2 days ago, the country voted, by a small majority, to allow welfare cuts to continue, wages to remain frozen, and corporations to win, win, win while shafting their workers with zero hours contracts and abusing the tax system. It was a miserable day. And it pissed down with rain too. Not the ‘fine rain that gets you really wet’ but huge, dark rolling clouds that sent down raindrops strung together like blades. You couldn’t find a more apt metaphor for the future of our country.

I once read an article in The Economist describing graduates of business schools as the ‘agents of the apocalypse’ but I think that now also applies to this country’s new administration. This is a party so lacking in compassion that they would rather put their arms dealer friends before human rights, rather protect the favourable tax status of their elite networks than raise money for safety nets like social housing, legal aid and the NHS.

The letters pages of The Independent and The Telegraph newspapers spoke volumes. The Independent decided to print letters reflecting dismay at the death of the state, but it was the Telegraph that really brought home the bile that the media has thrown at Labour and the Liberal Democrats. They even chose to print a letter describing the 56 new, democratically elected MPs for Scottish constituencies as ‘irrelevant’. Charming, don’t you think? To say that the media has been hostile to anyone other than the Conservatives would underplay just how relentlessly the discourse of fear has been used. Private Eye has at least tried to remain critical of all political parties and I would urge anyone to buy it to read the truth about what is routinely covered up and unreported by mainstream press.

And then there is The Times. Where do we even begin with them? They reported today that the new government will seek to abolish the Human Rights Act. There’s no need for backroom deals anymore, they can be as open as they like and act with complete impunity now. Mark Steel is crestfallen, dumbfounded and disbelieving. I just feel sick.

Here at Homesick HQ, we can safely say that we have done the ‘bed and breakfast’ (B&B) thing. We are veterans. Years of ‘staycationing’ and weekends away from Homesick HQ have left us sometimes refreshed, sometimes longing for our own bed, often shocked by the price of a drink, and always with something to remember. Memories are selective. We all have the capacity to (thankfully) forget the service reminiscent of Basil Fawlty and the karaoke singing hotel owner, but remember impeccable surroundings and mammoth breakfasts. Looking back on our staycationing experiences, there are some common themes that stand out as…how do I put this delicately… ‘issues’ that would feasibly drive all potential holidaymakers away.

The highlight (and what inspired this post) was a wedding anniversary in Morecombe Bay a few years ago, and it was memorable not because of the beautiful beach and the pier, but because of the utterly dire ‘4 star’ hotel that we had the misfortune to pick. It was a last-minute trip anyway, and we made the mistake of believing some of the ‘above average’ reviews. I have to say, the accommodation put us off holidaying in the UK for at least a year (until we discovered a secret hidey-hole which I will NEVER share with anyone).

Back to Morecombe – the room had a sea view (great!) but there was also a distinct smell of previous guests, mouldy teabags that had been left out in the sunny windowsill alongside UHT cartons of milk that had been opened a crack so that their contents were sour. There was a chair on top of the wardrobe (WHY?!?) And the mattress was like a bucket. We paid the same amount for 2 nights at this B&B as we would have for a Marriott in Yorkshire (I checked the prices) so we duly felt completely ripped off. I think I may have thrown the room key at the owner when we left.

So, at the end of our tether, here is our twisted wisdom to the lost souls of the B&B world who are struggling to make the best of their assets:

  1. We are no longer in the 1970s, 80s or 90s, so please move into the next century. Decor to match these eras is like staying with your gran. Not the nice gran either, but the one who was mean to your mum and a bit creepy. So update your decor, everything about it. EVERYTHING. I appreciate that times are hard and renovating for an impending Hotel Inspector inspection may not be possible. But seriously, common sense should tell you that there are some cheap ways of freshening up your place.
  2. Stay in one of your own rooms for the night. Use the tea and coffee making facilities, try out that trouser press, experience the pleasure of that budget mattress for yourself.
  3. Clean the effing kettle of limescale.
  4. Change the teabags regularly and chuck out the gross UHT milk cartons too.
  5. Have somewhere NEAR the shower/bath to hang the towel AND your clothes. A closed toilet seat is not an acceptable place to place your clean towel.
  6. Get rid of all the dried flowers and potpourri in all the rooms.
  7. Give the place a lick of paint.
  8. Don’t force the guests into karaoke sessions, not everyone shares your enthusiasm.
  9. For the love of God, give us more than half an hour to eat our breakfast, and please don’t make us get up before 9am for this. We need a lie-in. We work hard all week and really want to sleep or rummage under the duvet.
  10. Hot and cold taps should be indications of hot and cold running water. Not lukewarm and dribbling.
  11. ‘Fresh orange juice’ does not mean leaving the Tesco’s value carton out for all to help themselves.

