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

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
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.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'