Stranger In A Strange Land

It takes me by surprise, every time. I can be driving up the hill towards my house – the house – or staring out of my back window. I can be crossing the unmade, pot-holey road between my neighbour’s house and my own, invited – as I was yesterday – for a coffee. Even after seven – nearly eight – years in this village-at-the-end-of-the-world, I can get this feeling of unfamiliarity. I am not really here, something inside my head is saying. Any moment now I will find myself, as if by magic, in the place I actually inhabit, living the life I am actually living.

I am not here, the voice says. I am actually somewhere else, living a completely different life. I do not look like this. My name is familiar – and yet different – I am well, I am happy, I am where I should have been for the last seven – nearly eight – years and

I have never been here.

This, here, is an illusion.

What’s that called, psychologically-speaking. Alienation? Anomie? Ontological Insecurity? And what might be its cause. Something dire, I’ll be bound.

I typed it into Google and got Mumsnet, and Mumsnet, predictably, completely misunderstood the nature of my query. Back and forth these Mumsies kept assuming I meant “not being satisfied with what I’ve got” and quoting endlessly at one another some old body by the name of Joseph Campbell:

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to live the life we have waiting for us.”

But that wasn’t what I meant, smug Mumsies! It’s some sort of existential angst, not a vague conviction that I landed on earth with the intention of being a millionaire/ess. I mean, I know all about lemons and lemonade. I have made so much lemonade out of my manky old lemons, honestly.

It’s more a feeling that any minute now I am going to wake up. Except I don’t. I am a stranger in a strange land.

Which got me wondering where I heard that phrase, and I remembered reading a very good sci-fi novel with that title, by Robert A Heinlen. 1961, he wrote it. And having remembered it, I’ll have to read it again, forthwith. Or rather she will – the version of me that’s inexplicably here, as well as being wherever else she is.

Now I discover that Robert A Heinlen was quoting someone else – The Bible. It’s in Exodus 2:22 and it’s about Moses and his wife Zipporah – or Tziporah – which means “bird”.

And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for, he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

And then, of course, I had to look up Gershom, for why should being called Gershom have anything to do with the case? And I find that in Biblical Hebrew, Gershom means Stranger There or Stranger Is His Name or Exile, Expelled.

So now you know.

And I know.

But who, exactly – am I?

Not in Kansas Anymore

I don’t know what it is but driving to the vets with cats mewling pitifully in the back – No No Mummy, Not Claws Clipped Again, Don’t Like Nursie…etc., etc – tends to bring out the Muse in me. Or should it be Muser?

I was just musing, as I approached the Island’s Eccentric Traffic Lights, as to whether there was such a thing as home for me anymore, and coming to the conclusion that probably there wasn’t. The traffic lights chose to stay red for some considerable time. Other times they just bully you through.

I’m moving soon – fingers crossed, no date yet – and what has been ‘home’ for the last three years or so has now become an un-hoovered, inconvenient brick cube full of stacked cardboard boxes and jumpy, confused cats. There are no shades on the lamps. There is nothing much in the garage apart from flattened cardboard boxes. I am hoping there will be no more trips to the tip with car-loads of rubbish. Everything’s in the wrong place. I’m eating off the same two plates and drinking from the same two mugs; the rest are packed.

How many times have I been through this before? How many photos have I got of cats curled up on cardboard boxes, enjoying a transitory patch of sun, wondering where the next meal will come from – assuming their cat-food stash hasn’t also been boxed up.

After three years of doing nothing much about the various problems in this road, all my neighbours seem to have sprung into action for some reason. The lady next door has suddenly decided to replace her boundary fences with lovely new, expensive wood panels after three years of no fences in part – so we were continually catching sight of one another bleary-eyed in our dressing-gowns and slippers first the morning, shambling about the garden – and fallen fences in other parts, leaning drunkenly on my garden shed and slow-motion dismantling my water-butt. The fence man has been here for days, his radio on at full blast, hammering and clanking, his white van blocking the road to my right.

The man over the road has decided to dig up the scruffy square of concrete in front of his house. This might even cure the torrents of muddy water that have been cascading down the hill, making a beeline for my driveway and deluging my back garden every autumn and winter: except I won’t be here to appreciate it.

All day yesterday, over the road, there was a pneumatic drill controlled by a man with a white hat in a small yellow machine of some description. He too had a portable radio on loud. He couldn’t possibly have heard it over the pneumatic drill but he had it on anyway. Now the road in front of my house was blocked, by a big lorry with a trailer on the back and yet another white van.

Reversing out of my driveway has become an even greater challenge. The workmen pause and wave their arms around, grinning – those mysterious ‘reverse this way’ signals which only confuse women. Shut eyes tight, wrench steering wheel hard left and pray that Jesus has control – that’s the way to do it.

not in Kansas

Not in Kansas Anymore: Eric Diaz

What makes a brick box a home? I wondered. And what stops it being home?

Silence. The traffic lights at last turned amber. First gear. Handbrake off.

When was the last time you felt at home?

I never did. I am a stranger in a strange land. I was born one and I will die one.

So what is home?

Home is not a place, it’s a knowledge. It’s being loved by someone else, loving someone else. Home is feeling safe.

Have you never felt safe?

Have you never felt safe?

Have you never, ever felt safe?