Tag Archives: Childhood

The roots of belonging

I even love the cold, especially when the sun is shining. Photo: Lone 2015.

I even love the cold, especially when the sun is shining. Photo: Lone 2015.

The plan to come to Copenhagen for a year did not come to me in a flash – it evolved slowly from that feeling of not quite belonging where I was. A tiredness from being a just little bit out of place, a little bit different. A feeling of being surrounded by truths a little bit – or sometimes a lot – different from what I knew to be true when I was much younger than today.

We have now been in Denmark for eight weeks and in our flat for five. It is four weeks since our older son left to go back home to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia – home to our younger son who did not want to come. Thankfully, they report that they are both doing well.

In that time we have been exploring our new place. And: I love Copenhagen. There are so many things to see, to do, to enjoy. I love hearing Danish language around me. I even love the cold, especially on a sunny day when every spot of sunshine on the street walks fills up with people catching just a bit of that sun. I love seeing my family and my friends. And I love that my husband is so completely on the journey with me. But it is too soon to say if I belong here.

It is hard to come home when you don’t belong writes Maren Uthaug in her debut novel Og sådan blev det (And so it was) from 2013. Like the main character, Kirsten, Uthaug lives in Denmark, but her parents are Sami and Norwegian. The story is about going back to ones roots to discover identity. Kirsten is born as Risten in Northern Norway into a Sami community. When she is seven years old, her parents separate and with her Norwegian father she moves into the home of a well-meaning Danish woman. In all her well-meaningless and desire for minimum conflict and otherness in her midst, the woman changes the girl’s beautiful Sami name to a Danish one. She also changes the name of the Vietnamese orphan who came to live with her when Vietnamese boat refugees came to Denmark in numbers so large that authorities had to billet them with private individuals.

Kirsten’s plan to reconnect with her Sami family also does not come in a flash and when she finally visits her mother in Northern Norway, her sense of belonging to the country and community in which she was born is blurred by years of absence, growing up in a different country, community and culture.  Even the belief system for keeping evil away that she learnt from her grandma; the silver, the chants in an old Finnish language, Kvensk, the warning to never look at the northern light; are foreign to the Sami community to which she returns.

I have always wondered how people in the arctic circle managed to survive and have children. The exhibition Fur - life or death? at the National Museum gave me some insight. Photo: Mick 2015.

I have always wondered how people in the arctic circle managed to survive and raise children. The exhibition Fur – life or death? at the National Museum gave me some insight. Photo: Mick 2015.

Just before she leaves with her father for Denmark, young Risten commences a massive project to draw a fantastic tree covering numerous taped together pieces of A4 paper. She wants to draw the roots, the crown, the branches. The roots of this tree – of this girl – are clearly deeply buried in the northern country near the arctic circle. When she returns she probes to discover just how deeply her roots are buried – they are so well covered up by an alternative truth that they are nearly impossible to discover.

This is a touching and moving story, well written and beautifully told. Being out of place in a well-meaning, but much misguided ‘civilisation’ parallels stories of first nations people across the world. And I am happy to say, it is a far cry from my own experience: my struggle for belonging are nothing on a scared little girl far away from home, clutching her grandma’s silver ring and chanting to keep evil spirits at bay and holding tight to cultural truths that no-one surrounding her has any possibility of understanding.

My story has none of that drama at all. I deeply respect the genuine struggle of all people who are displaced, especially to those who did not – and cannot – themselves chose to be where they are.

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Dogs and death

Josie was part of the family - and the furniture. Photo: Lone 2014

Josie was part of the family – and the furniture. Photo: Lone 2014

Josie died this week.

Josie – or Josephine, after Napoleon Bonaparte’s lover – was our sweet yellow labrador who had been with us since 2003. She had become very lumpy, with a melon sized cyst on her neck, and very tired and spaced out most of the time. Half way through the first anaesthetic needle, she took her final, laboured breath.

I am not sentimental about pets – I love them and care about them, but when life has become unenjoyable for them, I see no reason to prolong it.

