It’s the town where I was born. And it’s the town where I have lived over half of my life. (If I can stay away from living there for another three years, though, it will be less than half of my life.) And it is called Lincoln. It’s a cathedral city in the county of Lincolnshire. It used to be the capital city of the Roman Britain before that London. About 85,000 people live in Lincoln (120,000 if you include towns and villages on the outskirts). And I now live in a city with nearly nine million people (over 21 million in the metropolitan area). Here’s a quick chart to try and take your mind of that utterly awful first paragraph:
It’s interesting being back. There are some nice things, some shitty things. Shouldn’t be surprised by that, cos every day in every city is like that. Lincoln seems to have some sort of sponsorship deal with Super Dry to make every man’s jacket, and UGG to make every woman’s jacket potato-esque boots. That’s if the men are wearing jackets. There is all together way too much under-dressing. I saw a fat man in his twenties, with a pink head, shivering as he walked down the High Street in a grey Nike JUST DO IT t-shirt. Just do it, in his case, should mean, “buy a fucking coat, you idiot.” Women on the town in skimpy dresses. Skin mottled like corned beef from the cold. The only baseball caps you see – caps of actual baseball teams, that is – are Yankee caps.
Men walk funny there. If they’re not doing the stupid walk that Liam Gallagher popularised, they’re hobbling. Lots of Lincoln men seems to either have sports injuries or are just too fat for their legs to cope. Every time I pass McDonald’s there are huge queues. Every time I walk by KFC, more than half of the tables inside are occupied. Living outside of the UK, certain foods are fetishised in your head. Marmite, of course. Branston pickle. A good pork pie or Scotch egg. Fish and chips. On this trip to Lincoln, though, every time I’ve been near a chip shop, the smell of gallons of hot fat has made my stomach turn. It also turns when I walk past the Walkers Crisps factory; a place that I was fascinated with when I was little. That place! It’s FULL of crisps! There is a Mexican take-away place in Lincoln now. It’s called Cactus, obviously. And the sign above the window has a man in a big hat and poncho sleeping next to an acoustic guitar. Pretty accurate, that, cos that’s what all of my Mexican friends do. Just like I, as an Englishman, wear a pinstripe suit and bowler hat all day long.
Drizzle. Wind. Rain. Cold. I’m not gonna pretend that I’ve forgotten what cold weather is like, but after five seasons in Mexico, you get used to a certain niceness to the temperature. The bad weather in Lincoln wasn’t a shock, but I’m no longer used to having constantly wet nostrils. I’d forgotten how a bit of exertion, something as simple as walking into town instead of getting the bus, can leave your exposed extremities cold, while my abdomen sweats under the layers. I walked a lot, actually. It was nice. Mostly to save a few quid, because it seems somewhat ridiculous to pay over three pounds for a return bus ticket. But the walk from my mum’s house into town can be quite nice. There’s a point where you can access a footpath along the edge of the River Witham, and it’s nice to go along there instead of along the main road.
A man in a van pulled up alongside me and gestured for me to open the passenger door. (I am no longer walking by the river; this was at a different time.) I did. He asked where Branston is. It’s a village not far outside of Lincoln. And I absolutely could not remember where it was. The driver had a London accent. I have a Lincoln accent. I’m the one that should know. So I pretended, and sent him further along the road towards a roundabout, told him to take the third exit, and go up the hill on the left. I checked Google Maps when I got home. I’d sent him the wrong way.
Things are slow. Life is slow. It takes some getting used to. I used to notice it when I returned when I lived in London, but I notice it way more now that I live in a busy, over-populated city like Mexico City. People ring the STOP button on the bus, and amble off once the bus has pulled to a stop. I queued for nine minutes in Starbucks. The three employees looked like they hadn’t a care in the world. But it is me with the problem. My fancy big city ways where life is faster, and less frivolously friendly.
