“It’s odd seeing you in Oxford; I see you at festivals. You’re out of context here.”
There have been few places that I have considered to be ‘home’. Oxford was one of them. Home, for me is a feeling – not a square, a triangle, billowing smoke curling above a rectangle.
Home is a place where I feel at peace and happy (at least for some of the time). I’m still trying to make sense of it all.
It has been nearly five years since I left Oxford for Manchester. Now I was back, a short stop between meetings. With research to do, friends to meet, and nostalgia to satisfy, I took the 4A bus into the city centre via the train station.
After buying train tickets for my Maidenhead meeting, I decided to have a wander in the gathering snow clouds…
The snow attempts to spiral down in small feathers, tries to cling to the ground. The clouds thicken. Snow blizzards onto the city’s dreaming spires, the freeze fingers its way on parked car windows, shoppers slide in the slush on Cornmarket Street. Nature, glittering white, ice bright. Dangerous and enchanting.
I walked towards the natural history museum. I have been researching Dr John Dee, the necromancer and astrologer of Queen Elizabeth I. I was convinced I would be able to enhance the story I’m writing for Lancashire Folk Tales*.
Along the way, there was a small snowman sat on a table outside a pub, he was drinking beer through a straw. Further up, there were a group of young male students making snow angels outside Wadham College. I slipped along the road, got into a new rhythm of skating my boots along compacted ice.
The snow had forced Pitt Rivers to close early. I walked across town and took refuge in the Ashmolean. Hanging on one of the walls was a small portrait of Dr Dee that had belonged to Elias Ashmole. Dee looked somehow sad but somehow shifty; his oil-paint skin glowed luminous. I wondered if John Dee had ever felt settled; he moved a few times and had lived in Manchester briefly as warden of Manchester college. In my head, I conjured up stories of Dee the polymath. In a sumptuous red velvet room, being convinced by Edward Kelley to attempt raising the dead.
Later, walking towards the Cowley Road with a dear friend, we passed invisible boundaries. The romance of mistletoe growing in bundles on the trees, of raised water levels submerging Angel & Greyhound meadow, of kisses in the middle of the bridge. Stomach flipping in a remembered tumble, the hot swell in the chest. Skin warm as the snow continued its descent. Memories of being part of something, of fitting.
The feeling of belonging and not belonging at the same time. Being out of context, yet somehow still in the picture. It almost feels as if you’re observing yourself from above – a character in a complicated play.
Stockport, for me, is not home – either psychologically or physically. Emotionally, “home” is ephemeral: it is my family, my partner, my friends, and – of course – the cats. I’m not sure where the physical home is yet; but I’m up for exploring where it could be.
* I did find something useful! Thanks to the Museum of the History of Science I now know more about alembics and Renaissance science. More colour for the tale of an alchemist.