My first dog was Vaks – after Lady and the Tramp‘s little grey male puppy, Scamp in English. Vaks, a black cocker spaniel, lived with us on Chopinsvej in Herning in the early 70s. I was very young when Vaks and I played in the rumpus room. We found a feather doona with a hole in it – that hole fast grew and suddenly we were pioneers battling a white winter landscape. On a visit to my grandparents, I had to get something from our car. Vaks merrily followed me out, probably expecting we were leaving and not wanting to be left behind. He refused to get out of the car, so I closed the door and left him there. When it was time to leave, Vaks had literally chewed everything soft and bite-able inside the car. In our home he had also gnawed all of the door frames to about 30 centimetres up. So Vaks did not move with us when we moved to our next home on Solbakken in Gjellerup in 1972. I am not entirely sure what happened to that little black dog, but he was no longer part of my universe.

Buster was well loved, even if he terrorised owners of female dogs all over the neighbourhood. Photo: Lars, 1976.

Buster was well loved, even if he terrorised owners of female dogs all over the neighbourhood. Photo: Lars, 1976.

The next dog – Buster, after Buster Keaton – was really my brother’s. He started a campaign to get another puppy. I think my mother, the vet’s daughter, was secretly supporting his campaign – she loved animals. My father, the farmer’s son, had a more utilitarian view of the role of animals. Eventually he gave in. Buster was a small fox terrier, white and beautifully marked with black spots and small brown ones above his eyes. Buster had the run of the yard – and the neighbourhood, with the owner of a female bassett hound particularly complaining about Buster’s promiscuous behaviour. Buster never became fully house trained and usually left small surprises behind the oval Piet Hein Superellipse table with the six orange Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chairs in the upstairs living room that doubled as my father’s office. On Saturday mornings, Dad removed the smelly parcels so he could hold author meetings around that table. In the early 1980s we moved again to Klokkebakken in Gjellerup; Buster did not follow. My cousin, the computer programmer who worked in my father’s company, reluctantly took care of him. I am still not entirely sure what that entailed.

Our new house was massive. Big enough for two apartments – one for our family of six, and one for my parents’ two business partners and their two dogs, a newfoundlander and a chow chow – and the office of my parents’ growing business. The house had been built as a single family house by a wealthy business owner who insisted on living higher than the old Gjellerup church. This time my sister and I started a campaign for another dog. My father would find carefully designed posters on the mirror inside his wardrobe and notes under his doona or in his office drawer, and again my mother secretly supported the campaign. We promised to housetrain the puppy, to walk it daily and to feed it and look after it. Mum bought Donna, a golden retriever, from a breeder in Hammerum and we were ecstatic. Mum took Donna to puppy school and she became a very well-behaved dog. Occasionally, I did walk her, but generally Mum fed her and let her sleep near her feet in winter.

Donna with her son Kasper. Kasper was a most flexible dog, who had several homes - my family never bargained that ours would be one of them. Photo: Lone 1988.

Donna with her son Kasper. Kasper was a most flexible dog, who had several homes – my family never bargained that ours would be one of them. Photo: Lone 1988.

One summer, after I had moved away to go to university in Aalborg, Donna had six beautiful little puppies. Entirely unplanned, a yellow labrador belonging to my brother’s friend had rendezvoused Donna in the small forest behind the house. That summer I looked after the puppies while my parents, sister and brother went to Italy. I taught them how to run down the steep stairs to get to the enclosed garden near the swimming hall every morning, and carried them up to sleep in the bathroom every night. We found good homes to each of the puppies: family, friends and one went to my flatmate. She named him Kasper and loved him to bits. And so did I – he was a beautiful dog, easy to love.

