Five-minute memoir: Lezanne Clannachan recalls moving from Denmark to England

 

On the night I arrived in England from Denmark, I watched the passing countryside from the backseat of the car and found even the trees alien. At fourteen, I was used to being uprooted and deposited in a new space. Plotted on a map of Copenhagen, the many houses and flats I had called home would have looked like enemy bunkers encroaching on the city centre. So when my English-born mother decided to return home, I thought I knew all about moving.

But a new set of walls is infinitely more knowable than a foreign country.

Of the many backdrops to my Danish childhood, my favourite was a black-timbered mansion with turret staircases and a disco in the dungeon. There, I was always the captive princess awaiting rescue. When my father tired of the diplomatic service, we left the great, lost spaces of the old house behind, and moved to a new bungalow that expelled my games outdoors. Teaming up with the neighbourhood children, I executed daring raids on the adventure-playground of the local kindergarden; five minutes of wild play before the teachers chased us out. Princess became tomboy.

With each move, we shed square footage like ballast from a floundering hot air balloon, and I shed the childish candour of simply being me, learning to re-shape myself to new surroundings. By the time my mother decided to leave Denmark, my parents were long divorced. I was shuttling happily enough between my mother’s city flat – perched on a bulging artery of traffic flushing in and out of Copenhagen – and my father’s country bolt-hole. My friends still lived in their spacious houses, their families intact. The comparison set me apart.

I arrived in Kent wearing a brittle kind of toughness, like hammered metal. Telling myself I knew about change and survival; that I already spoke the language. 

On the first day of school, I realised my chameleon skin wasn’t going to work. There was no hiding, with my American twang and mid-term appearance. My peers had known each other since nursery. Where my International school in Denmark had been fluid and welcoming with its constant flux of overseas students, my new school was a place of deep roots and hard-packed layers of habitual friendship and enmity.

On my second day, I saw a boy caged beneath a table whilst a gang of boys and girls jabbed names at him, like spear-tips. This is what happened when you didn’t belong. And I’d caught their attention. They badgered me to speak Danish (occasionally Dutch) and made jokes about butter and bacon.

All right? they said.

I’m fine, thank you, I replied, wondering why they never waited for the answer.

I didn’t understand the language after all. 

I missed the snowploughs beneath my city window on a winter’s dawn, fresh mounds of snow in their orange light. I missed my father and his country home; the preserve of morning sunshine and late-night coffee.

Not that I told anyone. Instead I cut my hair and pierced my ears. Wearing my notoriety as a shield, I befriended Katie, a tough scrap of a girl who seemed to have no place or history before I arrived. There’s something both empowering and core-lonely about being permanently stage-lit. I planned escapades – swapping playgrounds for village dances - shoring rumours about myself like the walls of a sandcastle. Katie, with her whatever shrug, went along with everything. We’d disappear into the night with illicit bottles of cider and no place to sleep, having lied about our whereabouts. Or rather I had; I don’t think Katie needed to. Both of us were lost, never acknowledging it, but bound by that thin wire of need.

Katie often came for sleepovers. Only once did she invite me to hers. I knew she lived with her mother but nothing more. Her house was much larger than mine but devoid of furniture, and unheated. The kitchen door had rotted to a foot above the floor, the wind blowing through. Dinner was a cup of tea and a Twix. Her bedroom was beneath the eaves and consisted of two thin mattresses and a box for a bedside lamp. No posters, no trinkets, no curtains. Not the tiniest of imprints - as if Katie were too light, too insubstantial to make a mark on her surroundings. In contrast, my bedroom shelves sagged beneath knick-knacks and soft toys, the treasure-hoard of childhood that had followed me to each new home. It took me a long time to fall asleep; I couldn’t stop shaking.

Katie never invited me again. Nothing changed on the surface of our friendship but from then on I understood there’s a kind of privilege - closer to a blessing - that has nothing to do with the variable space between four walls and everything to do with the people who furnish your life.

And I wasn’t so tough after all.

Lezanne Clannachan. Her debut novel, Jellybird, is due out in March

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project