There’s a new store in Lincoln selling Apple products. It looks like you might expect inside. But the store is a reseller store, not an official Apple store, and it is called Stormfront. I have no idea who chose that name, but if you asked me what things they would sell at a store called Stormfront, I’d fairly confidently predict it would sell Neo-Nazi paraphernalia. But then, maybe there’s a Neo-Nazi group somewhere called iConnect or something. Who knows?
I had a haircut while I was in Lincoln. Went to an Italian barber shop called Luigi. As I entered, Luigi wasn’t cutting hair, just chatting with an elderly fellow about alcohol. They were just naming types of drink they liked. Whiskey. Vodka. Rum. Brandy. Beer. The other would either concur or say something they didn’t like about the drink. The old guy left, and Luigi said he’d seen me walking past and looking in for a few days. It’s kinda true. I did look in the day before, and saw him stood against the far wall looking bored. I asked him how long he’d been in Lincoln because his accent was quite strong. “Since 1967,” he said. He couldn’t have been much older than mid-fifties, so I kinda got the feeling the accent might be an affectation. I took off my cap, and he asked why I wore one. I told him it’s cold here. He asked where I live. I told him. “Oh yes, I bet it’s nice and warm in South America.” I didn’t correct his geography. He asked what I did for a living. I told him, and he proudly pointed to the mural of a kind of tropical seascape on the wall behind me. We got talking about the economy, and he told me the barbering world is suffering now that “anyone” can go to college for two years and open a salon. I mentioned how strong the memory of being in a barber shop when I was a child is: that smell of hair products, cigarette smoke, and pictures of topless women. He again gestured to the mural, pointing out a topless mermaid on a rock. He answered the phone and spoke in Italian. He spoke for a couple of minutes. It was his wife. Back to my head, a few more snips and he was done. All in all, it took him less that ten minutes.
I was in a bar waiting for friends to arrive. I’d arrived ten minutes early. Sat down with a pint on an upholstered bench that ran the length of a wall. In front of the bench were small, round tables and some chairs. I sat right at the end of the bench. A few moments after I arrived, a group of nine or ten young men with no jackets arrived. A few feet away from me, at the next-door-but-one round table were three women. Just as the men got their drinks, the women got up and left. The men chose to sit on the bench. There were enough of them for them to take up the whole of the rest of the bench. I sat there, tapping away on my iPod, using the bar’s free Wi-Fi. To anyone else in the bar, it must’ve looked like I was a part of the group, just in a huff.
Still, though, when I walk up Lincoln’s pedestrianised High Street, that feeling I had as a late teenager still exists: one of the tough guys is gonna kick my head in for having glasses and looking “weird.” I had a couple of good nights out, though. Good to see old friends. And there are some nice pubs left. It’s good to know that the Lincoln I see as a visitor isn’t the real Lincoln. There are certainly elements of that, and my friends are all too aware of it, but, I guess if you stay there or in any small-ish town, you carve a life out for yourself where the good things are, on the whole, all you experience and care about. Lincoln was a good place to grow up. A bit boring at times, but on the whole: nice. It made me who I am, for better or worse. I feel guilty about the snobby feelings I have when I walk around the city centre. I often wonder how miserable I’d be if I ever had to move back. And I imagine there’s a funny novel or something to be written about life in Lincoln, but when I left yesterday, on the train from Lincoln Central, I had an odd feeling. To leave Lincoln knowing that I won’t be back for a while. I don’t know how long. But likely not during 2012. Part of me is sad to leave, the part that enjoys seeing people that I’m fond of; but there’s also an ecstatic feeling to be done with it for another year or two. I spent the entire journey from Lincoln to Newark (anagram: wanker), where I’d catch the connecting train to London, staring out at the fields and that utterly magnificent, huge huge sky. I will miss that.
At Newark, I listened to a playlist of Super Furry Animals songs. As the train pulled in, “Slow Life” started. My favourite song of theirs. And somehow, it seemed quite apt that a song with that title was to accompany the start of the high(ish) speed journey to whisk me away from home.