‘There’s no place like home.’ – Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.
Going back to Wales feels nostalgic.
The best thing my parents ever did was to move our family to Wales when I was nine years old. I didn’t know it then, but growing up in Wales would come to shape me into the human I am today. Although I don’t go back very often anymore, Wales will always have my heart.
I smile slightly to myself as the train approaches the Severn tunnel. We are on the high point, just before we descend into darkness, and I can see the old Severn bridge in the distance and, beyond that, hills. I recall a conversation I had earlier that week with a friend, when I told him I was going back to Wales for the weekend.
“Wales is just basically hills, right?” he said, smiling. I grinned and nodded.
“Basically yes, it’s hills” I replied. Then, as an after thought, “And sheep.”
It’s true. On the English side of the river, the landscape is rolling, but not what can be described as hilly. Just across the water, the hills rise up, cloaked under low-hanging clouds. Of course, it’s raining too. Typical.
Going back to Wales always fills me with a childish excitement to see my parents, to see the house I grew up in, the dog that I adore, the motley collection of animals that grows and shrinks with each passing year. I know the folds of the land here so well. Every tree is familiar. There’s the stream that runs through our garden that, when we were younger, my sisters and I walked the entire length of, returning home exhausted at the end of the day with our clothes and wellies soaked through.
Things change, almost imperceptibly, but largely everything is the same. The house has grown, evolved, developed over the years, but it has the same smell I always remember and it’s still chilly. I never remember to pack an extra jumper.
Mum cooks meals to welcome us home with – old favourites: toad-in-the-hole, sausage pasta, three P’s pasta, a roast dinner. Comfort food. There is nothing better in the world than Mum’s cooking. I catch glimpses of what my parents’ life is like together, now that their three daughters all live away from home. We drink wine, red for Mum, white for me, and Dad pours a beer. After dinner, we move into the lounge and sit beside the fire – during the evening, the lounge is always the warmest room in the house.
We never had a television growing up. I don’t think my sisters or I ever really felt deprived; we played games instead, we talked and laughed, we spent hours outside in the summer, we drew and wrote and played our instruments and I rode my horse. We walked the dogs, walked without the dogs, played computer games (so some screens were involved…), read books. Looking back on those years growing up, I suppose it’s almost idyllic. Acres of land to explore, a library of books to take inspiration from, and every summer, six weeks of holiday to make the most of. When I visit Wales now, I know I am privileged to have grown up there and had all that to take advantage of.
To go back to Wales is to retreat. Remove myself from the hustle and tireless bustle of London and to escape from the world, to get some peace and quiet, to write and learn code and listen to nothing – no sirens or airplanes rumbling overhead. Rain lashes the windows and the skies remain ominously grey. Clouds move in ragged patterns across the Cambrian mountains, veiling the grey-green vista from view. Being back is rejuvenating, it feeds my soul. I feel invigorated again, refreshed.
I return to the world reluctantly. It tugs me in, sucks me into the hustle and bustle again, shunts me this way and that. But I have Wales. This place that grounds me and breathes life back into me. I will be fine.