This title of an article on the Psychology Today website by Frank McAndrew (2015) caught my attention as it’s a concept I’ve been recently pondering. The traditional interpretation of ‘home’ for many has been shattered in recent years with the advent of the global nomad and the increasing movement of people flitting around the world. For some professions, this transient lifestyle is a cultural norm; my former military career and current “marriage” to the British Army via Ben inevitably means packing our entire lives up and moving every two years aligned with the posting cycle. In reality, this can shrink to 18 months or less when operational tours, exercise and courses are thrown into the mix.
Over twenty moves in twenty years (see table below for further details - excluding short courses and my belated gap year travels) the simple question “where’s home for you?” invokes a cloud of confusion as I struggle to succinctly articulate my nomadic lifestyle, mainly due to having a sense of disconnect with my current “home” location and a deeper craving to be elsewhere. My birth roots extend back to the North East of England; a born and bred Geordie “lass”, though this fact is usually met with disbelief at my lack of accent and absolutely no resemblance to a single female cast member of Geordie Shore. Any trace of a Geordie dialect was firmly banished by a combination of extra-curricular elocution lessons at school, officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and subsequent expat wanderings. And as far as fashion goes, while I may share a fondness with the Geordie Shore cast for figure hugging clothes, mine tend to be performance Lycra ready to run up and down mountains at midnight as opposed to the stereotypical Geordie lass late night shenanigans.
As a junior Army Officer working in various logistics related management roles in the 00s, I was treated to back to back overseas operational tours to hot and sandy places courtesy of the British tax payer. This meant a chunk of my twenties were spent sweating in the back of a Landrover in Kuwait or squeezing into the corner of a stuffy 24 x 24 tent in Kabul on an American camp cot as temperatures crept into the high 40s. Back in camp “home” was a form of glorified student accommodation: a mixture of box rooms in Officers’ Messes scattered across the UK and Germany. Post-Army my nomadic lifestyle continued; travelling through SE Asia; leading expeditions to Ecuador, Kenya and Nepal; cycling down New Zealand; working in the remote desert town of Madinat Zayed in Abu Dhabi; beach-side living in Maroubra whilst studying at the University of Sydney; navigating the challenges of life as a female in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and finally our most recent move to Trowbridge, the County town of Wiltshire. It’s Trowbridge, which for the last four years, at least by conventional standards, should be classified as “home” but in reality it has never felt further from its definition.
At the end of 2014 a move to the UK made sense. It gave Ben the opportunity to re-engage with the Royal Signals at Regimental Duty after back-to-back overseas postings in Australia and Saudi Arabia and me the chance to carve out a period of stability to develop my coaching business without the disruption of another move. After several hours hunched over Google Maps, Trowbridge was selected due to its convenient rail links into London and Bristol. I’ll openly admit there’s been minimal investment to “homify” the standard military quarter with standard-issued magnolia painted walls, beige carpets, random assortment of cut-off curtains and functional furniture. Every spare weekend or holiday is spent escaping to warmer climates, the mountains or the beach; ideally this triple combo if possible. But at the end of each weekend or holiday as I return to the soulless identikit housing estate something always fades away inside and my spirit crumples. Gazing out the kitchen window past row upon row of alternate bland brick or cream washed modern houses sandwiched together fails to ignite any sense of familiarity or belonging.
This inner turmoil and despair is momentarily stilled in Chamonix; my mountain home which has been my permanent bolt hole since 2000. In reality over this twenty year period I’ve only spent a smattering of days there yet it’s the place I consider home. Happy memories stretch across the years; spending Christmas on the slopes, welcoming in the New Year amidst joyous revelry in the town square, celebrating our wedding overlooking the Mer de Glace with family and friends or planning and executing countless mountain adventures. The soaring pinnacles and towers of the Aiguille de Midi and rugged ridgeline frame the view from our balcony in Chamonix and immediately fuel an inner “joie de vie”.
Our four year “return to UK” anniversary passed earlier this summer with the bitter-sweet prospect of another three years in Wiltshire as (happily) Ben secured a promotion into a role in nearby Warminster. Despite recent advancement in working practices, I’m slightly pessimistic the British Army flexible working policy will offer realistic remote working opportunities, so the next few years will involve bouncing backwards and forwards between Wiltshire and Chamonix; balancing work, ultrarunning and other life adventures. Similar to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz I’ll be destined to wander and roam. Beyond this commitment, the future “home” conundrum will undoubtedly continue to puzzle Team Watson-Psaila. With our current requirements including mountains, beach, sun and a nearby airport, preferably within Europe, we’re always open to recommendations to explore!!
Where’s home for you?
Note* The locations captured were classified as “home” for a minimum of two months. Other shorter courses, military exercises/attachments, travel or holidays haven’t been included in this process.
Beck, J. (30 Dec 11). The Psychology of Home: Why Where You Live Means So Much in The Atlantic.
McAndrew, F. (3 Aug 15). “Home is where the heart is, but where is “home”? in Psychology Today.
Suval, L. (6 Dec 18). The Psychology Behind Instilling a Sense of ‘Home’.
Photo 1: Looking towards Mont Blanc along Rue du Dr Paccard in Chamonix town centre.
Photo 2: Standing on one of the look out towers surrounding Shaihah Logistics Base during Op TELIC in Iraq.
Photo 3: Chamonix is usually the place for Lycra & running adventures; wedding celebrations meant a dress was needed. Credit: Charles Davies Photography.
Photo 4: Chamonix wedding celebrations with our family & friends overlooking the Mer de Grace. Credit: Charles Davies Photography.