I left England at the age of five. Spent my childhood reading Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome, Malcom Saville and a host of other English children’s authors, watching The Goodlife, Two Ronnies, Dad’s Army and Are you Being Served? and inexplicably pining for a land I could barely recall. I would go back, I decided, once I came of age. I would visit this place my parents called home. But somehow it never happened. I got married, we had children, became saddled with a mortgage. The years rolled past until, one day, my young adult son got himself a UK passport. He said, ‘look mum, I’m more British than you are.’
That’s it, I decided. Time to make the journey.
I booked my frequent flyer tickets months in advance. Endured a round-about flight with interminable stopovers enroute. After thirty plus hours of travel, the pilot announced we had begun our descent into Heathrow. As I peered down on the little brown semi-detached houses with their baize, card table lawns my eyes filled with tears. They wouldn’t stop. Hiccuping sobs wracked my chest. As the plane touched down and we came to a juddering halt, I thought:
If I die now, it doesn’t matter I’m home.
In July last year, Andrew and I visited the UK together for the first time. After the long haul flight we boarded our National Express coach for Wales. Andrew dozed intermittently as we headed out onto the M4. I sat bolt upright on the seat beside him. As we approached the Severn Bridge, I jabbed him in the ribs.
‘Andrew. Wake up. We’re about to cross the border into Wales.’
Jet lagged and facing a further five hours in the coach, I don’t think the border crossing had registered as significant. But seeing my flushed face and quivering upright form, Andrew assumed an attitude of polite interest. As we passed through Chepstow and headed deeper into Wales, I began to point out landmarks. When he could finally get a word in, Andrew asked: ‘Liz, how many times have you been to Wales in the last eight years?’
‘Isn’t it time you came for a longer stint?’
It wasn’t in fact the first time Andrew had made this suggestion. He’d dangled the possibility before me a number of times. After a fleeting moment of consideration, I’d alway dismissed the possibility out of hand. We’re married right? Till death do us part. Good Christian girls don’t do that kind of thing. And frankly the idea of striking out on my own terrified me.
However, this time fate intervened in the form of my friend Veronica Calarco.
I first met Veronica, a fellow Aussie, on Cwrs Haf, a month long summer language school in Aberystwyth. We kept in touch, sharing news and making witticisms in our muddled up learners Welsh. On a trip home to Australia, Veronica and her partner, Mary, came to visit us in Melbourne. When planning our holiday, I learned that they had recently bought a house in Corris, Wales, which Veronica was planning to set up as an artist and writers residence. On visiting North Wales, Andrew and I were given a guided tour of the newly established Stiwdio Maelor. Veronica said: ‘I’m hoping to get a live in volunteer to manage the property.’
Bing! A light came on in my head. I could do that, I thought. I could live in this house, in this tiny edge-of-Snowdonia village, in this country that I love, with its brave history and melodious language. I would have a roof over my head, friends nearby, and my writing to keep me occupied. I could pick up casual job in a pub or a cafe. Before we left Corris, I asked Veronica to send me the volunteer application form. Andrew and I discussed the idea, on and off, throughout our holiday. Slowly over the weeks it took on solid form. So solid, that when I got back to Melbourne, I applied for leave without pay from the library. It was granted. I told the family, booked my airline tickets, wrote a profile for the Stwdio Maelor visiting artists page. All that remained was for me to make the announcement. Which I am doing now:
Hear this, hear this…
On July 26th 2015, Elizabeth Jane Corbett is going to live in Wales for six months. She plans to speak Welsh, enjoy the glory of a northern hemisphere autumn and try to understand why this tiny island on the far side of the world has called her name for so long.