Somebody Take Me Home, Through those Alabama Pines

Why do you want to leave and move back to the UK? It’s a question people have asked us on both sides of the Atlantic. Especially as we have a nice life here.

I think sometimes people think you would only make such a huge change if it was forced upon you by circumstances – perhaps a bankruptcy, or being denied medial coverage (a big problem here for lots of people), or some crisis back in England that demands your presence.

But none of that is true in our case (touch wood). We live in a lovely little town just outside New York City. It’s peaceful and safe and it’s been relatively unscathed by the recent economic crisis, although not entirely. Within half an hour, we can be in Grand Central Station and yet our house is secluded and private, and our garden is a delight (thanks to hours and hours of hard work on my part and very little on P’s part!). If being comfortable was enough, we’d be set for life and I count my blessings every day, especially knowing that so many people are struggling.

For years I never considered a move home. I had said goodbye to England years ago and missed very little about it. But in those early years, friends and family visited regularly. Some years, our house felt more like a hotel than a home. One set of people would leave and we’d have a few days to tidy up, wash the bedding, and stock up with bathroom supplies before the next lot arrived. We’d grumble sometimes but we loved it. We loved seeing everyone for those extended periods and it was great fun to share all our new experiences with them. We took my grandma to a baseball game, showed my mum and dad the CN Tower in Toronto, took photos at the top of the World Trade Center with friends … and who can forget seeing P’s parents standing on their chairs singing along at a U2 gig!

But as the years have gone on, the visits have dried up. Everyone has had a few New York holidays now and the novelty has worn off. And as that has happened, I have become more acutely aware of how much I miss all those people. Perhaps age plays a role too. I read a number of ex-pat forums and see that it’s not at all unusual for people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s to think of moving home after a long time away. I even know of an 85 year-old who just moved back to the UK from Thailand.

I suppose as we get older, we come to value friends and family more. We see people we love getting older and we’re not there to help or to share experiences. Somehow this matters less when you’re younger, I guess because you’re fixated on yourself and your own goals. As you get older, that changes.

But also there’s a pull that goes deeper than that, at least for me. When you move to another country, everything is alien. The traffic reports sound like something from outer space. The sports news is indecipherable. The political arguments are just confusing. Over time you adapt and even get involved, but you never truly change. You don’t soak the new stuff into your bones. It doesn’t seep into your DNA. You still grew up where you grew up. You still know what you know. You still belong where you belong.

This song is by an American from Alabama, which is about as far as you can get from Yorkshire, both distance-wise and culturally. And yet I get the song. I get the feeling of heading through the Alabama Pines and how those trees make him feel. I get the same feeling when I get to the north of England.

It’s a beautiful song and worth a listen if you have a few minutes.


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