Where are you from?

Where are you from – that’s a good question isn’t it? At risk of being accused of over-thinking it, I think that there’s more to being “from” somewhere than simply having been born there.

Three out of my four children were born in Gillingham in Kent, but having lived where they do now (early 2017 at time of writing this) since they were aged five, four and one, would any of them say they were from Kent? Perhaps merely that they had merely been born there? No arguments for my youngest…born where we live now! When I asked my eldest, she said “I’d say I was from Kent but have grown up here…”. My wife was born in Worcester, but grew up in Portishead. Given that it was there she spent most of her childhood and formative school years, bar a couple of years living in the Lincoln area, maybe she’d say she was from Portishead?  Not quite so clear-cut for me…

My dad recently pointed me in the direction of a book  as he felt I’d appreciate some of the subject matter and the humour, the book in question being the autobiographical “Fatty Batter” by Michael Simpkins. The book describes a very similar environment and era to the one my dad grew up in, thus (I assume) his identifying strongly with it in addition to appreciation and enjoyment of subject(s) and humour. My point? Something described in the book by the main protagonist are the frequent visits of sales representatives to his father’s shop. Never having been one of life’s salespersons, I’m not entirely certain how it works nor am I interested, and I’m sure life has moved on since the 1960’s. However, at the time, supermarkets and shops often had sales representatives from the suppliers of the goods they sold (or goods that said sales reps wanted them to sell!) visiting them. A Co-Op near Brislington, Bristol in the late 1960s was no exception. On one occasion at that establishment, a Heinz rep (my dad) got talking to the rep from another company (i.e. he “chatted her up” to use the vernacular!), and later gave her a lift home…and that was how my parents met, so dad tells me.

I was born in Southmead Hospital in Bristol, on the 8th of November 1970. My parents and older sister lived a short way from the Hospital, in a road called Ramsey Road. My dad has a habit of pointing things out to me whilst en route somewhere in his car (thus my knowledge of the Co-Op story referred to above, having passed by there with him one day). Perhaps he was a tour guide in a previous life! The man always seems to have a considerable amount of knowledge regarding his surroundings, along with what seems like a built-in satnav. Still, and I’m sure my younger siblings would back me up on this, that alone justifies requests for a lift from him! This pointing out of some fact or other whilst passing by somewhere / something is one of his habits that I’ve picked up myself (although the less said about some of them the better).

So, born in Southmead Hospital, and then subsequently living in the area; an area that I came back to later in life during my secondary school years. The hospital is in a location that becomes a grey area regarding what suburb of Bristol you deem yourself to be in, being at the boundary of a few. It depends on exactly whereabouts you are and which entrance you use around the edge of what is a very large hospital site I suppose! Southmead (where my mother grew up as a child),  Horfield (where I lived up until 6th form), and Henleaze (where my older sister now lives) all border the Hospital, which confusingly always used to list it’s address as Westbury –on-Trym (a well-to-do suburb of Bristol, a short way down the road).  There’s more to considering oneself as being “from” a particular place than simply being born there however. When people have asked where I’m from, in the past I’ve tended to say Nailsea or occasionally a more generic “Bristol”.

Why Nailsea? Well, that’s where I remember my early life being based, and it’s certainly quite close to where I live now. We moved there when I was very small and lived there long enough for my older sister to (almost – bar the last two terms of it) finish primary school. For anyone wondering where the **** Nailsea is, the answer is that it’s a commuter town on the outskirts of Bristol, just to the south en route to Clevedon. Small (at the time) and, barring the older houses that formed the original village, very early 1970’s “new town” in appearance. The concrete jungle shopping precinct appears frozen in time, and there’s little character to it. These days a large amount of housing sprawls outwards from its centre, and it seems to be little more than a place where people live with a couple of supermarket’s attached thereto. This is not an essay on urban planning, or the character of North Somerset towns and villages however.

The subject of where I have lived is one of the things that prompted me to start writing all of this. Each of us has their soapbox rant subjects, and this is one of mine! I admire stability, routine and familiarity. Boring? Maybe. I’m not averse to new experiences and challenges – that’s what holidays and visits are for, or business trips perhaps. I do think it’s important to have a familiar base to come home to afterwards though. I’m fitting my thinking on this issue into that old adage “a place for everything, and everything in its place”.  What I’m getting at, is roots. Putting them down, and establishing a sense of belonging. Think of kids, who fly the family nest when they become adults, but know a place as home when they return for a visit…a bit like my daughter Charlotte who’s now away at university. Whilst some may say it’s more about people than a place, I think place has a big part to play in that feeling of belonging.

