My daughter has a little game she likes to play with me, which is, How Fast Can We Make Mummy Cry?
All she has to do is find ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ on the iPod and the floodgates open.
But it also worked the other way, when I still really called Australia home. Every time the British Airways commercial came on my Aussie TV I’d be sobbing into the sofa.
It’s very confusing.
This morning I was walking around Elizabeth Bay feeling like the ghost of Christmas past, on first name terms with every tree, as well as the lady in the corner shop, who still remembers me. There isn’t a building in that suburb I don’t have some kind of history with.
I haven’t lived there for years now, but it still feels as normal and comfortable to be there as in my own kitchen.
But my kitchen now is actually in a funny little town on the south coast of England – Hastings, where the battle was – and I have the same sense of complete normality/utter weirdness when I go from there up to my other home town, London, where I was born.
Every corner there holds a memory, every paving stone is an old friend and the nice man in the hardware store across from my old flat in Primrose Hill still remembers my name.
It feels completely normal to be there, even though I haven’t had a kitchen in London since 1993, when I moved to Sydney.
The spirit of Sydney always stays the same, says Maggie. Image via fanpop.com.
So where is home now? I honestly don’t know – and I’m not alone in that.
Chatting to Sydney taxi drivers over the years I’ve heard so many stories of moving here from somewhere else – I used to collect nations, aiming for a full set – which they still think of as ‘home’.
Some of them left forty years ago and haven’t been back, yet still it has that visceral pull for them. Even though the place they left surely no longer exists as they remember it.
Sydney changes too. Even coming back as regularly as I do, I see that. New buildings have gone up, shops have closed, favourite cafes have changed hands – but the spirit of Sydney stays the same. The warmth, the openness, the truly sensational food and, of course, the Harbour.
As long as I can do that walk round from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair to the corner where – bam! – you suddenly see the Bridge and the Opera House, laid out across the water in the view that never fails to do me in, Sydney will always own a large part of my heart.
But in exactly the same way, whenever I get the train up to London from Hastings, it comes into Charing Cross station over a bridge across the Thames and there it is, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben… just like every old movie you ever saw that crossed to ‘London, England’. It always makes my spirit soar.
How can I love one of them more?
I have so many friends, forever torn as I am, between these two amazing cities – I had breakfast with two of them, this morning, funnily enough, that’s why I was in Elizabeth Bay – and the conversation always comes round to where we want to live more.
Sydney has the lifestyle, London has the culture. Sydney has the climate, London has the proximity to Europe. Sydney has the food, London has the glamour. Sydney has Bondi, London has Selfridges… You can drive yourself mad trying to work it out rationally.
I’ve got friends so confused about it they’re just about to move back to Sydney after a couple of years back in London and they’re not the first ones I’ve known to do that.
It’s a very unsettling – not to mention expensive – way to live, but once you’ve got two wonderful cities in your blood, it seems a logical thing to do.
Your spirit can’t quite settle until it’s had another shot of the other place.
Inspired by them and all the other couples I know forever torn between two countries, I’ve made it the subject of my new book, with an English woman married to an Aussie bloke, and settled back in London. It’s all a great adventure until the point comes when both their families need them – whose mum is more important?
For me, right now, the decision has simply come down to family in that way. However much I’d like to resume my wonderful Sydney life, I have to be near my mum, now 90 years old and I also want my daughter, ten, to grow up really knowing her aunts, uncles and cousins.
So it’s the UK for me, for the time being – if not mighty London itself, because it feels oddly easier to live in a third, rather random place, than choose between the two cities I love.
And my daughter can make me cry just as quickly by playing Noel Coward singing ‘London Pride’…
*Maggie Alderson is a novelist, journalist, columnist, fashionist, blogerist, Twitterist and motherist. She has published six novels and four books of columns, edited four magazines and four newspaper sections, has columns in two newspapers and on one website, one blog, one daughter and at least 12 pairs of Prada shoes. Follow her on Twitter @MaggieA, on High 50 and www.maggiealdersonstylenotes.wordpress.com, in the [S section of the] Sun Herald and [M in] the Sunday Age and all good book shops. And most good shoe shops.