I don’t like thinking about time. Because, see, I’m 20 years old and nostalgia can hit me so hard that it’s like a physical ache in my stomach. And that’s at age 20. I haven’t even lived through anything particularly mind-blowing. I haven’t experienced very much at all. And if nostalgia can already do what it can, what on earth will it do when I’m 40? When I’m 60?
Or even worse, what if it never gains potency? Because that then implies that I’ve already enjoyed the best times of my life. High school, Sixth Form, childhood. Is that really it? Can that be all you’re allowed? It’s the old cliché, isn’t it – that high school and college are the best days of your life. But then, I’ve probably seen people trying to subvert that cliché more often than I have conforming to it – people saying that teenage years are the most unpleasant, socially awkward time of your life, and that thinking it’s the best time is disheartening and, at best, misguided.
I’m not so sure, you know. High school can pretty much do one, but Sixth Form? Probably very honestly the best three years of my life to date. Almost makes me glad I fucked up enough to have to repeat a year of it, just to eke out a little more from it.
Sixth Form was like childhood. It reminded me of being 8 during the summer holidays, and spending every evening out until dark playing with my friends. Every single day. We’d play silly make believe – everything prefaced with “let’s pretend that…”
Let’s pretend that we’re really driving your dad’s van instead of just sitting in it. Let’s pretend that we’re jungle explorers, and we need to sneak past the monster we’ve found in the clearing. Let’s pretend that it’s actually a really, really good idea to try and make a ramp with bits of scavenged wood and a pilfered tool box… and then launch ourselves off it on tiny little bicycles.
The similarity boils down to the new, really. When I was 7, or 8, and we were allowed out until the summer sky became black, it was new. It was freedom. It was also, for me, the first time I’d had friends I’d see every day. I’d moved house when I was 6, into a little cul-de-sac in a little village, with a brother and sister my age living opposite. And we were friends, and it opened up a whole world of possibilities. That cul-de-sac became whatever we wanted it to be on those summer evenings. It was beautiful. And, as we grew up, that feeling faded, and died.
But, as you ‘finish’ growing up, you’re allowed one last flashback to that beauty. 17. 18. All of a sudden you’re free to do almost anything, within legality. You want to go to a pub with your best friends, and then go to a children’s play area after closing and laugh and joke until dawn rises and the dew starts to glisten in the sun? Go for it. All of a sudden, an entire town was ours. We’d grown up around it, we knew it. We knew what pub we liked, which kebab shop wouldn’t give you the shits. We knew the quiet places to sit and talk. The hidden places. And you have freedom over it all. It’s new and exciting and comforting and familiar, all at the same time.
I’m at university now, and everything tells you that THIS should be the best time of your life. Society expects me to be out every night, partying and drinking and making mistakes and loving every second of it. But why in the bloody hell should I do that?
I’m not that kid. I like pubs, and ale, anecdotes, and jokes. I like walking into my favourite bar and having the barkeep recognise me. I like being on first name terms with the man. I like familiarity. I like feeling completely comfortable. If I can feel safe and at home in an entire town, then that’s where I want to be. And that’s how I want to feel.
I don’t mean ‘safe’ in a ‘not going to get mugged’ way. I mean in the same way as you feel in your own house, in your own bed. Completely and totally at ease. You know your surroundings and it knows you.
I don’t dislike the city. I don’t dislike university. I love the intellectual thing. I love discussing literature and philosophy and any other shit with like-minded people. I love being invited to think and write in ways I wouldn’t have conceived of. I like how busy everything is, I like how there are always people everywhere.
But I miss that familiarity. I miss the people I’ve grown up with, I miss the scenery I know inside and out. I miss being within walking distance of the sea.
Some people are all about new things, new experiences all the time. Some people live for the busyness of cities, of new people, new things. To leave behind everything they grew up with. I’m not like that. I’d love to travel, to visit all the cities in the world, and to go beyond that. To visit the wonders of the natural world, to experience different cultures. I’d love to experience everything I possibly can. But I always want to be able to return to my little corner of Suffolk afterwards. Because I like it there. It’s quiet, and calm. It’s comfortable and familiar. It seems to be mine in a way nowhere else can match, nor ever hope to.
I absolutely love where this has gone. I was going to talk about how listening to an album I loved 7 years ago took me back body and soul to my childhood, and how much I missed it. Instead I ended up writing a love letter to the arse end of nowhere and the eastern backwaters of England. But, you know, it’s my eastern backwater. It’s my arse end of nowhere.