When I went to South Carolina in 2015, I didn’t want to come back. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where I cried in the airport and didn’t want to get on the plane. Not because I’m afraid of flying – on the contrary, in the sky is one of my favourite places to be – but because I didn’t want to leave Myrtle Beach.
This time I loved it again. But by the time it got to Sunday morning, I was ready to leave. I think the difference was that now I have a home to go back to.
By the time I was 25 I’d moved 24 times. I’ve been living in the same place since then, which was five years ago, and which makes it a record for the longest period of time I’ve ever lived anywhere. The previous record was four years in a village in Sussex.
Not that this home’s been without its challenges. It’s been falling down since I moved in; but what’s a falling-down house if not an opportunity to rebuild it completely and make it your own?
I’m looking forward to it being finished, of course. But I love it even in its current state, and coming back to it makes me happy.
The longer I live here, the longer I want to live here. This has never happened before. Previously I’ve always had the six-month itch: after six months in a new place, I’d start scouting around for the next one. Normally I’d stay for another six months or so, before moving on. But here? Here the longer I stay, the more settled I feel.
I know my neighbours. One of them waters my plants while I’m away. I sing in a choir with several of them, hang out at their houses, give them advice on singing teachers for their kids, rant about the ineptitude of one of the local postmen. A couple of years ago I found myself walking down the street one warm summer evening clutching a bottle of wine and a plate of olives, which I was taking to share with some neighbours, and I thought Community. That’s what this feels like. I’ve never had one of those before.
I’ll admit I like it. One of the reasons I like living in London generally is the anonymity, but I feel like my particular corner of the city has an excellent balance. I know my neighbours, and there’s a strong sense of being a bit of a village nestled in West London, but if you’re looking for more of a city feel you can just walk for twenty minutes or so to find it.
I never thought I’d enjoy living in a community, or knowing my neighbours, and there are things I don’t love about it. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to talk to people, but I go outside and my next-door neighbour’s there so I say hello. Sometimes if I don’t reply to someone’s messages they’ll come over and ring my doorbell. Sometimes I want to schlep to the supermarket with no make-up and no bra on and look a mess when I’m picking up my shopping, but I don’t want to bump into anyone I know.
On the whole, though, this neighbourliness thing is pretty fun. And the passion with which people engage with local issues and initiatives makes me happy. Recently, for example, the community saved one of the trees on the Thames Path, which some developers wanted to fell in order to increase the value of some investment flats.
There are various local gardening initiatives: planting flowers on the green, cleaning up the banks of the river, weeding and planting in Ravenscourt Park, maintaining the nature reserve beside the river in Chiswick and Barnes.
I love my little community. I’m glad I found it and fought to move here – I had to do a four-way swap to get this house. It took a year to arrange and a lot of people thought I was mad to go ahead with it when they realised the state the house was in.
But I adore my work-in-progress and its local neighbourhood. I’m glad I moved here.
I’m glad I found a home.