Walking around Edinburgh, experiencing what Robert Sheckley called ‘metaphoric deformation’. Basically, when we go somewhere unfamilliar, we see people we think we recognise. Then we do a double-take and realise it’s a complete stranger.
The first time I remember experiencing this was in Leeds, September of 1979. I was seventeen as I drifted around the city for the first time, I kept spotting faces of people I knew, looking again and it wasn’t them. This happened repeatedly, surprising me every time.
To be fair, the weekend before, half the pub I’d been in were all hitching down to Leeds for the Futurama festival, but on the day, I was the only one nutty enough to actually attempt the journey.
Fast-forward to 2006, when I moved to Liverpool. Strange town? Check. Spotting familiar faces? Check. Not who I though they were? Every single time.
The following year, visiting Edinburgh, I began mis-seeing the familiar among all the strangers in what was once my home town.
I realised a couple of years ago, that since I left Edinburgh, I haven’t put any roots down anywhere. Liverpool never felt like ‘home’ and, in the couple of months I spent back in Edinburgh, neither did that.
I drifted over the bridge to Fife in 2010 – for no great reason, really – and just sort of remained there. I live there, I work there and because the two are so far apart, I spend a lot of time on buses going through countryside and small towns. The Person I’m terribly fond of lives at the opposite side of the country which necessitates three trains and a long-ish journey from my place to Hers. I feel no more or less ‘at home’ in the wee town I live in than I do in Hers.
Maybe none of us really ‘need’ the familiar. Deprived of it, our minds fill in the gaps and give us – albeit fleetingly – split seconds of that sense of the ordinary and comforting. It’s entirely possible I won’t ever put any more roots down as long as I live.
And, strangely, it’s not a glaring absence in my life. Just something that I remember from time to time and makes me nod my head a bit before I file it away under ‘vaguely interesting things’.
Why not read the novel that started it all? 1919 (inside)
A love story – on home-made acid – narrated by someone first used romatically, then set on fire, by the blue peter team, capering around the pyre like wrinkled vikings.