Friday, 1 April 2011

Our Cities, Ourselves

My housemate has just released an album inspired by the city at night, or more specifically, this city, Derby. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of home, and about the places we live and how when we leave, we give a little of ourselves to them. I have lived in fourteen houses in my life. That’s fourteen front doors I had keys to. Fourteen places I stepped inside, fourteen front doors I closed and leaned back against, breathing in that quiet stillness of a house welcoming its occupant home.

Apart from my childhood homes (2 of), the house where I live right now is the one I’ve lived in the longest. And that’s not wholly because of the fifty plus boxes of books I would have to move if I did decide to leave. It’s something more. It’s something I started exploring when I lived on the other side of town. Only then it was about the city, not the house I was living in. I would write out walks from memory. I would think about the paths I was taking as I took them, and I would try to take in every detail. I would then write these walks and try to make sure they could be easily followed, if I were to give the directions to somebody without a map.

The theme of psychogeography has been coming up a lot in my life lately. I’ll read a book, and the ideas stick with me for a while but then slowly the rest of life edges these things from the front of my thinking. And then I’ll see something or hear something, or get into a three a.m. discussion with a friend, and the city and how we map it with our lives, how we map ourselves onto it, becomes the main focus of my thoughts again.

I fell in love with this city by walking through it, across a span of months and years. Sometimes, I fell in love with it at night, whilst sitting on skateboards with a friend I loved fiercely, under those trees with the silver-green leaves, down by the river. We would always leave our house at four a.m., when we knew the city would be sleeping and unpeopled. The city was ours then, in that space between the night out and the new day.

I fell in love with it by day, too. There was a park I’d walk through to get to work, and with awe I watched it change before my eyes over the course of a year. Spring mornings, when the sun was just rising, and the leaves were coming into bud, I’d be completely caught up in the romance of being there. And afternoons of dappled sunlight through Summer trees. I’d collect energy as I passed through the green of them. There was a morning I crossed it after letting a boy I might have loved board a coach for France. It was six a.m. The trees were in blossom, and the crunch of gravel underfoot made everything a song, made everything bright and intense and amazing.

In a secret garden I figured myself out. Halfway up a three hundred year-old conker tree, I felt the safest I’ve ever felt. Standing on an old bridge I watched the past swim into the future, and made decisions, even if I kept them to myself for too long a while.

My camera is broken and I want to go out and photograph all these places, all the doors I lived behind. And all the intricate stonework and statues you only see by looking up, because hardly anyone looks up.

I loved Manchester in a different way. Manchester was all dusty summers that stretched forever. It was eleven of us riding our bikes to Daisy Nook and staying all day, our feet dangled in the water, jeans rolled up to the knee. It was hiding when the night trains went past, afraid of the ghosts they carried. Manchester was a hill so steep that cars couldn’t get up or down it in the Winter. It was sledges on Mountains, and carrying newts in our hands and teaching them acrobatics. It was Kick The Can and Hide And Seek, played out over days instead of hours. Manchester was never just me. I was too young to have a complete sense of self, and so all my memories contain other people, some remembered, others just blank figures who I know were there at the time but I’ve since forgotten their names.

Manchester was my home, but in another time. I’ve experienced Derby becoming my home and it has been a slow process. Like an old friend becoming a lover. These things take time, but when they do, they inevitably become everything you are. You don’t fall in love in a day. Not this kind of love.

And this house? I came to this house as a visitor often, and for years, before it was ever my home. So this house was in my psyche long before I first laid my head on a pillow in my own bed here. I always had an idea in the past of how settled I was in a house, by the time it took for my dream-house to catch up with the one I was in. Some houses never got there. Although even when I think about the bad times, something good will also come crashing through. A message showing through the paint every time the light hit it, or popcorn and absinthe on the first day of the year, and the best kind of recklessness.

This house has been home to more of my friends than I can count on my fingers. But it has always been a home. And sometimes people leave, and sometimes the people that leave come back.

I’m going away. Not just yet. Not all in one go. I’ll be doing it little by little. I want to explore the idea of Home, what it means, and I think you have to go someplace else to figure that out. There’s that T.S. Eliot quote,
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
I want that. And I want to look into the idea that we carry home within ourselves, see if it’s true.

Here's the album I mentioned. It's nice to listen to at night. And during the day, too. You can download it if you like it, for no monies or for some monies. Enjoy.

*I also borrowed the photo from Biff's flickr. He's good people. He won't mind. He knows about my camera troubles.


Anonymous said...

Emma, that was so lovely. When do you leave us for your new adventures?


emma said...

Thanks! Early May or late June, depending on how quickly I can get things sorted. Eeek! xx