We partied hard in that student house. One night Kasper got out through the door left open. It turned out he was a very clever dog: he took the bus from the main road out to one of the suburbs. On the bus he met a group of Norwegian young men on a drinking spree. They sang Norwegian drinking songs for him and the next morning took him to the pound. They offered to take Kasper home on the ferry to Norway if he remained unclaimed by the end of that Sunday. Meanwhile back in the sharehouse, my flatmate fretted and kept me awake all night. In the morning I called the pound, could describe Kasper accurately and we went out to get him on our bikes. Kasper became my dog, when my flatmate could not have him in her flat when she moved back to Copenhagen. So he came back to Gjellerup when I left for Australia to study. Eventually he was adopted by my brother’s girlfriend’s family. Kasper managed to walk into every heart that he met.

Three years later, in Australia, Mick and I stopped to look at a clutch of new-born staffordshire bull terrier cross puppies. Before long we named the little black staffy Bo – after Boudicca, the East Anglian warrior queen. The name was apt and she ruled us for 14 years – sweet, adoring and completely mad! She loved people, but was so rowdy that most were dead scared of her. She suffered terrible anxieties and needed stable routines and predictability. She was very awkward right up to her death. We had moved to acreage on Samford Range and had bought Josie. Each morning we took Bo and Josie on a five kilometres walk, up and down steep hills through the bush. Half way, Bo had a stroke. Unable to walk, Mick had to carry her all the way back to our house. The next morning we left her in her bed and when we came back from our walk, she had peacefully passed.

Josie had a fine teacher in Bo. They had probably been up to some mischief at this time - butter would not melt in their mouth. But Bo cannot hide her guilty anxiety. Photo: Mick, 2003.

Josie had a fine teacher in Bo. They had probably been up to some mischief at this time – butter would not melt in their mouth. But Bo cannot hide her guilty anxiety. Photo: Mick, 2003.

Pugsy's ambition for labrador-pug puppies was simply ignored by Josie. Perhaps it was just that there was food around? Photo: Mick 2007.

Pugsy’s ambition for labrador-pug puppies was simply ignored by Josie. Perhaps it was just that there was food around? Photo: Mick 2007.

Josie had learnt lots of bad habits from Bo and she had let Bo be the dominant dog – but she had always ruled the roost at dinner time. Food was the one thing Josie cared immensely about. That and being part of the action when the click of the washing machine door sounded. She would rush down the stairs and roll on the grass next to the washing line. Beyond that she was happy with lots of laziness and pats.

RIP sweet Josie, we miss you.

Teaching, learning and language

First day of school. Photo: Mick 2000

First day of school. Photo: Mick 2000

A different language is a different vision of life.  Frederico Felini

Language determines how we see the world. Language – its shapes, its sounds, its structures, its words shape our concepts and the filters we use. And would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Coincidentally, the word for rose is identical in both Danish and English, though pronunciation is slightly different, so perhaps the smell is exactly the same?

The concept of education is a good example. The English word ‘Education’ comes from Latin ‘Educatio’ from ‘ex’ – out, and ‘ducere’ – to lead. The etymological roots lead to a sense of someone else teaching to ‘lead out’ what is inside a person and develop the person’s skills and competencies. According to Ken Robinson’s excellent TEDx talk, schools were established to deliver skills to power to industrial revolution.

In Danish ‘education’ is ‘uddannelse’. The etymology of the word is quite different. ‘Dannelse’ comes from the old Norse ‘don’ or the equivalent English ‘to do’. Literally ‘dannelse’ is translated to formation. ‘Uddannelse’ is linked to the Enlightenment idea that a person is not fully formed until cultivated beyond their natural state to a civilised state. ‘Uddannelse’ is about providing experiences that evolve and change the individual to become something they were not before. So after birth and physiological development, work still needs to be done to develop the character to be a whole person. This character or ‘spirit’ involves the ability to think critically about the facts, issues and views that are presented – otherwise the transformation is akin to indoctrination, the friend of totalitarian systems. In the Danish tradition ‘uddannelse’ becomes the defence against callousness and crudity.