Over to you my trusty readers…what else should be included?…

Part 1: the beginning

Can I ask you something? You know that town that you grew up in? Do you still call it home? Does it still have a familiar, sun-kissed feel of your youth (misspent or otherwise)? Or do you remember it as a hellhole that you couldn’t wait to leave? I ask because I have no idea what to make of my unexpected, newfound nostalgia for the town I grew up in; Gosport. It must be an age thing. I’ve spent the last 10 years reminiscing about how great life was overseas, and now I’m going back even further, back to where, some would say, is home. I concede that this is where my ‘journey’ started, but to call it home has always rankled because I had a torrid time in my teenage years, so the place is associated with demons.

There was good stuff too, of course there was; my schooling, the friends around me, and their families who took me in when things went berserk. But when I eventually left, I never went back, which should tell you all you need to know about the perceptions I’ve since been harbouring about the place.

It’s Mr Homesick’s idea. I’m struggling with the final chapter of my Living Library manuscript, and one morning, a voice from behind the sports pages said “Why don’t you visit Gosport library? Y’know, hometown and all that? We can have fish and chips on the beach.” Hmmm, not a bad idea. So I’m doing it. I’m going home. After 23 years away. I am fearful and excited at the same time. Will it be the vibrant high street of yesteryear, or a string of poundshops? Watch this space…

Part 2: the middle

This is weird. Like, proper weird. I’ve had to pinch myself several times that I’m really here. We went straight to my old house and walked around. Then I wanted to look at the house again and again. Our house looks the same; the garden path where I turned round and saw my mother crying heavily into a teatowel the day I left home looks exactly the same. In fact, everything looks the same, and I mean everything; the houses, the gardens, Stokes Bay, my old school. The road names – Angelsey, Jellicoe, Vesper, Bury Hall Lane, The Avenue – each bring a collection of memories, as does the Gosport Ferry. And Village Home pub is still surrounded by a gaggle of rich kids pretending to slum it.

Did I really live here? Pinch, pinch. Did all those things – all those insanely stressful things – really happen to me? I have to shake my head at the thought that it really was me – skinny, wee frightened me – who left my home, who had to lie and sneak around to see my friends, and who missed my lovely surroundings and my teenage years in their entirety. It seems a lifetime ago, like everything happened to another person (I am, after all, another person now). And it also feels so familiar, like I’ve never been away. It does, surprisingly, feel like home.

Part 3: the end (or is it?)

Gosport is such a small town that I was convinced I was going to bump into someone I recognised, or that someone would recognise me. But that never happened, which made me feel strangely disappointed. After 4 days there I probably had every emotion under the sun. I grew up thinking Gosport was grim, but that’s because my childhood was shitty. Going back made me realise that my environment was nice, I was just never allowed to take advantage of it. We should have been walking on the beach, or learning to cycle, or swim, or sail. But it was ‘like a prison’ as my mum would later say.

It’s only our memories that make a place real and my memories are testimony to all those demons I had been harbouring about my upbringing. The trip was cathartic and the demons don’t have a place in my heart or mind anymore. It’s true that going home has opened my eyes to how nice life could have been, but it’s also opened up possibilities for the future.

Trips down memory lane can be frightful, can’t they? But they needn’t be. If you’re thinking of making that trip, ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ Do it. Make that journey home. You may feel lighter for it. I did.

Leaving home for the second time in my life...

Leaving home for the second time in my life…

You know when spring is in the air when we Brits start building igloos in our gardens. I kid you not, someone in our area has built an igloo in their front garden. He said it took him 3 days and that it’s marginally warmer than being in his house.

You may have heard that it’s snowing again here in England. Cue unparalleled scenes of whinging and faces etched with a greyness that screams VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY wherever you look. Never in a million years (this has been verified by our fact-checkers) has there been soooo much snow in England. Apart from the last time it snowed. And the time before that. Anyway, this time it’s serious because, as the media has repeatedly reminded us, we really should be enjoying the sight of daffodils in our gardens by now.

The snow has turned our world so far off its axis that here at Homesick we’re thinking of putting our Christmas tree back up. The flowers aren’t here, we’re still wearing thermals, and here is the proof:

Mr Homesick buys our seasonal pineapples and mangos

Mr Homesick buys our seasonal pineapples and mangos

Igloos mark the advent of spring in Yorkshire

Igloos mark the advent of spring in Yorkshire

The Buddha is always warm

The Buddha is always warm

If ever there was a time to feel homesick for the UK, surely it was during the Olympics and Paralympics? But the glorious summer of sport has come to an end and here at Homesick we’ve reluctantly gone back to some sort of working routine. Over the last few weeks, we have seen the UK through a lens that we have only dreamt about: strangers talking to each other, smiling at each other, BEING POLITE, all because the sport on our screens has made us happy. Now who could have predicted that a nation of misanthropes would do that? Even the sun came out to play.

People working from home had the best seats for the events. Up and down the land, we slowly moved our laptops, in-trays, piles of paper and stationery onto the coffee tables and windowsills of our front rooms. And there we stayed for the full sporting schedule. Bliss.

