I remember how I used to get books from the library, books from people I didn’t know, authors I’d never heard of. I think that’s what people who grew up with the internet can never understand – that books were exciting, full of new information, that couldn’t be googled. I remember the first time I read the famous James Baldwin quote: You don’t have a home until you leave it, and then, when you have left it, you never can go back, how I copied it out and wrote it in my diary. I can’t remember now, why it felt so meaningful to me – I hadn’t left home yet or anything.
Twenty years in Germany, you’d think at some point I’d stop getting so homesick, especially for a shithole like England, huh. I get so homesick, sometimes, it offends white Germans as much as blackfacing SHOULD, i.e. a fucking LOT. It’s weird and childish to get this homesick after twenty years here, especially when I live so near – am not exactly in Australia, or India am I. But I get homesick, homesick for a country which doesn’t exist anymore, which never existed.I once started crying in that underpass between the U8 and the U2 in Alexanderplatz, when my son asked me about Halloween in England, and I told him about how you were meant to bastel up a guy and wheel it around in a wheelbarrow and get old people to give you money for it – a penny for the guy! – which you spent on fireworks. I NEVER MADE A GUY UP MYSELF EVER BUT I STILL CRIED. (Also, slightly off topic, I once cried in class, as a Tefl teacher, when a student asked me if Princess Diana was a good public speaker, and I answered, factually: „No, but she as having voice coaching sessions so maybe if she had lived, she would’ve become one.“ I got to the end of my sentence and realized, to my surprise, that I was about to burst into tears. I NEVER EVEN CARED ABOUT LADY DI WHEN SHE WAS ALIVE.)
Homesickness is irrational, huh. You know everything is „better“ in Germany – but you still miss those funny streets with the houses squashed in together all higgledy-piggledy and the pies (I mean, you would, wouldn’t you) and oh, I dunno….the silly slang people you went to school with use when they see you in the street: „Hey, Jacinta, how’s you and yours?“ And, of course, your family.
I’m not 100% sure but I think when I miss home, I miss England, and not Britain, though maybe it would be better if this wasn’t true.
And it’s always weird, missing England, especially when the part of England you come from isn’t particularly English – isn’t, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, particularly anything, except dull. The most interesting thing you can say about the town I come from is that the Krays‘ youngest brother used to work in the Pioneer Market, and we said it a lot. It’s multicultural but still bleak, and it’s not bleak in a desolate, Lake District kind of way, but in a concrete bridge, multi storey car park, they need to repaint the railings to the park some time soon, kind of way. I don’t miss green fields or scones or tea or tennis or King Arthur – no, Jacinta, he was British, you mean Alfred – and strawberries. I miss concrete and plastic. I don’t miss the earth, I don’t miss the soil. It’s not like that.
And it’s even weirder to be homesick during times of corona. I am homesick for a country I will never, can never visit again. When I go back to England, it will be a post-corona country I go back to. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you guys, this already happened with Brexit – you know what Brexit did to England? Brexit lifted a perfect pie lid off off a perfect pie – think Jamie Oliver-style perfection – revealing four and twenty dead baby blackbirds inside. And what will corona do, what kind of country will we go back to now. What kind of country do I go back to now.
„What does that sign mean?“ My now-teenage, then 8 year old son asked me once, when we were driving into a little village that had one of those signs up saying Twenty’s Plenty. He had that kind of slightly haunted, totally worried look on his face, you know that look I mean, the look Germans get sometimes, when they think they don’t understand something they should understand.
„It means people shouldn’t drive over twenty miles an hour,“ I said. „You know, we have miles here, not kilometres. Plenty means more than enough. Twenty miles an hour is more than enough.“
My son’s face looked kind of dismayed.
„It’s important information?“ He said.
„Yeah,“ I said. „It’s important information.“
„Important information shouldn’t rhyme,“ he said. „That’s kindisch.“
And they are childish, aren’t they, English people? Their petulance over Brexit has been childish – but so, too, is the way they thank the bus driver when they get off the bus or call out like clucking hens if he drives too fast over a bump. I feel homesick for their childish ways, for their willingness and ability to pack important information into a rhyme.
What’s the best cure for homesickness? Disney Plus, of course.
My now-teenage son puts Freaky Friday on, the modern one, and I burst into inappropriate tears.
„Shall I put another film on, Mum?“ He says patiently, it is the politest thing he has said to me in about four years. „Not Splash.“
„No, I want to watch this,“ I answer.
„Then why are you crying?“ He asks.
„I want to be in England,“ I sob. „I want to be living with Nana. I want to be watching this with Nana!“
He grins, turns back to his TV screen, unpauses Freaky Friday. He bought himself some weird Fire stick from the future, and we watch everything in his room now.
„If we lived in England,“ he says, reasonably, cheerfully, besonnen, „we wouldn’t be able to see Nana anyway. We’d just be socially distancing in an English house. The only difference would be the houses you saw out the window. Don’t look out the window. Shall I draw the curtains?“
I stop crying.
„People at school always used to say Jamie Lee Curtis was a a hermaphrodite“ I say. „Nobody ever says that word anymore, do they? Is it politically incorrect? I think they just said it because she has short hair.“
„Is this a Mädchenfilm, Mum? Be honest.“
„Lindsay Lohan’s so cute,“ I say.
„And if we lived at Nana’s, she’d never let us put Disney Plus on the TV. Remember how hard it was to persuade her to put Channel Four on on Christmas Day?“
It’s a weird thing to miss a country, to feel homesick for a country, which you also think is a fucked-up place to live. A country full of petulant children, who voted for Brexit, Johnson, their own destruction, just to teach people who thought they were nice enough a lesson. Who voted for chaos and death, and now that it comes, aren’t even angry – but loyal and proud. Have you ever heard of anything so childish? People phoning the cops because their neighbours are having barbecues in the garden.
The German (#notallGermans, but let’s be honest, #mostofem) emotional reaction to corona couldn’t have been more grown-up, could it? The death rate stays low and the Germans stay calm. I find it a bit mendacious, if I am completely honest, the satisfaction in the low death rate – for sure, compared to Britain or the USA, we have a low death rate – but there’s still three thousand dead, that’s still three thousand people, that’s still three thousand more than 2 months ago and we’re still, in, like, the top ten in that weird Corona Death World Cup everyone’s unofficially taking part in. I find it a bit smug, to be honest, to find the figures too comforting- although I also check every day and compare and comfort myself. I really do think Angela Merkel is that much“better“ (more experienced, more sensible, more reasonable, AN ACTUAL SCIENTIST) than Boris Johnson or Donald Trump that our reaction, our response to Corona should’ve been a million miles better and not just a thousand – the biggest thing, I think, would be to introduce Grundeinkommen for a year, so anyone who doesn’t want to work doesn’t have to.
I miss a place which never existed, want to return to a place which doesn’t exist. I get so angry at calm, dispassionate Germans on Facebook, so calm and generous about other people dying, sometimes I wish I was in England, where angry chaos reigns supreme and people grass each other up to the police for barbecues. I guess I am the childish one. I’m forty years old but I still want my mum.