Architecture, Home, Places to visit, Wellness | 08 October 2021
Memories of home.
“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort,” Jane Austen.
Home is a place of comfort. It is where we fix our roots and build the foundations of our existence. It is a reference point from where we orient ourselves and the way we behave.
A recent trip to Lincoln, the city I lived in for 3 years whilst at university, had me pondering the sense of belonging I felt when there. As I slipped into the feeling of comfortable nostalgia in this place so close to my heart, I began to consider the sense of belonging and how we experience this feeling beyond where we live (beyond our home). I wondered if home is more than the space we live in day to day, and how the memories we hold of special places engender the feeling of being “at home.”
The concept of home can be identified in several ways including: an attachment to a particular setting; a symbol of self; a place of privacy; an expression of identity and a physical structure that gives stability, security, and a sense of belonging.
My home (or at least what I think of as home day-to-day), is a two-bedroom mid terraced house, built in the 1980’s. It is nothing spectacular to look at. Its walls are cracking, and it is not big enough to hold my small family forever, however it is filled with the people (and dog) that I love. It is comfy and secure, and during the pandemic it really came into its own as it made me feel protected. I cherish the privacy it provides us and the sense of belonging that it instils within me.
None-the-less after a year and a half of lockdowns and enforced home time, I craved something different and a space that would inject some nostalgia into my soul. I longed to feel a sense of self beyond my daily existence which, after lockdown, felt like it had flatlined.
With this in mind, I took the opportunity to visit Lincoln, the city where I spent three years studying Journalism; meeting my now best friends and growing up! I’ve made the approx. 330 mile / 530 km round trip many times since graduation, and each visit has re-established and strengthened my connection with the place. Every visit has reinforced the sense of belonging I feel there, so after not going further than my local Tesco’s supermarket for many months I returned to my former home.
The road into Lincoln city centre travels directly past number 124 Carholme Road, the home where I met my best friends Sophie, the two Hollys, Chloe, Kristina and Rachel back in 2010. Just a passing glimpse of its symmetrical frontage and arched porchway took me back 11 years. I was awash with memories of my life there when I called it home. Us all watching “Love Actually” after a snowball fight on the green; visiting the annual Christmas market; getting ready for numerous nights out; dancing in the kitchen (like we would never have to grow up); dressing up as Smurfs and so many important past experiences.
I feel I will always be connected to Lincoln because my identity is tied to the memories I created there. Even though 124 is now run down and unoccupied, knowing it continues to exist is important to me and brings me comfort. Writer and environmentalist Roger Deakin beautifully explored the importance of place and landscape in the context of memories and past experiences. He said:
“All of us, I believe, carry about in our heads places and landscapes we shall never forget because we have experienced such intensity of life there…we accord these places that have given us such joy a special place in our memories and imaginations. They live on in us, wherever we may be, however far from them.”
I think of my time in Lincoln as a period of coming of age, a time when life was undoubtedly experienced with intensity. I think that the memories generated root me to the city, making it feel like a place that I belong to and which in turn belongs to me — a home away from home.
After I left Carholme Road, I continued my journey through the city, into the university grounds. My mind was immediately catapulted back to my first day there and the feeling of homeliness I felt. My memory surprised me in some ways as I would imagine it would be more usual for a young person away from home and in a strange place for the first time to feel apprehensive or possibly a bit lost. However, I realised this was never the case for me, so I began to consider why. Why had I felt at home there from the outset?
I think it had a lot to do with everything being small and contained, instantly and easily navigable, to the point where within a couple of hours I felt like I knew where everything was. Nothing felt overwhelming or confusing, which was incredibly reassuring to a girl who up until then found the thought of living three hours away from my family home a daunting prospect.
I remember first entering the grand old library, a warm, secure space where once again I instinctively felt I belonged. I remember being intrigued by the building’s exterior appearance as it was an attractive old warehouse. Inside the building I found the flow of space reassuringly simple, and soon I was attending study groups and late-night sessions feeling at home and like this was the most natural thing in the world.