Another crucial language difference lies in the word ‘teacher’. The etymology of ‘teacher’ takes us to the old English ‘tæcan’ – to show, point out, declare, demonstrate, instruct or persuade. The English teacher dictates the child’s learning – the word denotes an outside process that adds knowledge and skills to the empty vessel that is the child. The Danish word, ‘lærer’, comes from the idea of learning, rather than teaching. ‘Lærer’ is not a learner, but someone who facilitates the learning of another. This places the child in the centre, rather than the person who demonstrates or instructs.

Proud to be in school uniforms at 8 and 6 years of age. But why must uniformisation continue of young people to the age of 17 or 18? Photo: Mick, 2002.

Proud to be in school uniforms at 8 and 6 years of age. But why must uniformisation of young people continue to the age of 17 or 18, when we are expecting them to be ready as discerning, functioning members of society? Photo: Mick, 2002.

Clearly, contemporary teaching and learning philosophies in Danish and Anglo cultures do not reflect these subtle differences. Yet throughout my boys’ schooling in Australia, I experienced very few teachers with a child-centred philosophy. I found the approach overly authoritarian, quasi-religious and strangely disciplinarian, focusing on externalities like uniforms and behaviour on the way to school.

My point is that the language we use determine how we see the world. The language around education, teaching and learning in the two languages reflect the attitudes to children in the cultures and determines how we see children slightly differently in the two cultures.

Perhaps this difference can be traced to the establishment of universal schooling in Denmark 200 years ago. It followed 25 years of deliberation by a School Commission, influenced by rising nationalism, desire to preserve Danish culture and the Danish mother tongue in a turbulent world. Rousseau’s philosophies about education and childhood – the idea of education of the whole child as a citizen – were also influential. This may be where the English diverged – Rousseau was a Frenchman after all and had very derogatory things to say about the English.

As I am reading about the laws introduced in 1814, I am surprised to discover the discipline provision in section 27 of its supplement. While the last subsection allows the teacher to use a ‘lidet Riis’ – a small collection of twigs – to punish children under 10 years old, and with a thin rope end without knots for older children, section 27 is at pains to ensure punishment is not undue or dishonours the child and warns against punishments that could result in hardening, rather than improving the child. The teacher must not hit children with their hand, push or pinch them or swear at them. Rather, as punishment the naughty child could be excluded from the more pleasurable lessons involving play.

I am sure the very humanistic approach to punishment of children was frequently ignored in the 19th and even 20th century and potentially even after 1967, when corporal punishment was abolished in Denmark. However, the provision reflects a child-centred view seeking to support the child transforming to become able to function in civilised society. Certainly, the philosophy is a far cry from the mantra I still hear today when intermittently the Australian public debate turns to corporal punishment of children: Spare the rod and spoil the child! It was not until 1995 – the year after my older son’s birth – the Queensland corporal punishment provisions were abolished, though the defence for teachers assaulting children for correction and discipline still exists.

Homework in my father's office. Photo: Lars 1975.

Grade 2 homework with my best friend in my father’s office. Photo: Lars 1975.

When I reflect on the difference between my own experience of education in Denmark in the 1970s and 1980s and my children’s experience in Australia in the 2000s it seems the difference reflects the language. No doubt the time difference also plays a part, but my sense is that the position of children in Australia is one in the background, seen not heard, to be educated to be useful to society, whereas Danish children are much more in the centre, valuable in and of themselves, not for what they may contribute in the future.

The language creates different versions of children – a different vision of children’s place and value. It may be the language that have shaped this philosophy, and perhaps the philosophy has also shaped the language?

Television and narrow casting

Growing up with favourite shows on screen. Photo: Mick 2002

Growing up with favourite shows on screen. Photo: Mick 2002

These days, we spend a lot of time on screen. iphone, ipad, computer, laptop, tv and from time to time the big screen in a cinema. There are screens in the mall, blaring out council messages, screens on King George Square with free-to-air tv, screens in the lift, screens in the office, screens in the Gallery, screens on the QPAC lawn. We use screen for entertainment, staying in touch, learning, working, creating and finding our way. Children today are born digital natives.