The 1980’s sitcom “Cheers”, a favourite of mine during my teenage years, featured a character named Norm. Each time, upon entering the Boston bar in which the show was based, he would say hello. The whole bar, as one, would say “Norm!” in response. It was his routine – they knew him and he knew them all. The title song of the programme included the words “…where everybody knows your name”. Whilst merely a fictional character in a TV show, I thought that was brilliant and worth aspiring to (although not necessarily in a bar / tavern!)

Another and perhaps better example, to explain my thoughts on this subject, is my younger brother. He has a great many traits to admire and is a fine man, but one thing I particularly admire about him is the manner in which he has grown up. My dad and stepmother bought their house when she was pregnant with him. Now, some 27 years later, they still live there. My brother has known no other place as home in his life. When he briefly shared a house with a mate, it was only up the road. He went to a local school, lived at home whilst studying at college, grew up with a group of friends many of whom he still knows and socialises with now, and whilst he’s often in London for work purposes, he has the same home to come home to. His best mates are local guys, his girlfriend is a local girl and he has very strong links on a number of personal levels with local community things (sports teams etc). He has roots, and can very definitely say “I’m from Downend in Bristol” when people ask him where he’s from. Me? I wish I could be so sure.

I could say Nailsea, as I mentioned above, but citing somewhere as being where I’m from (in that sense of belonging / feels like home when I return kind of way), when I only lived there until the age of 5 is stretching a point. The key thing here I guess is not where you say you’re from, but why you say that. It doesn’t always correspond with where you were born or lived your early life. Roots, as I said above. There’s more I remember about and more formative years spent in places elsewhere. For example,  primary school years abroad, or teenage years in Bristol. By the time I was my brother’s age (he is 26 at time of writing), I had had fifteen addresses!

Now, that may sound dramatic, and I have included every place I lived and could have received post at from birth until age 26.  However, even discounting student digs that were away from “home” and being a boarder for my last year in school, that total only comes down to twelve. It does however encompass moving out of the parental home permanently as a young adult (as one does), moving in with my girlfriend (now wife) to our first flat, and then taking the plunge to move away from the Bristol area and try our luck in London. Granted, some of these are life events that my brother hasn’t experienced yet. Even including his brief stint sharing a house with his mate, and crashing a few days a week with his Godmother in London when he’s up there for work, his total only gets up to three. Sorry bro – I win. Although, in my opinion, he does. Roots.

At the age of (at time of writing) 46, I have lived in my current address for a little over twelve years, and it’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one address. The previous holder of that title was Eastville Park in Bristol, where I lived for seven years – from the start of school 6th form, until moving out permanently in 1994. That was however punctuated by three years away at school or university.  I now live in Yatton, a large village in North Somerset just south of Bristol, which is just a stone’s throw across the moor from Nailsea. Three of my four children were born in Kent when my wife and I lived there.  Charlotte, my eldest, did nursery school and reception year at infants down there. Natasha had just started nursery when we moved away. My son Adam (born in the same room of the same hospital as Charlotte) was only 14 months old when we moved away. Birthplace aside, whilst they acknowledge the fact that they were born elsewhere, when asked where they’re from, I’m sure they’d say “Yatton”.  At least, if not from there…it’s where they’d always consider as home.  Growing up in the same street, attending the same village school and local secondary school as the people they’re growing up with; local sports teams, clubs and social activities; friends and family. Roots. My roots maybe “hit and miss” with multiple addresses, but my children will always have a home where they feel at home, however humble it may be, and isn’t just some place their mum and dad live. To employ yet another old chiche, home maybe where the heart is, but having roots really enhances that sense of belonging and where you’re from.

In Conclusion…

I truly wish I could say “I’m from X”  with a sense of certainty and clarity, but at the moment there’s a grey area there (albeit gradually diminishing). However, given that I’m a short distance away from where I spent my early years, that I’ve lived here for longer than any other single address, that I’m strongly involved in the local community, and that my children have their roots and sense of belonging here, home is where the heart is. These days, where I live now, I can’t walk down the street without seeing or talking to at least one person I know, and I love that. Allied with my involvement with local community activities, that further enhances a sense of belonging. Nailsea? Maybe – for personal history reasons and its close by. Bristol? Not far away, and important to me. Yatton? Home.