I went back to my hometown recently; a tiny place in Dorset. After living in London so long the peace and quiet are almost surreal. The sea shifts and swells calmly, chalk cliffs soar above the coastline, and everywhere, grass grows a verdant green. I left there just as I was turning seventeen, which is a shockingly young age to leave anywhere. Or anything. After landing a place at a performing arts college in Kent I was determined to leave Nowheresville firmly in the rearview mirror. Or so I thought. You never really get away from anywhere. Locations have a habit of waiting you out. Even if you never return there’re still there. Waiting.
I’ve always regretted not staying on for sixth form. At the time I loathed school with a passion only the truly hormonal can summon. I scowled, I wore a black trench coat, I grew my hair out, I was in to heavy metal (of course). I was a perfect fit for a large school of 1500 kids. That last sentence was sarcasm in written form incidentally.
I would have liked to have stayed on though. It would have bought me three more years with my friends Jess, Frazer and Zac. It might have given me a deeper understanding of English and an A level to prove it. I would have grown up a bit. And I might have come to terms with my hometown.
My mental map of Swanage is strange one. It’s streets where I did or did not deliver newspapers on various crap BMX bikes. It’s corners where I might have been threatened by other kids, or areas of woodland that scared me; now covered in new apartments. It’s pubs where I drank under age, full of bravado and glib insincerity. It’s the beach where each of those sixteen summers blur into one sandy, ice cream-coated afternoon. It’s three different houses and all the attendant Sturm and Drang those memories bring with them.
You might say that versions of me haunt all those locations. Versions dressed in terrible 80s fashions, versions taking themselves much too seriously, versions buying vinyl from Woolworths. Versions obsessed with girls and versions obsessed with pop music (later metal, grunge, ambient, hip hop). These versions lurk and whimper, whisper and moan. They need no graveyards to conduct their vigils. And the truth of it is that they don’t haunt the locations, they haunt me.
Which is why photographs are better than memories. A photograph captures people at their best. A photograph records when you got together with family or friends for the good times. A photograph doesn’t care you looked like an idiot, only that you were happy at the moment someone pressed the button. No one ever took a picture the day you got a poor school report, or that time your parents argued. No one takes pictures of that stuff.