“You had missed a lot of time at school and the man from County Hall came out to see you and asked if you would like to go to the school and you said ‘yes.'”
My mother’s recollection of a moment in the autumn of 1974 did not match my own. In my memory, the conversation was one sided. The man from Somerset County Council’s education department was a gentle and softly spoken man who sat talking to a reticent, shy, introverted fourteen year old boy. The boy nodded in agreement, not realising to what he had agreed.
The school was three miles from a tiny village deep within the hills of Dartmoor National Park. Grey granite buildings and severely disciplinarian staff, it was not a hospitable place and even had it been so, it would be difficult to imagine that there would not have been a deep sense of homesickness. I remember going out with my parents on a Sunday afternoon in January 1975 and telling them that all I wanted was to go home with them.
Home was always my preferred place to be; it wasn’t that it was special or different but that it was ordinary and familiar. I wanted to sit at the kitchen table with my brown mug of tea made with three spoons of sugar. Home was as humble a place as might have been imagined, a three bedroomed semi-detached council house that had been built in 1926. It was a house that my parents had bought in 1972, the year we had got an inside toilet.
However dull and plain it might have seemed to others. My home for me was a place of security, it was a place where the welcome was always unconditional, it was a place where my own favourite things were all around.
At least the school allowed opportunities of a weekend home twice a term. If we have ever felt homesick, sometimes in those places where life is otherwise good, then imagine how it would have felt to have had no opportunity to go home, ever. I could never have faced the life of an emigrant in former times when there was no prospect ever going home and when even letters took weeks to reach their destination.
Five decades on, it seemed pointless to relate to my mother how much I had missed my home. Recall of the visit of the man from County Hall still has the power to cast a dark shadow.