I boarded a train taking me back to a place I called home for three years. I’d visited Lancaster a handful of times in the last twelve years, and each time it felt different – I felt different.
The first time I went back was a couple of months after packing up my life there. Boarding the bus I’d caught so many times before, staying at a friend’s house I’d spent many an evening in, laughing and drinking tea…I felt like a ghost, shadowing through the place that so many memories.
Going back again twelve years later felt just as strange.
The skeleton of the city remains much the same; perhaps because of its history, perhaps because of its size or maybe I’ve just been blinded by my own home-city so keen to regenerate it never looks the same for long. But there’s a comfort in the familiarity, of being able to find your way round, knowing the shortcuts and street layout. And so many things were the same; same bus stop where we’d have late night heart-to-hearts, the pubs where we danced our hearts out, the same winding passages hiding shortcuts.
There are some things that have changed; the hotel I stayed in was on the grounds of the old cinema that betrayed the place for being a city, showing blockbusters in a room too small, seats too hard, and with an interval that seems to only exist in places that claim history. The last place in the city I called home, was also the first, on campus accommodation, due to be knocked down the first year I was there, survived until the third and was finally levelled after we left.
There’s something oddly comforting in the destruction of somewhere I held so dear. Like I loved it last, so it belong to me and my friends, the last people who brought life to those walls and those were the freshest memories those walls took to their grave. That sense of loss, of jealously, no matter how good life might be now, of wondering why it no longer wanted me was erased, much like the buildings themselves. New halls built in their place, glossier, more appropriate for modern life, but missing the impossibly small kitchen where we would pile in of a night to eat pancakes and catch up over a cup of tea.
There’s a Galician word “saudade” which means a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. I always thought that’s how I would feel going back, but whilst so much of what I liked about the place has remained, the things I loved were the people and they’re not there anymore, they’re scattered across the country. But I loved being able to guide someone else through the city and the campus on the whistle-stop tour between work engagements which took up most of the day.
And for most of those three days I’d been humming the line of a song, Mistakes We Knew We Were Making by Straylight Run, which is the title of the piece. “We’ll get over it, sad, strong, safe, and sober. We’ll move forward, and know where we went wrong. But you can’t go home again…”
This Lancaster will never be my Lancaster again, but I hope it can be someone else’s. It deserves to be.