In 1969, when I was only two, I had my first cinema experience. Disney’s first animated full-length movie production of Cinderella from 1950 had finally come to the big screen in my home town. (Or perhaps it returned, but distribution was a differently slow game then.) I don’t remember anything: I curled up in the deep soft seat and fell asleep in the dark. I woke up in a puddle. The next screening would be a wet experience for someone.

My father was an early adopter of technology. In 1960 in Denmark, there were 8 television sets for every 100 people with an average of 3.2 hours of programming broadcast each day. As a 19-year-old man, my father bought the first television set in his rural community in Lundfod, so he could watch the Olympic Games in Rome. He still lived at home on the farm and instead of paying board, he would pay installments on the black and white television he bought on credit. Rather than peering through the window at the electrical store in town or at the pub, he could follow the Olympic Games from the couch. The novelty attracted friends who came to watch the test picture for hours, he reckoned.

In 1974, my father bought a colour television so he could see the World Cup in full colour. While football shirts had adapted to black and white television so you could recognise your favorite team without difficulty, actually seeing the game in colour was almost like being in the stadium. Like a reverse Wizard of Oz experience. From then on, long Saturday afternoons in our living room were blue-green with the Premier league games, the air filled with the rise and fall of the roar of fans in the stadium. I was really not that interested and still am not keen on televised sport. Except when Denmark plays international games. But that is a completely different motivation.

From television as novelty to screens everywhere. Photo: http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TV_Shows_We_Used_To_Watch_-_1955_Television_advertising_(4934882110).jpg Creative Commons

From television as novelty to screens everywhere. Photo: http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TV_Shows_We_Used_To_Watch_-_1955_Television_advertising_(4934882110).jpg Creative Commons

Despite my father’s enthusiasm for new technology, my childhood was not overwhelmed by television. Up until 1988, there was only one broadcaster with one channel. Danmarks Radio. If you lived in Copenhagen, you might be able to watch television from Sweden or if you lived close enough to the German border you might be able to tune in to three German channels. My grandparents in Jelling were close enough, and we sometimes watched dubbed American Westerns. ‘How awful to watch John Wayne speak German,’ my mum would howl. She was an English teacher and had a particular affinity with the English language. Danmarks Radio did not dub and before I could read, and some time after, she would read the subtitles aloud for me and my big brother. We loved this for more reasons than just understanding the plot of the movie.

Where I grew up in Herning, we were limited to just the one channel. Since 1951, special productions were dedicated to children. Children’s television was from 9.30 to 10.00 in the morning and 19.00 to 19.30 in the evening, except on Friday afternoon, when youth programming ran from 16.00 to 18.00. Between the morning children’s show and the afternoon show was the test picture – in colour.

Today we can turn the television on and be rewarded with a multitude of channels that broadcast 24/7. Even more: the very idea of having to wait for a program to come on is now foreign to us. We can access, buy, download or stream almost everything our heart desires for watching right now on our computer, smart tv, ipad or phone. Waiting for the afternoon show on a Friday is not something young people do these days. Hand them the ipad and they will find their favourite show on YouTube. When I visited Copenhagen in 2013, my two-year-old nephews happily sat still to watch Lucky Luke shows on the ipad (in whatever language my brother would find). They will grow up digital natives.

I don’t remember the last time I turned on the television to watch a show when the broadcaster was screening it. We tried Quickflix for a while, but found it too cumbersome, thanks to the draconian restrictions on parallel importing resulting in movies only available on dvd posted to you. I am a fan of ABC iView and SBS On Demand and apple tv is their perfect match. You might call it impatience, instant gratification and inability to anticipate. You might even call it narrow casting. For my money, it just means I don’t have to wait for the sport programs or commercials to end or watch dubbed movies or monocultural, bland programs.

Instead I can watch programming I find stimulating, informative and entertaining, when I am able. I watch a lot of quality Australian content and non-Hollywood international content, in particular Danish movies are regular in my home and particularly relevant to me culturally. The time I spend on the television screen is quality time that I treasure.

