It’s obviously bland to say it depends on the place and it depends on the person.
I measure houses in terms of how long it takes me to offer someone a cup of tea in their own house. Once I’m doing that, I’m definitely at home. Unless I’m actually living somewhere. Then the first tranche is when I lie on the bed and look at the ceiling and know it’s my ceiling (you possibly have to see my ceilings to get this). Then there’s another level when I first dance naked around my bedroom. And after that there’s the first time I get a really good sleep and don’t wake up confused. They generally take a day, a week and a month or so. I think. But to be honest, I don’t know if I move often enough to have as distinctive a pattern for that.
Countries I’ve never travelled enough for, but I know I felt at home in Germany after less than twenty four hours and have never felt at home in France. Sorry France, I’m pretty sure it’s me and not you.
And then I’ve rarely moved to cities. Brighton I felt at home in within a month. And it was only a year or two before I realised that this would be my home from now on. Even if I moved, I’d feel tied to this place.
With Brighton, I feel it strongest when I get to the crest of a hill. The sudden expanse of views. The arcing curves and rows of streets. The glistening sea and odd monsters of churches, blocks and the occasional palace. The big sky that keeps it all in place.
I seem to remember the same thing happening with Sheffield, my favourite place to visit. First time I was there, it was the crest of the hill and the shape of the street lights. Pure gorgeous cascade of colour and mystery. Of course, that may have been the psilocybin. Apparently hallucinogenic mushrooms help me feel at home.
But not as much as tea.
And then there’s the opposite.
It doesn’t take too long these days for somewhere to stop feeling like home. I grew up in St Albans, but now every time I go back I feel like an archaeologist of home, not someone returning home. I can see all the shapes and ruins of what was my place. I can piece together all the history of my life there, my home there, and my friends there. But only from a distance.
Until I get to the right house. Near the other end of Brampton Road. The biggest kettle I’ve ever seen and the best mince pies in the world. The best people in the world, bustling around and making music and sound in every direction.
Home is hospitality, I think. Its a warm welcome and open arms.
Streets and buildings can give you that, but really it’s people.
People and love. That’s what home is.
And sometimes that’s instantaneous.
Illustration by Rosie.