The move to Jèrri was not easy on our son and we have frequently sought to comfort him with the suggestion that he is luckier than most to have two homes; his new island home with Grandad and la grève on his doorstep and his second home in the UK (lé Rouoyaume Unni) with his cousins and old friends. Dézembre is a particularly fortuitous month to have two homes for Harry. It means two birthday celebrations, two Christmas days and two visits from Papa Noué.
Despite the relatively short period of time we spent living in the High Peak, it was one of the few places in which I have felt at home as an adult. Living there was easy. Leaving our family and friends, the close-knit Chinley village community and our cosy terrace in the hills was a wrench. More than a year on I still miss it and them very much and I have since spent a great deal of time thinking about the idea of home and what it means to me. This has been especially true over the past couple of weeks with the holidays bringing up the ghosts of Christmas memories past.
When I was five-years-old (j’avais chînq ans) we moved to la Trinneté into a large reddish-brown gravel-dash maîson that made the corner of La Route du Boulay. Perhaps it’s because it was the last house I lived in with mum but that house à la Trinneté was the one that most felt like home to me here en Jèrri. It’s gone now, replaced with a set of plain new builds, but the site still holds some of my most precious memories. When we moved in the house was a barely habitable doer-upper and we spent our first Noué there temporarily camped in a downstairs room with our beds lined up against one wall. I went to sleep that sèrvelle dé Noué to the sound of Oliver Twist on the telly while ma méthe et man péthe toasted bread on the open fire. The next morning I was over the moon to discover Papa Noué had delivered a bright blue typewriter especially for me.
Although my memories are extremely sketchy I remember Mum teaching me how to brush my teeth (brînge mes dents) properly in the bathroom upstairs and spending hours dragging the nit comb through my long thick hair. It is in that house that Mum taught me how to read, write and type. She also taught me how to sew. Her sewing machine was set up in the dining room (la grand’ tchuîsinne), where me and my brother would hide under the table whenever we’d been up to no good. I also remember mum sitting me in a tub of water dans l’gardîn, doubtless after hours of my wining, so I could carefully soak a plaster off my knee. I learned to ride a bike in that garden, where I was also stung by un vêpre for the first time and suffered the worst stinging nettle assault I have ever experienced.
The best thing about that house though was the cupboard under the stairs, which we set up as a role-play shop complete with plastic till and a wide range of neatly shelved empty packaging. I remember Mum hurling empty threats up those stairs when I couldn’t find my school uniform for the umpteenth time. I also remember doing the conga through the downstairs hallway (l’allée) at my seventh birthday party. Mum had come to pick me and my friends up from school on that occasion, driving us home through heavy snow.
Then there was my grandparents’ house à Ste Mathie. It still stands on the corner opposite the site of the old West View hotel. Its sale and renovation means what was once home to us is now a very different home for another family. Our house had the cosy warmth of storage heating, floor boards and wooden cladding. My brother and I used to play in the attic (lé galetas) across the landing from where Granny aired the washing in a little room which smelled of the honey dew melons Pops put in there to ripen. On the weekends we would jump onto their bed and Pops would tell us especially extended versions of The Three Little Pigs and Billy Goats Gruff. I can still hear the sliding door that led through to the little hallway off their bedroom. The Christmas after mum died I had been allowed to stay up late one night and my tired mind had imagined her apparition walk through that door.
Most of our time though was spent in the kitchen, Pops sitting dans sa tchaise next to the radio in the corner and Granny bustling about at the cooker. I remember sitting around la tabl’ye taking turns to shake a jar of Jersey cream to make du beurre for a homework project, then after tea on another occasion practising with Pops for the French Eisteddfod. La tchuîsinne was the heart of that house just as Granny’s cooking was dans l’tchoeu of our family.
Noué at The Gables was big and busy. Luminous icicles lit up the bowls of Quality Streets in the lounge, where sparkly presents were neatly arranged under a tree in the window. We had to wait an eternity to open them because distribution was not allowed until after Christmas dinner. (Pops took this very seriously and made a great ceremony of reading the individual labels as he handed out les présents.) Before this though we gathered in the kitchen to eat melon and des chèrvettes, followed by du picot with all the trimmings, while Granny repeatedly told us to ‘eat’. To finish Pops would put a match to lé podîn d’Noué and I was always amazed to see it catch with blue flame. The best bit of all though was Granny’s gâche d'Noué with homemade almond paste (as she called it) and wispy icing that looked like real snow. She passed the recipe onto me and I now make one every year, complete with silver balls and the same retro plastic decorations.
I never warmed to the new bungalow (béjuque) Dad built in the garden next door to the gravel-dash house à la Trinneté. I was unable to appreciate my lovely big new bedroom neatly painted in the rose pink that Dad had carefully chosen for me. Our time in this house was overshadowed by a bleakness that seeped into the three of us and emphasised the gaping hole that had opened up in our lives. There were times that it felt homely like when Dad cut into the quietness with a bit of Roy Orbison or Johnny Cash, dancing around with pointy fingers and shaking his belly. And I do have other fond memories of living there mainly involving food! There were the massive roast dinners, which Dad served up to Granny and Pops one Christmas and our neighbours one New Year’s Eve (lé Tchu d’l’An), and the many big barbecues we had in the front yard. There was also lé parti he threw for me on my seventeenth annivèrsaithe when we all danced dans l’parlour until late into the night. Otherwise though, my recollections of that time are shrouded with grief, which I packed up and carried with me when I left for university at the age of 19.
It has been a long time since I regarded Jèrri as home, but this Boxing Day when we returned from lé Rouoyaume Unni to find Dad waiting for us at the back of the airport arrivals hall I felt a sense of homecoming for the first time since we moved back. It was so comforting to see the broad smile on Harry’s face reflected in his grandad’s. I was glad to be home and looking forward to spending Christmas Day #2 with man péthe et ma belle-méthe. I’m glad we moved back to be near Dad and I’m looking forward to all the Christmases and New Year celebrations we have yet to come.
It’s taken a while, but I think I am finally starting to feel like I’m home.