‘Home is more than a word - it’s an emotion’

The sign which welcomes many of us home. Picture: Denise Bradley

The sign which welcomes many of us home. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2013

Several weeks ago, I found myself chatting to a lady from Sheffield, who had lived in Norwich for more than 20 years. Over the course of the conversation, I asked her if she spent much time there now. 'Oh yes,' came the response. 'I go home quite often, actually.'

It struck me as peculiar that she used this phrase, and it led to the inevitable question: how long do you have to live somewhere before it becomes your home? What was it about Sheffield – and contrary to recent reports, it's certainly not the ale – that made her say that? It jarred my protective instincts (surely everyone would want to call Norwich their home?) but made me wonder also whether there could ever be a true definition of the word. Home.

Four letters that we use regularly, and often without thought, taking for granted that everyone has staying put. I know how they feel – I've experienced The Norwich Effect, first-hand. Ten years ago, I found myself leaving Yorkshire, free from the commitments of work and relationships.

I had the luxury of choice; I could have stuck a pin into a map and travelled there, or anywhere that took my fancy.

Instead, I found myself back in Norfolk – for an interim period, I told myself. A decade later, here I remain.

I have always believed it to be a peculiarity of Norfolk – this sense of unbreakable attachment, the invisible umbilical cord that ties its progeny to their place of birth. Do

Cockneys have the same draw to the distant peal of Bow Bells, Liverpudlians to the banks of the Mersey, and Yorkshire lads and lasses to the rolling dales? I don't know. But there's certainly something in the air that makes us stay, or return.

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Maybe it's the cocoon-like security that comes from living in a city that's safe, secure and welcoming. Maybe it's the ale (sorry, Sheffield). But whatever it is, the tug on the heartstrings that comes with thoughts of moving away from the cathedral, the beaches, the countryside and the river tell me that my heart is firmly in Norfolk – and is probably here to stay.

A house doesn't make a home. Sometimes, even the people inside don't make a

home. I've lived in Norwich for the past six years, but I know I'm home when I pass the sign on the A11 that tells me it's 11 miles to Wymondham.

Home, for me, is the place you go to when your future ends in a flurry of tears and suitcases. It's piles of old schoolbooks, crumpled photos of first boyfriends and several boxes of early-nineties fashion disasters.

It's where you still get odd pieces of junk mail, despite moving out 13 years ago, and where there's always a spare set of underwear and a pair of shoes.

It's where there's always food (that's important). It's where I know I can be myself, and no one will care if I meander downstairs at three o'clock in the afternoon in an ancient T-shirt and someone else's shorts.

There are very few places in the world like that. If you can find more than two, you're lucky.

For me, Wymondham will always be home – but that's not to say that

I'm not happy where I am. I have a nice flat, a fat dog and two wardrobes full of clothes that I can wear without looking like MC Hammer.

I've got security and safety, and though I don't make a habit of wearing a T-shirt and shorts downstairs in the pub, there's usually food in the fridge. I have two homes – I'm one of the lucky ones. Not everyone can say that.

Some people roam restlessly through life, constantly searching for something better; for fulfilment, or security, or a happiness they might never know.

We're so quick to cut the ties that bind us, moving around the country and beyond for reasons of work and pleasure, that it's easy to lose ourselves in the constant pursuit of more.

We move so fast that we don't stop and look at what we have on our doorsteps, or what we're leaving behind. The desire to seek and know and experience means that we miss those simple pleasures that we have, for free, around us: eating cheese on toast in bed, a glass of wine in the garden as the sun goes down, a walk by the Broads, a splash in the sea.

The happiness that comes from those homely pleasures can be the greatest of all – moments of bliss, shared or alone.

So maybe, after all this, we shouldn't think of home as a word, but as an emotion; that moment of relief when you see the sign for the town centre, or the front door that sticks slightly when you open it, or breathe in the warmth of a roast dinner. In all our travels, we should stop for a moment, and think of it what it is that we value the most: the excitement of the adventure, or the relief on our return - for everyone needs a place of refuge; somewhere to go when the going gets tough, when we're not sure where we're headed or where we'll end up; when the suitcases are packed but the journey unknown.

Everyone needs a tug on the heartstrings, sometimes, to guide them – for to borrow the words from J R R Tolkien: 'Not all those who wander are lost.'

Sometimes, they're just trying to find their way home.

•The views above are those of Hannah Colby. This column was brought to you in association with Cinema City in Norwich. Read more from our columnists in the Evening News each day.