How about you? How has the way you have interacted with screen media changed?

Diversity and a place in the sun

Go back to where you came from? Embracing diversity gives us a competitive edge. Queensland Multicultural Festival. Photo: Mick 2005

Go back to where you came from? Embracing diversity gives us a competitive edge. Queensland Multicultural Festival. Photo: Mick 2005

This week, one lunch time, I took a moment to sit in Queen Victoria Park. Just sit still and watch people milling about, eating their lunch, enjoying the not-yet-too-hot Brisbane sun. What struck me was the diversity around me. A cacophony of accents from people with features originating from all the continents in the world. Of course, the vast majority of people here are still of British or continental European origin, but our local strength in this globalised world is surely our diversity.

When I was a child in monocultural and provincial Denmark, I thought the Korean girl in my grade was beautiful and exotic. Her beautiful black hair, dark brown eyes and golden skin was different. She was one of the first children adopted into Denmark through the international adoption program. This ‘difference’ was unusual where I grew up in the early 1970s. Yet, she was just like any of the girls in my grade – we rode our bikes to school, sang in the choir together and went on camp with the local scout group together.

When in the late 1970s Danish Photographer Jacob Holdt visited our small town with his Amerikanske Billeder – a collection of photographs documenting life of African Americans in the early 1970s – my parents took me along to his talk. It had a huge impact on me to see how people – families with children – lived in contemporary America: the squalor and poverty, right there in the wealthiest country on earth. The African Americans too were different, yet they were not embraced by the privileged mainstream society.

At about the same time, the television series of Alex Hayley’s Roots came on Danish television. The family saga begins with a young African man brutally captured, trafficked on a sailing ship to America and sold as a slave. As if he was not human. It offended my sense of identity when I learnt that Danish sailors and ships were engaged in this human trade.

Safe and healthy in middle class provincial Denmark, my parents taught me that my comfortable life of opportunity was not a given for everyone. It was my luck that I was born to free parents in a place with democracy, social mobility and a strong sense of social justice and equality. Looking back, I can also see that it was easy to be tolerant of difference when you rarely meet it in monocultural Denmark.

Migrant children on a 'New Australians' parade float at the Enoggera Immigration Holding Centre, Brisbane, Queensland, ca. 1955. Photo: State Library of Queensland.

Once upon a time, everyone arrived by boat: Migrant children on a ‘New Australians’ parade float at the Enoggera Immigration Holding Centre, Brisbane, Queensland, ca. 1955. Photo: State Library of Queensland.

It is at the edges of cultures that innovation and new thinking happens. When we are all the same and all think the same, it can be hard to generate new ideas and to imagine things could be any other way. At the edge of our ‘we group’, we are challenged by difference and, if we let it happen, new perspectives come together to see our issues and problems in a new light. This diversity of points of view helps join the dots in new and different ways. Monocultural societies – and ‘we groups’ – tend to protect their way of seeing, thinking and doing. And tend to fear difference.

A quarter of all Australians are born overseas. Another 20% have at least one parent born overseas. With more than half of Australians either born overseas or being children of people born overseas, we are still very much a country of migrants. Perhaps it is only Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, the people of Australia’s first nations – who make up only 3% of our population – who are not migrants to this country.

In Denmark, 10% are ‘Danes of other ethnic background’ though this number may include third and even fourth generation of ‘other ethnic background’. In my own extended family, I can count:

– one Swede and two children
– one native American and one child
– one Kurd, two children and two grandchildren
– one Pole and one child
– one German, three children and one grandchild
– one New Zealander, two children and two grandchildren living in England
– my own family of four living in Australia, including my husband born in England.

Mine is a rather multicultural family – though I would venture to say this is not the Danish norm. When does one’s identity change from Dane with other ethnic background to just Danish? Four hundred years and ten generations back on my father’s side is a German soldier and Rittmeister from Rodinger – does that make me a Dane with other ethnic background? If not, at what point did that change? Seven generations back, six, four? Or does it take 40,000 years to truly belong to a country?

