a step whose unevenness you have learned to navigate.

And I will sleep and the house will breathe and sigh familiar sounds that will be lost soon until I recognize the nighttime noises of my new home.

Another colonial relic, another suburban box, which we have hammered open wide and hewn to fit this family and all the boxes that will spill bits of ourselves all over it when they arrive, and all the tired treasures we have insisted in dragging with us on our nomadic adventure; we have added a huge verandah which we know we will live on, we have knocked wide arches  through walls to let in the light and air.

I never, ever thought that we’d be heading back to the Outpost – how funny that we are?

Even funnier, I think, that the prospect delivers not a sense of dread, but a deep peacefulness.

10 Responses to “Leaving Home”

  1. docmomma Says:

    I hope this is a good move for you. And thanks for linking back to that 2008 post; I just spent some time rereading some posts. Always glad to see a new post from you, but the older ones will do in a pinch 😉

  2. Ad dy Says:

    I take my hat off to you. I am about to celebrate the 28th anniversary of living in my home. Moving now would be a major undertaking for me

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      oh to live somewhere for 28 years. i counted up the other day … i’ve called about 28 houses home in my life …

  3. Ellie Says:

    Are you moving back into *the* Outpost house? Or simply the same area?

    In either case, wishing you much ease in the shift, with no crisis! I haven’t moved now in thirteen and a half years (that last, was great with child, who was horn in the dining room a few weeks later) but at one point in my (adult) life was moving twice a year every year for about *thinks* about twelve years all told.

    How is your mum doing in her recovery?

  4. Ursula in Cádiz Says:

    A move is always a physical slog, but I enjoy the feeling of shedding old skin (I am a hoarder) and the starting afresh with its myriad opportunities for reinvention as a better me.

    It is a bonus when (as you must from your description of the work done) you know exactly where you’re going to end up.

    Here’s to your’s being a smooth process, and as this may, shamefully, be my first comment, I must use it to declare my love of your superb writing. I will await patiently your return to the keyboard.

    Thank you and good luck!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you Ursula, the dust is settling on this one … literally (the rain’s is here) and metaphorically.

  5. chiaradiack Says:

    I’m so with you here, as I am surrounded by boxes again too! It’s strange, I always forget how emotional packing up is, even though I last did it 3 years ago. Bittersweet.

  6. Stephanie Says:

    Hi, I’ve been a ‘lurker’ on your site for a few years now, having found it through Ngorobob Hill House – My reason for writing now is because I have to ask, was your husbands family beach home the one with the fish painted on the walls by what I guess was his mother? I don’t want to say the name of it because you haven’t- Hope this doesn’t sound ridiculously odd….

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      yup Stephanie … the very same. painted by his gran and his mum … you’ve stayed there, obviously? i love those fish …

  7. Stephanie Says:

    I’ve been dying to ask you this question for years. Yes! I remember feeling so odd being invited in to the house to see the fish paintings .(I’m African born but thoroughly uptight in my Englishness) This would be 15+ years ago. I was living in UK at the time. Do they still have the citrus trees there?

    I actually hold my time cutting limes ever since, so I can think about sniffing them properly because the smell always takes me back there- and to exactly that room where the juice was sold/honesty box.

    Best wishes to you all!


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