(I wrote this three weeks ago. I have cycled through loving being here, hating being here, wondering where the hell else I could possibly go, swearing I'll never ever leave since then. Sometimes several times a day.)
Sitting in the cafe I remember when it used to be downstairs, in the tiny-windowed basement. I remember going to a workshop to print our names and designs onto the ceramic tiles that would decorate the original cafe's walls and I remember my disappointment that they couldn't be moved along with the cafe into the new building with its high roof, pale wooden beams and picture windows looking out over the bay. I remember art classes as a child in the gallery upstairs and then later in the newly built studio, when I was preparing my portfolio for art school. I remember artists who lived here, ones who left, ones who are still here and who were once my teachers but are now my friends, their kids only a few years older than my own.
There are so many memories, an accordion book spanning childhood holidays to moving here as a twelve year old, adolescent school days to long summers home once I had started university and finally holidays of recent years, this time grown and married and with children.
All of those memories are currently mixing and blending, colliding and dancing with life as I have been experiencing it these last few weeks and in a lot of cases they just don't match. I guess it's no mystery that life as a teenager doesn't look the same as it does when you are thirty years old, that the picture changes with time but if you aren't here to watch it happen then it comes as a bit of a surprise to look out of old windows and see a new view, similar but definitely not the same.
In almost every case it's a better view and with every day that we spend here those memories that were so vivid and clear - that I would have staked money on being True and Real - are dissipating, clearing like mist over the hills. People who I didn't think would remember my name let alone care that I was here greet me with warm smiles, marvel at the size of my children, ask how long I'm home for. Happiness and surprise greet me when I tell them that we have moved here, that the answer is 'Forever, hopefully'. Parents express delight that there are new children at the tiny local school, that the P1 class of four will now be six and look thoughtful when we say that we are looking for work and a house to rent. People help, or they try to. Suggestions come, facebook messages and promises to let us know if they hear of anything, not just once but over and over.
Neighbours phone to wish the girls a good first day at school and the following week to remind us that today is the day the bin goes out, the black bin, not the blue one. It goes out every fortnight but alternates between a Tuesday and a Thursday so it can be tricky to remember. Old teachers extol me to never, ever call them 'mister' again, introduce themselves to my husband by their first name and insist that we must call in the next time we're passing, if we don't then we'll find them on our doorstep. For now at least, it is lovely.
I can see that it might grate in time, the constant interaction, the impossibility of going to the supermarket without stopping to have the same conversation every week; 'yes, we're back... the girls are well... yes, five!... yes, they love school.... ' It reminds me somewhat of having newborn twins, when you would have to stop at least five times per outing to answer the same questions; 'yes, twins. No, two girls. No, they don't run in the family. Yes, I had a natural delivery. It was at 38 weeks... 5lb 7 and 6lb 2... No, we don't get a lot of sleep.' I wanted to have cards printed, or a sign made for the front of the pushchair. It wasn't that I resented people's interest, it was just that I was tired, and had somewhere to be, and it was the seventh time that day.
This is different though, I know these people and have known some of them since I first came here at seven years old. They grew up with my Granny, I went to school with them, or with their children or grandchildren. Their niece drove the school bus or their son was my high school teacher. They were my neighbour in one of the many houses we rented when we lived here or they are my mother's cousin's partner's brother in law. There are threads and links and connections running back for generations and after a life in city after city and then seven months in a country where interest in my well being (where knowing my name) was limited to the four adults living within 100m of my door, it is a really lovely thing to feel connected again, to feel part of a picture, to be cared about.