I’ve come home for a month. Apart from the time I moved home after going fully mental, this is the longest stretch of time I’ve ever been home where I’ve not been recovering from anything. I went swimming with a friend and when we walked home in the evening light, moon gracing the eastern promise of the sky like a ghost, sun so dimmed that the reddening of its descent has dissipated, the swallows, after finishing their murmur finally, cached in the reeds of the river, I said: This is like the mirror image of the Summer-Before-we-Left. The summer of Seventeen. Our Last Summer. She said: no, this is our last summer, because after this year, neither of us will ever come back here like this again. She’s right. Both sets of parents** are looking for change, and we’ll probably never be in a position where living at home like this is ever possible. Covid, for all its hideousness, has facilitated an opportunity of return.
(**I wrote both sets of parents, here, like my dad isn’t dead bc in some way i still think of my mum and dad as being two people together… I would have edited it, but I quite like the slip. Like he’s just always where mum is, now, or something)
Small villages are timeless places. Nothing ever changes in them, and you’re almost atrophied at the age you left it. When you come home you put on your old self, your village self, like a set of clothes. This is what you wear to the pub, this is what you wear to the shop. It’s not a set of clothes, though, its a way of being. A tilt of the head, a way of forming vowels, a laugh. It’s not what you wear in your family home, or at least it’s not what I wear in mine. My family home is the one place I’ve ever been able to be fully relaxed. Behind the door of number fifty five I am the most me version of me. I am known here, because I know here.
I know the fields that run round it and recede into darkness at night, like the village is a pool of orange along the long Red/White artery of the A40. These are the fields I ran through, facing out into the night, illuminated by the flashbulb of my friend’s digital camera. How weird to think we all carried this little digital cameras around with us, the loop around our wrists like friendship bracelets. The above photos are from an evening where me and my best friend just picked a direction and walked, out behind the tesco garage, past a ruined shed and a manure pile, in the opposite direction to the faint glow of the city on the horizon.
If you’re not from a small village I imagine you live your life with a small cloak of anonymity. Sure, people know you, but they won’t remind you of something you said in year 7 in the pub as you’re about to be 27. Besides, the people who do this to people not from small villages, are probably well-known, and well-loved by you. The people who do this to me are people who once did the village fete with my mum in 2006 and to whom I haven’t spoken since. Despite this they still know that I got a boyfriend in 2011, moved to london in 2012, left my boyfriend in 2018, had a mental breakdown moved home from London, and now live in Paris.
I couldn’t tell you her name.
What you don’t have in the city, is the suggestion of oblivion lying just a few yards from your back door. Complete darkness, nothing, for about 6 miles until the next village, but trees, and the river, and wide open fields.
Anyway… this isn’t what I wanted to talk about, really. I’ve gotten sidetracked again in classic fashion. I’m sorry that this blog has turned into a sort of diary of happenstance, where you get a full flow of consciousness instead of anything else. My old English Teacher (who still lives in this vilalge btw) would tell me off for tangentially rambling about things no one cares about. But I’m nearly 27 now, and she can’t tell me what to write about so there.
Right, we’re on to anyway number three, because I want to talk about taylor swift.
When I was fifteen I found Taylor Swift’s song ‘picture to burn’ on youtube, and around about the same time I was friends with a girl called Leoghain who’d come to England from America and brought contemporary country music into my life (my dad was a big fan of Hank Williams, but I’d not come much further forward from there). I can honestly say it changed my life, tbh. I stopped playing piano, and I bought a guitar with my 16th Birthday money and I went home and I learned how to play every. single. song. she’d released (this isn’t that much of a feat, because girl uses D,A, Em,G A LOT.) I used to sit in my garage with my friend Jade and we’d play taylor swift on our guitars and write songs about people we liked or didn’t like, and we’d dream about playing them somewhere. Taylor Swift soundtracked every meaningful moment of those middle teenage years. A first kiss was soundtracked in my head by “Stay Beautiful” in which I changed the name Corey for the name of that boy. When Jade kissed a boy (an absolute fucking heartthrob) she told me that she went home and sang fearless because it was the only way to express what she felt after having kissed him.
Taylor Swift spoke to a particular kind of teenage girlhood that I think can only really be expressed in the lyrics of your favourite songs, and giggled about in dark living rooms, or on country lanes under fresh moonlight. Those first three albums were about friendship, and about the first forays into understanding sexuality, and the naivety of it. She wrote love songs about yearning, and kissing boys, and talking about kissing boys, and feeling done over because the boy you liked but had never spoken to had a girlfriend. She spoke to us, really, in a way I hadn’t felt spoken to before. She was kind of special, in that no one really knew about her yet. She was like our little secret in 2009, and special because she was music made by a teenage girl, about being a teenage girl, and listened to almost exclusively at the time by teenage girls.
She didn’t feel manufactured by big companies, because her songs were crucially written by her. Hey Stephen was a friend’s anthem, because her first boyfriend was called stephen. Tied together with a Smile really did articulate the feelings depression was giving me (because at 15 I couldn’t articulate it myself). We were living in this sort of English Coloquial version of what we imagined the american south to be: rolling hills, and corn, and trees, and country roads. We didn’t have horses, and we weren’t cowboys, but I saw myself reflected in that music, and so I wrote swathes of songs that put my perspective forward, and spoke about small village life, and small village loves, and the deep rooted yearning to go somewhere else, to become someone else, or just to become something. The ultimate music of yearning, quietly, for something, someone, somewhere else. (the below pictures are some of my youthful forays into making music, and I just look so adorable I actually can’t).
It’s weirdly fitting that Swift would’ve released another album when I’ve come back to a space which is so imbued with the sound of her early albums, for me, that to listen to her new one in the front room of my mum’s house is this weird kind of doubling. I have both already listened, and never listened before. Her voice, accompanied by the yearning strings, acoustic guitars, and naked piano of the album shunts me back ten or eleven years to the stages of becoming that, if i’m honest, have completely shaped me.
There’s a track on Folklore, called Betty. It’s about missing an old friend that you’ve fallen out with, and she’s written it with the same sort of structure as those early tracks. It’s got flavours of ‘Tim McGraw’ and ‘Fifteen” and ‘Best Day’. It’s this song that’s fired me back to my teenage years this evening; the smell of sweet peas in the front garden, blowing in through the open window, the air hot and the sky grey. Nostalgic tears pinprick the edge of my vision, and I know that this is wholly sentimental, but I think Taylor Swift is one of the greatest song writers of our generation, tbh, and the reason she’s not given as much credit as other great song writers is because she’s a woman who writes songs about being a woman for women. If she were an angsty home counties boy writing about fancying girls she’d be lauded as a genius.
And that’s about all i have left to say right now. I hope you enjoyed all the gorge pics of baby me and my guitar.
I am only seventeen, and I don’t know anything.