As a nation we shouted at the TV, cancelled social appointments to watch the swimming, left early on nights out to go home and watch the athletics. We even started walking, running and cycling.

And we wept. We wept like never before watching athletes fulfil their lifelong dreams, wept as tiny dramas unfolded in the stadium, on horseback, on boats and in the pool. We listened to the irrepressible Clare Balding (who is the nation’s darling at the moment) comment on a range of sporting facts and myths that put ALL football punditry to shame. And now the sports pages are filled yet again with pictures of overpaid footballers looking like bored, petulant schoolboys at PE lessons. Knowing what we now know about the training schedules of Olympians and Paralympians, it comes as no surprise that footballers have been knocked off their pedestals, and the knowledge that football may well be the only sport on prime time TV in the coming months is utterly depressing (see Get Her Off The Pitch by Lynne Truss for a flavour of the football fraternity).

We also watched Denise Lewis and Steve Cram go bonkers at witnessing Mo Farah win gold at the 10,000 and 5,000 metres.

And we listened to Matt Baker, once a competitive gymnast, shout during his commentary: “Hang on to your hats in the top rows, this girl can really vault!” His glee at sitting beside Nadia Comaneci and holding her gold medal was palpable. He is Tigger personified. Other highlights for Homesick include:

The Brownlee brothers. We are not worthy.

The double-trap shooting. I want to try it, where can I try it?

The Archery. They get to wear cool hats. Where’s the nearest place from Homesick HQ?

Then there were the one-legged high-jumpers, blind long-jumpers, and swimmers without arms, all of whom made us weep with shame; shame at the limitations we have placed on ourselves, shame of not trying hard enough to better ourselves, and the shame of how we have allowed stereotypes of disability to seep into our consciousness unchecked.

We simply couldn’t get enough of the Paralympians. It started when Channel 4’s trailer for the Paralympics hit us like a truck, and using Public Enemy’s blistering track Harder Than You Think was inspired. But that’s not all, Public Enemy edited their original video to include the Paralympics GB Team. So here at Homesick we now have a soundtrack for our brilliant summer of weeping, shouting and jumping in front of the TV, and what a summer it was.

One day to go! Here at Homesick, we waited patiently for the Olympic torch to come to our little patch of Yorkshire. The town was packed, and the obligatory helicopter overhead confused many of us, as this is something normally reserved for Friday and Saturday nights. As it travelled down Bradford Road, we stood on a grassy knoll and caught a glint of something special.

“It can’t be…can it?” said the old couple next to us, squinting into the sunshine.

“It is,” said a father with a child perched on his shoulders. He was almost breathless with the shock.

“Look Daddy!” screeched the child, pointing to the centre of the road.

And there it was, a sight more rare than the Olympic torch itself: a policeman in Fartown.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many police here,” said the old woman next to me, “and I’ve lived here for 50 years.” I think I saw tears in her eyes.

There we stood, open-mouthed, as he, and others of his kind whizzed past on their motorbikes, high-fiving the crowd on their way down to Brighouse.

“I don’t think we’ll see his kind again,” said the old man. “They look like they’re from Down South.” And with that, we all dispersed, but the memory of that special moment will always linger.

As I type this, there is a very palpable sense that the nation is about to collectively vomit with excitement. The reason? Why, the long weekend, of course: TWO working days off in succession next week (what will we do with ourselves?). Yes, the Jubilee Bank Holiday is now upon us: wine shelves in supermarkets up and down the land are being picked dry this very evening, sandwiches are being stockpiled for the rain-sodden street parties taking place over the weekend, and the bunting, dear readers, the bunting is bloody everywhere. The symptoms of Bunting Fever are two (a compulsion to hoard commemorative goods from the pound/charity shop, and bulk buying Jubilee branded food you will never eat), and gradual – you may not realise you have Bunting Fever until you wake from a trance to find you’ve been trying to impale your garden gnome with a union jack flag for the last 20 minutes, wearing just your wellington boots and underpants. Mr Homesick thought that 100 British Airways cabin crew had congregated in ASDA, until he realised that it was Ordinary Folk wearing their Jubilee emblazoned scarves while out buying groceries. But it’s Marmite that wins the branding game, with this inspired design to commemorate the occasion – a love/hate treat for anyone feeling homesick.

Here at Homesick, we’re elbowing the blaze of bunting and choosing instead to share with you pictures of The North (see the Gallery). What better way to celebrate the beauty of ‘home.’ Taken last year on a mammoth job for one of my clients, they show country and city scenes from Ambleside, Durham, Filey, Holmfirth (including Sid’s Cafe from Last of the Summer Wine), Hull, London, Newcastle (including St James’ Park as it was formerly known), Scarborough and York. Hope they don’t make you pine for home too much. Happy viewing everyone (especially AG who got into the Homesick mindset with me on this journey). See you all for the Olympic torch relay, which is shooting past my front door later this month. That’s true, that is.

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