Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hometown Glory

I write a lot about Edinburgh, about how pretty it is and how much there is to do. You might know, or you might not, that it is not my home town. I've lived here for about five years, yet that period of time has not been quite long enough to wear down the sounds of my accent so frequently people exclaim,

'You're not from round here, are you!?'

If you're not Scottish, you probably think we all sound the same. Au contraire. Actually there are a few very distinct dialects from which other Scots can detect your hometown in approximately 0.5 seconds flat. I know this because I have one of those. I am Dundonian and irrefutably so.

I only have to say ready 'rid-dee', Wednesday 'Wid-dins-day' or tired 'tye-er-ed' for people to detect that I'm clearly not an Edinburgher. My origins are confirmed for them when I suggest that they take the first exit at the circle, when I really mean to say roundabout. Dundee is the only place in Scotland (and probably the world) where a roundabout is known as a circle. We are straightforward folks who call things as we see them. It's round, so it's a circle. This is our logic.

Five years isn't long enough to change an accent but it is long enough to fall in love with a city as my numerous posts about Edinburgh probably attest to. Despite this fondness it won't ever be my home town no matter how long I reside here. When the question 'where do you come from?' arises, my answer is always Dundee.

Asking where someone comes from seems like a question of purely geographical interest but it isn't that simple. It's really asking to where do you belong? Where did you explore with children's eyes? Which place do you know so well that you could navigate it in your sleep? Where are your kin, your people, those who knew you before you knew how to present yourself to the world? Where do you return when you want to feel safe and protected?

When I was in my teenage years, all I wanted to do was put distance between my city and me. I thought of myself as a failure if I didn't get out into the world and explore it. My home town was boring to me, filled with the dull and familiar. Now that I live only about fifty miles away, each one of those miles taunts me sometimes. Now that I'm older my heart hurts for the familiar.

I've written before about the fact that sometimes Edinburgh doesn't seem to have enough space for me. Even the open spaces here are full of bustle and people, it's not easy to be truly alone in a city. I crave the open spaces and slower pace of my hometown sometimes when this current city of mine becomes too much.

When I set out to write this post I thought about taking lots of photographs of some of the most famous sites of Dundee like the Frigate Unicorn or the Discovery or some of the architecture around the city centre. That's my hometown but it's not MY hometown.

My hometown is the quiet fields surrounding the city, the air permeated by flies, the smell of horses and of sunburnt teenage skin. I could still smell it when I returned yesterday. It's the fields glowing yellow with oilseed rape and the winding countryside roads which are so well known to me that I navigate them on autopilot, a significant achievement for me considering that I can get lost in my own flat.

My hometown is the country park which holds memories of family barbecues and of learning to ride a bike. When I first started high school, each Friday my Mum would pick me up at lunchtime and we'd drive here to eat our lunch and feed the ducks, an institutional pastime for the children of Dundee. Half of the city's bread goes into that duck pond. As you'll see from the lack of ducks clamouring around me in this photograph, I clearly forgot to take bread. No bread, no friendly ducks - that's just how it is.

As I grew older and learned to drive myself, my friends and I would come here in my little red car just to sit and be on our own, playing at being grown ups. When it's a nice day, as it was when I took these pictures, the park is busy with people enjoying barbecues, walking their dogs or just lying enjoying the sunshine. Dundee's version of busy is different to Edinburgh's though, it's less frantic, less claustrophobic. Busy means not completely empty.

I spend a lot of time debating whether or not we should go back to Dundee at some point. To 'go back' is an interesting turn of phrase because that's exactly what is really at the centre of my longing for my home town, an ache not just for the place but for the times spent there too.

P.S - The quality of the photographs isn't great because I had to upload them straight from my phone so they're a little bit fuzzy. Computers are not my friends right now.

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