Memories from my childhood are always somewhat hazy. I’m not sure why. When people start talking about the television shows they watched when they were five years old or the teachers that always gave them an extra five minutes of playtime or that very distinct smell of school dinners wafting down the corridor at exactly 11.55am. Instead, my mind is a constantly spinning tornado of the all-consuming thoughts of now; thoughts I have to grab, arms-flailing, sweat-dripping – to pin down and tackle one by one just to be able to say I’m ok.
Those memories of childhood are floating steadily at the epicentre of this tornado – I know they are there, I don’t have to worry they will float away. Little pockets of happiness that keep me grounded; dancing under the lemon tree in our backyard, the smokey smell of cheese and pitta bread sizzling on a BBQ somewhere in a forest of Australian eucalyptus trees, the squeaky squeak of my bike as I ride around our house in Dubai with my little sister sat in the back, eating mini-jellies with our grubby fingers – barefoot and care-free. The smell of my grandpa’s house when I was 9 years old and had just moved across the world to start a new life.
A musty smell – somewhere between antique wood and flicking through the pages of an old book. Hydrangea’s blooming on the windowsill, a drawer filled with crunchy ginger biscuits that will remain forever stocked, my feet sinking into fluffy pink carpet. A new place, a new life, the memories of which will always be linked with that smell, that house and the slightly frightening but always loving face of my grandpa.
I don’t really remember when my mum and dad told us we were moving to England. I only remember asking them what it was like there, and my sister squealing, “it always rains!”. We were so excited. We were so excited for rain. For somewhere new. I don’t remember being afraid or sad. Only excited, for rain. And I remember trees. Of being asleep for probably a long time and waking up to a road ladened with trees and dappled sunshine – there wasn’t any rain yet.
Then I was the new kid at school, again. The one with the strange clothes and the even stranger accent, in a strange country I was supposed to identify with – the country on my passport and in my blood. But amongst all that strangeness, there was something so familiar about this place. The smell of waking up to fresh rain on the roads, seeing brambles for the first time and being stung by nettles. That sparkly glow of winter’s first frost, red tartan scarves, itchy, woolly socks and dry-stone walls blanketed in powdery snow. Eating flasks of Heinz tomato soup in the back-seat of our car, because in true British style we had planned a picnic but it was too cold to go outside. Warmed bellies and soup-stained smiles, we enjoyed our little adventure anyway.
Identity isn’t a thing when you’re a child. I don’t think you care where you come from or even where you live, as long as you’re lucky enough to have a family that love you. It is something I only started thinking about as I grew older, or perhaps that was when I realised that I didn’t know what mine was. My accent was an eclectic mix of standard English with an Aussie twang and a dash of Yorkshire. My skin was dark from the Arabian sun and my hair lemon yellow. But for as long as I could remember I loved to read books about the English countryside. Peter Rabbit hopping through cabbage patches and Josie Smith with her scabby knees, always getting into trouble. I started reading classics as soon as I was old enough to understand the language, my bookshelf filled with the Brontes and Austen – times of flowing dresses and grand, old houses that I used to wish I could have been a part of.
Those moors that I read about were my now homeland – where my parents and grandparents and great grandparents had grown up. They were in my blood and in my soul in a way I only realised when I lived there and saw them; when I rambled across those hills and felt that air on my cheeks and looked out onto a landscape of grey and purple and green and gold. Wild and rugged, untamed and uninhabitable.
Yorkshire, I am so very home.