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On Wakefield, or Hometowns and Such

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

I think I miss Wakefield.

I probably don’t miss Wakefield. It’s a cycle I go through and have done ever since I ‘moved away’. People talk about missing home all the time, and they usually talk about missing the people and the social norms and the sense of freedom that they relate to their childhood there. Of course, I always agree. But this time, I miss how home looks. And for everyone who grew up in post-industrial Britain, they’ll know that the aesthetics of home aren’t exactly art deco. That’s how I know this one feels different.

I’ve been ill for the past few days and used it as an opportunity to not leave the house, which is an act I love doing. Today, I realised I needed to go to the shop, and used it as an opportunity to have a short stroll and clear the cobwebs out. I wandered around the industrial estate close to where I live and was struck by the sense of the uncanny that met me. Rusted steel gates stopping trespassing onto the train tracks, a dreary greyness to warehouses that have been out of use for some time but maintain faded livery from the last business that operated out of there, old tires and bottles abandoned by the wayside, from someone who didn’t want them to somewhere that didn’t need them. It was this that really made me long for home.

I understand that sounds like a bad thing. It sounds like I’m calling my hometown a dive that was never colourful and never useful. That couldn’t be further from the truth. But I spent a lot of time wandering, wanting to find places I could sit in serenity or satisfy the teenage sense of adventure instilled in me by the various bildungsroman of my youth. There’s an old, abandoned railway bridge that we’d go to on a day when we had nothing to do and nowhere to go. We’d inadvisably climb up onto it and throw stones as far as we could into the canal beneath. I’d talk about the newest girl I was infatuated with and opine about when they’d next reply. An older friend would offer me a cigarette and I’d worry if my mum would be able to smell it on my clothes when I got back. We’d lean against the rusted iron, looking longingly into the distance and use the stills as a new Facebook profile picture (Instagram came later, but the bridge was still used). I miss the lost future that the bridge made me feel. I miss the sense that I was becoming who I was meant to be as I was visiting it. When I went through my first breakup, I took an aimless wander around the back streets of Wakefield but knew where I’d end up. I climbed the old structure and watched the sunset, smoke in hand. I lived out my very own coming-of-age end credits scene. Of course, it’s highly pretentious and incredibly cringeworthy. But the aesthetics of the entire period are still found if you know where to go - or get incredibly lost - whether it’s the street of southeast London or suburban Yorkshire. The only thing that can no longer be found are the characters.

I bought a hoodie when I was 18 that had the phrase ‘Don’t let your hometown limit you’ etched into it. It was the perfect amount of embarrassing for a boy too full of himself to realise everyone gets out of their depth in the bright lights of the big city. I thought it was ingenious and strutted the streets with it emblazoned on my chest as a pocket of the SE postcode became my new limitation. I’m very glad I bought that hoodie because, without it, I’d have never realised how fucking stupid the notion is. You can’t be limited by what you are if you realise what you are, and therefore realising that we are all our hometowns liberates us. It is an essential part of our makeup that we will never be able to not be. Trying to escape this is, in itself, what your hometown has thrust upon you. I walked away because I thought I was better than Wakefield. I thought I was destined for more. But a few years on from that purchase, I’ve realised that if I’m ever going to do anything in this life, it will be because of home and never in spite of it.

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