How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you — you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences — like rags and shreds of your very life.
— Katherine Mansfield
I fell in love with Bristol the very first time I visited a tender seventeen with my father. From that point on, I knew I would live there one day. I will always have a soft spot for the city and its sandstone mansions, its glowering bridge and crumbling cliffs. I will always have a soft spot for it because it’s the place where I learnt to live alone, the first city I fell in love with, the place that gave me so many dear friends, where I spent countless gloomy days sitting happily in the stacks of the university library.
Stamping booted feet through wet leaves this weekend, I was enveloped by memories. That’s the thing with old homes – around every corner a former self wanders, uniting past with present. There’s the language department, and my favourite restaurant; the park where we slipped and slid down snowy slopes on makeshift toboggans during that one cold winter that turned our toes to icicles. There’s the school where I played an undertaker in the first-year play, and that’s the street I danced down hand in hand with a boyfriend, over autumn leaves fluttering down from these very same trees. There’s the spot I wrote my final essay, hunched in the corner of the cosiest coffee shop – and that’s my old house, a light flickering in my bedroom window. Who lives there now? Cities we have lived in, and left, are full of memories, aren’t they? How could they be anything but? Bristol is full of whispers of my past life echoing; how surreal to watch scarf-clad students flitting past on their single speeds, baskets filled with library books, and remember the life I once lived.
Bristol is a city made for the kind of autumn gloom that enveloped the British Isles this past weekend. It was a weekend full of laughter and good food: Sunday afternoon spent tucked away in the cosiest and most quintessentially British pub (The Clifton) eating our way through the hours and admiring the little sausage dog padding around our ankles. We browsed the best bookshops, walked across the Suspension Bridge with our necks craned skywards and ate lunch in my very favourite Boston Tea Party.
It is almost always surreal, returning to a place you have loved and left. But this time I felt no urge to return, no desperate longing to recreate the lost life of my university years in Bristol. I loved them dearly, but they are a chapter closed and buried. I am content belonging elsewhere – but Bristol sure is a fine and fair city for a gloomy autumnal visit.