Looking back, I’m aware that prior to this I had often felt a disconnect with large, impressive buildings, but here I felt comfortable and instantly at home. Perhaps it was because I had decided, by dint of choosing to study here, that this was my home now. Perhaps then home and belonging are a choice we make? Perhaps it is about the welcome we receive and the community we build? Ultimately, I felt accepted, warm, and secure in the buildings that sheltered me and accepted by the people I met and friends I made. This was home.
I realise now that I reflect on it that my experience could have been different. The environment could have felt austere and foreboding, the people could have felt unwelcoming and cold. Had this been my experience I imagine I would not have felt like I belonged, and it would not have felt like home. The choice to consider Lincoln home would not have presented itself because the feeling would have not been there.
Next my journey had me leave the university grounds and I travelled up the aptly named Steep Hill which ascends through the city centre. At the top of the hill looms Lincoln Cathedral, the city’s most impressive sight built in the 10th Century. Lincoln Cathedral is one of Europe’s finest examples of Gothic Architecture, and 9 years ago, I got to graduate in it! It seemed to make sense to end my trip down memory lane there, a place that symbolised the end of three very significant years in my life.
Looking back on my graduation, I feel like the historic grandeur was somewhat lost on my architecturally, ignorant, 20-year-old self. Returning when more mature and better educated (thank you Kiss House!) was refreshing. I felt better placed to appreciate John Ruskin’s statement that it is one of,
“the most precious pieces of architecture in the British Isles.”
Architecturally, there’s no denying the Cathedral’s splendour, however what struck me now was not the magnificence of it, but rather the feeling it engendered in me. Though I had not felt a deep connection to the Cathedral when I graduated there 9 years ago, returning, and soaking in the splendour and sense of awe now caused me to connect my younger and older selves, filling me with a sense of belonging.
This beautiful, inspirational building had been the site of a major event in my life. Yes, it had been a notable landmark or wayfinding point when I lived locally, (so naturally it felt familiar), but I realised that it was the special memory of my graduation that sparked my personal connection. It was the memory which had lived on in me which now engendered my feeling of belonging.
As I left the cathedral and got ready to exit the city, I noticed all the new businesses that have sprung up since my last visit. The city is growing. The space is changing. It’s an exciting time for the city and its inhabitants which is brilliant, however this realisation had an unexpected and dramatic impact on me. I panicked! Wondering if this would mean I no longer belonged there? If I don’t physically live there, is it home? If my interactions with the city are based upon fleeting visits at long intervals and the city changes greatly in the interim, will it no longer be mine?
However I realise that it is my memories and the life I lived there that inextricably link me to the place, regardless of any changes. I can only feel joy that the city is beginning to get the attention I felt it deserved all those years ago, and that more people will get to experience and create their own memories there. I also realise that when I visit, I create more connection and more memories. That the city will always be part of me and my identity, and I will always belong there whether I live there or not.
I am lucky to consider several places home. The home in which I live day-to-day, Lincoln where I experienced so much of life and came of age and my parental home. As I consider the sense of belonging, I feel great comfort in knowing that I belong in all three places, and that I consider all three home, albeit in different ways. Home is the heart of existence as Michael Allen Fox, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario so beautifully expresses in “Home, A Very Short Introduction,”
“Home is a crucial point of reference — in memory, feeling, and imagination — for inventing the story of ourselves, our life-narrative, for understanding our place in time. It is also a vital link through which we connect with others and with the world and the universe at large. ”
Michael Allen Fox
The Jane Austen quote I used at the start, “there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort,” still resonates with me. However, I love knowing that I don’t have to stay at home to feel real comfort. Home is multifaceted, it is bound up with a sense of belonging and memory, and that it is a feeling I can (and do) feel in numerous places regardless of physical distance and time spent apart.
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