Home: Returning to Richmond

It's the strangest thing. 

When we landed at Gatwick Airport, I proudly went through the line labeled for those arriving passengers bearing passports from the U.K. or the EU, while my American husband went through the much longer 'all the rest of you suckers' line. My little old British-born heart felt all funny, swollen with British pride. I held my maroon colored passport with the royal insignia conspicuously facing out so that it showed, so there would be no mistake. I wasn't from France, Spain, Germany or any of those other EU countries. I was from the UK. Ignore my American accent. I was English. A True Brit. 

When it was my turn to approach the counter, practically waving my passport in the air, I got a ridiculous lump in my throat. 

"I haven't been here since 1989." I told the official, getting all blubbery. "Thirty years! I was born here, but I haven't been back in almost 30 years!" I added needlessly and surely overstaying my welcome.

He was sweet, gave me the sort of smile a kindly grandfather gives a child. The only thing missing was the pat on the head.
"Ah well, welcome home then. Enjoy your stay. Run along now." 
Alright, he didn't say 'run along now', that part was very politely implied. Composing myself, I passed through to the other side. To home. 

Home. The home, the house, be it ever so humble, the place where I was born was among the places we planned on visiting.  Would going back be as I imagined it on this blog a couple of years ago?

As it turned out, we had so many other places to see, we left the house on Salisbury Road in Richmond to the 2nd to last day of our week in London. The day before we went to Richmond, we went to the Portobello Road market in Notting Hill, afterwards we had a wonderful walk in Hyde Park, ending up at the magnificent Victoria and Albert museum. Our plan was to take the train out to Richmond to see the house on Sunday, stopping off at Kew Gardens on the way back in to London.  

Leaving London's underground behind, chugging along on the train, above ground, passing the tops of red and rust brick houses with their multiple chimneys, I thought of my parents, my father taking this same train to go into London for his job at Thomas Cooke's while my mother stayed home, made the beds, did the washing up and the shopping, pushing my older brother along the high street in his pram while I grew in her belly. 

In the 1950's my mother wouldn't have known whether she was having a girl or a boy and yet in all the conversations—endlessly fascinating to me—about my name and who I was named after (Simone after Simone Simon, a famous French film star of the 1950's, and Elizabeth for my middle name, as I was born so close to the Queen's coronation) my parents never told me what they would have called me had I been a boy, and I never asked. Simon? I was called that often enough when I was growing up, along with Simonize Wax and Sea Monster. 

But first I had to leave my mother's tummy, I had to be born, not at the hospital, but at home. "Mother" the nurses told her, "you did so well with your lovely little boy, there's no need for you to have this baby in the hospital. You'll have your little one at home with the help of a midwife." Or words to that effect.

I thought of my mother moaning (as I'd moaned when my son was born) while the midwife directed my father to fetch boiling water, my dad pacing and smoking as he waited for the water to boil. It wasn't hard to imagine, it's a scene we've all seen in many a movie, as well as the British television program Call the Midwife.

And then what? I hadn't been born on the queen's coronation day, as they'd hoped, so there was no year's supply of free nappies. The nurses, my mother told me, still came by once or twice a week to check on my mum and her little baby girl, to make sure I was thriving, bringing free orange juice with them. I couldn't get over that, nurses that came to our house, rather than us having to go to them. How very kind and cozy. How very British. 

For all the wrought emotion I felt at the airport, you'd think I'd fall apart when I finally did see the house where I was born in person.

Maybe it was the contrast between the quiet flatness of Richmond with the general hubbub of being in London where everything, every street, every block seems to crackle with energy and life. While Richmond is in the greater London area, it's about 8 1/2 miles from the city center. The suburbs. When we found Salisbury Road, the street where I was born, the road was empty. Empty except for one guy, looking a bit like a serial killer, hood drawn over his head on a moderately sunny day, walking away from us down the lonely street. Despite it being Sunday there were no other people in the road, no kids playing in the cul de sac, no mothers calling out the window, telling their children not to stray too far from home. 

We stood in front of the door—a rather pretty door with inset glass—my husband and I, and I felt nothing. No twinges of primal recognition for my birthplace, no innate sense that this place held anything of particular significance. It was just another building, empty of meaning. My parents must have walked on this sidewalk, my father must have put his key in this lock but I couldn't grasp it. 

I took a picture, and while I'm not ever a fan of getting my photo taken, it didn't even occur to me to ask Mark to take a picture of me in front of the house, a souvenir of sorts. It was job done, a tick off the list. Time to move on, like my parents had moved on. 

I am reminded of what Virginia Woolf, who lived there too, said of the town.

This is my right; it is the right of every human being. I choose not the suffocating anesthetic of the suburbs, but the violent jolt of the Capital, that is my choice. The meanest patient, yes, even the very lowest is allowed some say in the matter of her own prescription. Thereby she defines her humanity. I wish, for your sake, Leonard, I could be happy in this quietness. [pause]But if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death..”
No offense to the citizens of Richmond, some of us just need a little more noise to drown out the endless chatter of our brains. 

We never did get to Kew.

Have you ever looked forward to going somewhere—whether it's a home you remember from your childhood or a vacation spot you've always dreamed of going—and been disappointed by the reality? Please feel free to share your thoughts or a link to your own post in the comments section.

Linking up to British Isles Friday

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