Sitting in multicultural Brisbane that lunch hour, I saw people of many different backgrounds, who call Australia home. Some may have been here for generations and some, like me, be first generation migrants. You cannot really tell just by looking at people. However, at the end of the day, no matter how our government statistics classify us, we are all humans with fundamental human needs – including the need to belong and find our place in the sun. We are going to have to figure out how we live with diversity for it will not go away. Thankfully. It makes our lives all the more interesting.

Under my skin

The church in Gjellerup, Herning Kommune, Denmark. Photo Ch1ptune at da.wikipedia, 2007.

The church in Gjellerup, Herning Kommune, Denmark. Photo Ch1ptune at da.wikipedia, 2007.

‘One can never leave home’ wrote Maya Angelou in Letter to my Daugther in 2008, because ‘one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.’

I have been thinking a lot about home lately. As a child I had a stable home. We moved around a little at first, never straying far from that centre of my father’s universe that was Lundfod where he grew up. Once I started school we stayed in the same place until after I left home. My childhood was spent in the little village community of Gjellerup, smack in the centre of Jutland peninsula, as far away from the water as it is possible to get in the little island country of Denmark, where people are of the land and have both feet firmly planted on the ground. Once settled here, my parents got on with their business and we kids got on with being kids and growing up.

It was safe and it was summer, and I played with friends on the street until we were called in to go to bed, even if it still seemed like broad day light. Or it was winter with snow piled high outside and candle light on the well-decorated, freshly felled pine tree, cosy inside, and we played board games and card games with our parents. It was safe and we were never in doubt we were loved. It was a good place from which to go and conquer the world. And so I did, but that is another story.

My childhood home from 1972 to 1982

My childhood home from 1972 to 1982

This was home and I belonged to the place. My community was a very ancient village, the one with the oldest church in Denmark, from 1140. This community was tight knit and deeply religious, but growing fast in the secularised, liberated 1970s. Though we were newcomers, we were all able to find our community, our belonging, here in this rapidly expanding village as it merged to become a suburb of the larger town, Herning. I started at the new school as soon as it opened in january 1973, sang in the choir, joined the scouts, roamed the streets playing cowboys and indians, princesses and dragonslayers and racing our bikes down the gently sloping hills. Friends, whom I still hold dear and count among my very best friends, are friends from my childhood home (you know who you are).

No matter how much I go back and walk the streets I used to play in, look at the homes I used to live in or visit the school I went to, in that little village, I know that there is no going home. It is never the same as the memory of home I carry under my skin. Because I am not the person I was and I will never be that person again, never belong in that place as I did. Similarly, the people I associate with my belonging to that place are no longer there and are no longer the people they were. Experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe questions the notion of an essential self – the person you are can never be the person you were or the person you will be: Even physically, 98% of atoms in your body changes every year.

Nevertheless, when I go to Denmark and look at the landscape, the architecture and the people, hear the language and the songs and feel the place, I know that I belong. I am recognised, I fit in. I belong to this country, this people, this language, this history.

And I don’t. Having lived for 23 years in Australia, away from Denmark, my mother tongue is 23 years old and the society I knew then has moved on, through several crises and cultural shifts. Some of these shifts are significant and others more subtle. For any migrant, this is a significant experience and sometimes cause of sorrow. It reminds us perpetually of the flux of all things: ever-newer water flows and one cannot step in the same river twice (Heraculitus).

It may be true you never leave home, as Angelou asserts, but I have found the home under my skin has morphed and changed, as I run through its manifestations inside my head and adjust the shadows, dreams, fears and dragons to fit into the narrative of my life. One may never leave home, but home is never what it was.

And this is exactly why I need to go home to Denmark: so I can adjust the home under my skin, at the corner of my eye and in the gristle of my earlobe. Thanks Angelou, and rest in peace.