Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Back Home"

Mildly down about my day, and unwinding with a Zonneblom Merlot on the pavement of a small Italian restaurant at the bottom of Florida Rd, I slipped up. About to tell my folks insignificant (hardly entertaining) anecdotes about failed vegetarianism, and being plied with wine at 40A School's Court, I accidentally begun with the phrase "Back home - "


How to explain that to one's parents? How to convey how much comfort a spongey blue couch or an office chair held together with duck tape can bring at the end of days like these?

As the conversation moved back to which balustrade to choose for the new staircase, I allowed myself to take a walk down Broad Street, lazy in the gentle sun. I stopped at the martyr's cross to tell someone about Latimer and Ridley, confusing them with Cranmer in the process. As I looked at their plaque I thought about their fire and imagined the Radcam all alight, and alive, but not burning. I thought about it all the way past the stone heads of Sheldon and Ian (my startled academic friends made of stone) and continued down Holywell (sidestepping construction and not bothering to wait for green lights). As I walked past the Alternative Tuckshop I glanced to the right, noticing a troop of schoolboys in fancy dress and silly hats, and scanned both sides of the road to make sure there were no friends or acquaintances to greet or meet. Instead I was met by the smell of croissants emanating from the ATT, and glanced up at the man who works by the till on the other side of the glass. He caught my eye and gave me his perfect smile and shy nod; I waved, and kept walking, down past the dept of international development, its tiny but inviting lawn and on past Mansfield College, under the trees now leafy and languid... and here I saw someone I know: a chemist (I forget his name) but I smile and say hi. I kept walking, past the nitrogen tank on the right, recycling bins on the left, past the small red bike, the purple family bike with a baby chair, then up the stairs towards the wall of shiny glass, then a WHOOSH of the automatic doors, sudden cool, the sound of my voice - high and too fast, filling in the uncertain gaps. Then I saw what I suppose I've been looking for: patient, bemused expressions in response to my cacophony of babblings. Out of my periphery vision I saw familiar forms: stooped in white coats, or staring expressionless at flatscreens, and some walking bent but quickly through the turnstiles with small, serious eyes, dehydrated and sunless skin...

And now that I'm writing, I may as well venture down to the tea-table and the glaring bright. Everything is white but for glistening eyes: hazel, green, brown, teal. Amidst the clatter, and my propensity for public silliness, I am suddenly tired and serious... enough escapism for tonight. Goodnight dreamland; it's bedtime.



  1. As I cycle through the traffic lights (robots?!) at the corner of Broad St and Holywell I groan inwardly with anger at the pedestrians who fail to look where they're walking... then cycle past the Sheldonian bathed in the evening light, honey-golden stone against a backdrop of heavy grey-blue storm clouds. The silhouette of the Bodleian - 'alternatively severe and delicate', in the words of Dorothy Sayers, emerges from between the Sheldonian and the Clarendon building. On down Broad St, past Chez Hassan kebab van and avoiding the stone cross in the road with my sacrilegious cycle wheels, and make the turn past little Sainsbury's up to St Giles - and another memorial to the martyrs - Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley. Stop at the robots outside the Randolph with their impossibly unpredictable synchronisations, then down towards Worcester, with the lake and gardens hidden behind the imposing, gloomy exterior. Up Walton St and home to Jericho. The clock of St Barnabas church chimes softly, and the blue couch awaits.

  2. And the tape-twisted chair is in the garden, even stronger than before for the rain and rose petals that now litter its shiny surface.

  3. Nathan... you're better at this than I am.

    And you've made me sick with homesick...