I hated this city to start with. Long before the streets became a second home, they were a maze of old buildings and dead ends. Everything seemed so spread out and unreachable, and it all reminded me of one thing; that I was no longer at home. I came here as a child, an awkward eighteen year old, naive and immature, not ready to face the world alone. After months, years, of believing that a new start would offer freedom from childhood anxiety, a move only added to the weight I’d carried around since infancy. The university, which would eventually become safe and familiar, was a mass of corridors, tall, face-less buildings, and echoing lecture halls. The first weekend, a bag of nerves and a shell of the woman I’d become, I booked a train ticket home, desperate to see my family. Only a mother-who-knew-best convinced me to stay it out, driving the two hour trip to take me out for a restorative Sunday lunch.
Thirteen years, several local postcode changes. and an eventual international move later, and the city that scared me now holds part of my heart and always will. Just seeing the sky line, the old, the new, and the ugly, brings a smile to my face. Half the shops have moved or closed forever. There is newness all around, with a plush shopping mall dominating the centre with its high-street stores, a noisy, over-styled food court, and restaurant chains. There are modern additions slotted into spaces you’d never noticed existed. These structures are all angles and metal, gleaming in the sun, some with grace and some awkwardly against the old city backdrop.
On a sunny winter’s day, as sale shoppers scurry about scrabbling for bargains that don’t exist, we (for not long after that almost trip home, I became part of a we) are an oddity, ignoring the bright sale posters and heading north, out of the city and back to campus, back in time.
Old Parkinson is visible from afar on the sloped approach from the centre. To get there, old haunts look as fusty and unappealing as I remember them. Friday night’s watering hole is open but empty, as much in need of a coat of paint as ever. There’s a new library, a new car park, and a whole lot of new coffee outlets. Much is the same though. Buildings whose names I’d long forgotten come rushing back on approach, named after famous academics or local heroes.
Walking around the deserted campus, there are memories everywhere. Our social lives played out in the unions and bars where we spent more than we should of on fun and hangovers. From the vast lecture theatres where everyone was a nameless cog in the machine to the converted houses where old-school lectures quizzed you on reading that you may or may not have done, snippets of knowledge creep back, reminding me of the breadth of information gained and long forgotten.
From the campus back to the city, the town hall stands out against the sun. For years it was just a landmark until eventually it to became part of the narrative. Under a similarly cold winter light, we lined up with family and friends four years before, having signed a promise into law, husband and wife, married in the city that brought us together. That huge clock face forever became more than just a useful reference point.
On a day like today, it’s easy to remember all the good days; the fun, the new experiences, the first flats, first jobs, and successes. There were plenty such days and plenty to remember. But, the ghost of that first weekend hovers in each corner. It reminds me of that girl who was intimidated by the busy bars, lost in those lecture theatres that all looked the same, and who was a fish out of water in those seminars where everyone else seemed so much wiser and learned. It’s okay that the ghost is there, though, in all those little corners; she’s a reminder that first impressions aren’t alway right, that people can change, and things tend to have a way of working out for the best.