I’d forgotten how this feels. The sudden stab of excitement and sorrow behind the eyes; a beloved old song in the mind, a memory of golden dusk, and the trembling train beneath me.
I’m going home.
It’s always been this way. Wherever I stray to and long for, whoever I am, I find myself back in Sussex – now able to make the journey alone, fighting the grief-tide of bad memories. But the places you stay in and the places you grow, are known through sleepovers and house parties, the feel of sandstone under the hands and the hot smell of ferns in summer. The snap of blue ice at the riverbank, watching the white water chase itself down to the sea, where raw cliffs are a splinter of rocks and bones at the peak and the fall. The lonesome-cowboy gulls, and pale sheen of an oily sky at the horizon. Pebbles underfoot (hot coals) and tottering iron ladies with mislaid gems in the swirl of the tide.
A patchwork of green and gold, lapping up to the chin of the Downs. Cold green echoes of Lake Rocks and caves, where – perhaps – my sandstone scrawls linger, from another lifetime.
The rose-fire of spring dawn over the town. All those domes and granite slopes. A cat lolling lazy in the rising heat.
The ice-rime steeples and spires, a ragged raven’s wing in the monochrome air. Gravestones like eyes, watching those of us still alive, still waiting.
Names that haunt my memory in station pings and announcements (trips to the City to visit my father when he worked late: gold windows threading a skyline necklace.) Sketchy road signs at the corners of life; all those echoes and soft sounds, with -hurst and -ham and -field; -ridge and -brook. So different from the jagged names of the North, with -tor and -esk and -stone, and no more or less beautiful. Maps of the landscape in etymology.
I belong to both and to neither. Born in the Midlands, alive in Germany and rebuilt in the South, but known in the North by my blood. Abandoned rail lines and quarry pits for a playground, buddleia and butterflies and craggy sheep for friends.
One pill box after another, lining the land against invaders, now welcoming me home as pale ghosts in the night. As kids, we tattooed the walls with paint, put our hands into deep rifts that knew the heavy embrace of guns. Sat on the boxy roof to watch the sun peel down the sky, listening to the wind keen through the door. Nature reclaims us all, in the end.
The night is a blur of orange and black; the train’s dwindling lope is a gnarled route to the station. The woman opposite me has her feet up, one hand curled about a bottle of white, the other twining its fingers through her lovers’ dark hair. They find their faces, silver in the window.
I like late evening journeys. They feel like the less formal after-party.