Continuing to live in Oxford and its shire, first as a graduate, then as a publishing junior, now as a senior geek, has meant that many of the Proustian experiences that might call forth some halcyon day or other have largely been diluted over time. Ten recollections often crowd around the single, sharp, painful one that might have otherwise stood pitifully alone. The parks, lanes, museums, buildings—even my college—provide me more with memories these days than emotions.
Several years’ winters spent cycling in the pitch dark of the countryside have left a gap, though, into which I was propelled a couple of weeks ago. On the way home I made a detour to see a new acquaintance, through what I think had once been a council estate. It was a maze of roads through odd, oversized housed houses which back onto roads while their fronts are only accessible via an even more tortuous rabbit-warren of footpaths. As I cycled and stopped, frowned, turned, and eventually stopped again; chilled by blustery rain and covered with sickly orange light; I was transported back to my student days.
This was a characteristic of my life back then, although I didn’t think much of it. I would often find myself wandering, lost, round such exotic suburbs as “Marston”, “Wolver-cote” or “Temple Cowley”, among square, blocky, pebbledashed units that had been personalized over time yet still betrayed their identical origins. It would be wet, or dark, or both—yet still well it by streetlamps. And somewhere would be the oasis, a kitchen under fluorescent tubes with damp brickwork and a boiler that leaked heat, and sat at the table one of my thankfully odder acquaintances, waiting for me to arrive and frowning at a computer.
These days we own the houses, and the computers are no longer piles of wires and dust and hoover-strength fans. We have the countryside on our doorstep, and we’re meant to be more grown up. But the orange, wet darkness is still out there, and the seasons can still remind us of who we were; they still have the power—unfettered—to remind us of that, time and again.