Leaving home but not the nest

Enjoy being home while you can, says Eleanor Doughty, because all too soon that provincial home will seem oddly comforting

The famous ‘they’ say that you don’t know what you’ve got till it's gone. For a change, ‘they’ are right. 

I go home to my parents’ far less than I’d like to. It’s confession time: I get homesick. It is by far the most troubling part of being away at university. Crippling deadlines and endless holidays (more trouble than they’re worth) aside, it’s the gap between university and home that gets me the most.

In term time I feel it less - the holidays are the killer. But it is, as many will attest, hard to pack up and leave home when your cat relations are close and you tell your parents everything. It does sound wimpy, I realise, but I don’t go home much because it’s hard coming back.

In my first term at university, I returned to the homestead within three weeks for a wedding. I wasn’t ready to leave my new group of friends, the freedom and the weirdly addictive smell of fried chicken behind and return to a drafty provincial house with a driveway. Oddly, I was enticed by my miniature en-suite room, haphazard wifi and central heating. So I went on all weekend to everyone that asked how university was going – I’d only been there two weeks – about how brilliant it was. I was so excited to go back; I’ve only felt this once since. I had no bad memories of it then, no awkward relationships, deadlines or nine-hour working days to avoid, all of which have now regrettably developed.

Despite my summer plans of schlepping to Bavaria for some beer and spending the remaining fortnight cat sitting being interrupted by a work opportunity I couldn’t refuse, I went home for the bank holiday. It was divine. School friends were seen, cocktails glugged and gossip - mine being mainly of the photocopier variety - exchanged. That was just Friday. I cavorted, I drove - my car! - and had a lie in (not too late mind, for a precious weekend at home should ne'er be wasted sleeping). I won two games on Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 (don’t mock) and consumed more red meat than in months.

But being at home is more curious and complex than the 'free food' - I obviously realise that food and drink, even if they come from my parents’ fridge, bread maker or Aga, are not free. What is a crucial clause in the home-stay contract is the feeling that your independence has been whipped out from under your slippers. Suddenly, if you’re anything like me, memories of being asked to unload the dishwasher flood back. In a strange leveller last weekend, I found myself eagerly attempting to wash up as if I was still in London, where if I don’t do it, no one will. What a keen bean. 

Going home isn’t all sixth form memories and nights down the local for old time's sake. It is an emotional experience. I accept that returning to base isn’t for everyone, in the same way that crying at the train station also doesn’t float everyone’s boat, but both work for me.

I don’t feel quite so grown up this week, but let’s call this down time. Everyone needs a bit and I’ve been deprived of a holiday.

So to all those reading this from home: incoming first years especially, remember what you've got right now. While you’re busy arguing about who left the loo seat up, think to a time in the future when a small part of you will miss that nagging. It’s good to be prepared; I wish I had been.

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