Since the arrival of the new cohort of university types in Sheffield a couple of weekends ago, it has rained. Consistently, persistently, for a few hours alarmingly, it has chucked it down. Incessantly. Newcomers to the town may be given the wrong impression that the city is a wet mess. It isn't always, I have to say. Sometimes, it's nice. Sometimes, it's warm and dry and pleasant. But you have to be here at the right time to get it. Thinking back to twenty years ago when I was choosing universities to apply to, I can't get over the connection between the weather on the day I went to visit and my lasting impression of the places that I could have gone to study for three years. For example, York is, to my mind, a tremendously cold place with a lot of ducks. I shouldn't comment on it, really, because I was there for a few hours at the most. But that's what I think of when the word 'York' drops into a conversation.
I haven't been to that many places, all things considered, but there are a few of those places where for some reason I have a specific and lasting image. Rome is one. I have only visited a couple of times as an adult, but for whatever reason I have an unreasonable love of the place that is absolutely committed. It is a place to which I might retire. Paris, by contrast, to me, is 'meh', despite all the wonderful things that are there. Some places you associate with a particular experience, so for me the areas around north and east London that I can remember are places where cricket happens, and not a great deal else. That's what I did when I was there, so that's what happens there, in my mind. And a reasonable amount of young adult irresponsibility to go with it...
As a kid, I would have told you that Sheffield was rubbish. It is a place where I struggled to find my role, casting around as a teenager to fit in. I would have told you that it was small and struggled to attract the good musical acts that I wanted to see. Some time later, I can see that it is a place with just the right amount of stuff going on, not so much that you feel that fear of missing out that London almost inevitably brings - you'll never see the same person twice in London, almost no matter where you choose to go - but equally it's not so quiet as once I thought. It was, in my youth, a kind of prison, I suppose, from which the great adventure of university was supposed to be an escape. But some time later, it seems to be part of the fabric of who I am. Which makes it all the more irritating that each time I meet a new person who is local, they feel forced to ask where I am from, because of the ambiguity of my accent. It isn't right for the place, they seem to think. In my face.
But going away and being away was the thing. I don't feel at home when I go back to the places I inhabited even for several years. London is almost defined by its population of semi-permanent residents, those who go there in their early twenties to have a good time and to find riches and glory. There isn't much in the way of glory to be found there, and for most of us, any riches we might accumulate are instantly committed to the dangerously high rents for anything resembling comfortable housing. Home is a curious concept, because it is so personal, so inward. Other folks write their songs of praise for their city or their country and it is next to impossible to get into them because of that essential other-ness that those places represent. One day, perhaps, I'll finally get round to writing my song of Sheffield.
It'll probably be a bit rude, include a few references to places that used to be something else (anyone who can accurately locate the legendary fish-and-chip shop run by David Baldwin will definitely get a joke aimed at them), something about a knife, and maybe the Castleton-is-beyond-Hope joke. Approximately no people will care. But it'll be mine.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought