x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

My Life: Home is where the heart is

Laura Collins discovers that despite an international move and boxing up belongings, she knows where she feels most at home.

I've found myself thinking a lot about home recently. Five months after packing up my London life and moving to Abu Dhabi, I'm days away from boarding a flight back for my first return visit since leaving. The last time I was in the UK there was snow on the ground and few planes in the air - my flight was one of hundreds grounded in December as runways and jet engines froze and much of Europe, and anyone visiting it, could do nothing but wait.

For a couple of days I trundled the two suitcases into which I had distilled my life around Heathrow Terminal 4 before accepting reality and the offer of a bed at a friend's house. I couldn't go "home", to the West London flat that my husband and I shared for five years before he got a job in Abu Dhabi and I followed him. The family who had rented it were due to move in, but it wasn't just practical considerations that stopped me retracing my steps. I didn't go "home" because I knew I would be reminded from my first footfall - the clatter of shoes on floorboards now stripped of runners, in a hall once lined with books but now bare - of everything I had so recently dismantled, unravelled, boxed up.

I admit I was torn at the prospect of this move. After eight years of living in London I was so bound up in my life there that I wondered how I could leave it and still be me at all. Perhaps I once viewed the move that preceded it - from my native Scotland to London - with similar anxiety, but I don't remember it.

Besides, this was the first time I'd had to leave a home that I had made, or tried to make. The flat I shared with my husband in Glasgow when we first married was his before we met. In all the years we lived there it never really felt like my home.

When we moved to London I was determined it would be different. We would buy a place together and we/I would make it home. Isn't that what a wife is supposed to do? As a writer for one of the country's biggest newspapers I might scoop the competition; I might travel all over the world not knowing where I would be from one day to the next, but if I didn't make a home wasn't I somehow falling short as a woman?

So, after a few years of renting, the flat was bought: walls came down, floors were replaced, the garden dug up, colour charts agonised over, pictures hung, furniture bought, mistakes made and a fortune spent. When it was finished - though when are these things ever really finished? - friends said they loved it and told me, "It's very you."

Later when it was all undone and packed up those same friends told me that home would always be there, waiting for me to come back to. Which is what I'm about to do, in theory.

Only it turns out that my notion of what and where home is has changed. I didn't know it at the time but I guess it started the moment I chose to go cold turkey on all the stuff I once mistook for home.

Since being here I haven't bought a stick of furniture. Heck, I haven't even moved out of a hotel. I sleep in sheets I don't own, have a kitchen full of dishes I didn't choose and I relax on a couch that isn't mine. And that's just fine. Because I don't feel homeless or even particularly transient. I feel liberated.

Don't get me wrong. I'm eager to see the friends I miss, visit old haunts and have fun. But the closer my trip gets the more I realise it doesn't feel like I'm going "home" at all. How could it? I'm already there.


Laura Collins is a senior feature writer for The National.