I will always love where I went to uni more than my hometown
Born in Essex, made in Bristol
Ask someone in their 20s about their hometown and more often than not you’re treated to a rose-tinted eulogy to the tragic nightclubs, crap shops and failing schools of an anonymous Middle England town.
Sure, it was a shithole but it’s their shithole. It’s as if a virus has taken hold and robbed them of their long-term memories: the dead-end streets they barely tolerated as a teenager are now the perfect bolthole whenever they need to escape the big city for a weekend, somewhere they can take refuge in the arms of Mum and Dad and pretend they’re still in their teens. The things they used to hate are now ironically loved, the places they couldn’t wait to get away from now draw them back every single time they’re back in town. It’s the kind of personality change you normally only see in someone after a serious bump on the head. And I don’t understand it at all.
I will never have this level of emotional investment in my hometown of Colchester. It’s OK, not terrible, just never a place I’m going to feel fondly about save for the fact my parents and a few friends live there. When it comes to strong attachment to a town or city the only place that ticks the bill for me is Bristol, where I went to uni. If someone asked me to take them to my hometown, that’s where we’d go.
For every formative hometown experience people cite as a reason for loving where they’re from, I can think of a uni equivalent of greater importance. Take hometown clubs for instance. The regional club nights of our pre-uni years were, almost without exception, terrible, but everyone chooses to look back at how terrible they were with a wry smile, as if the whole experience had been character-building. I don’t think I learned anything though apart from not to piss off a squaddie if he’s been drinking. Compare that to Bristol and the first year nights spent wasted at terrible, tacky nightclubs I wouldn’t be seen dead in now. Those were the nights which I’ll remember fondly, even the time I had to take John home after he shat himself.
Some people will point to their hometown friends as the reason they keep crawling back there but even here surely uni friends have to come out on top? School may give you years upon years with your best home friends but that pales in comparison next to people you get to know at uni. If school meant finding a few like-minded people in each class, uni means being absolutely surrounded by them. As much as I love my closest hometown friends, too much happens in that time away at uni to sustain that level of friendship. Every time you went home during the holidays, there was a shift in the group dynamic as each person came back subtly altered from their respective uni. Now, meeting up with friends from school means making the same jokes you made when you were 16 even though none of you find them funny.
Even if you took the people and memories away, some people would still proudly associate themselves with their hometown, pointing a finger at a map every time they see one and saying “best bloody place in the world that is”. Again, here, I’m lost. Walking the streets of Colchester when I’m back home never inspires a sense of territorial pride, probably because even in the 16 years I spent growing up there it never really felt like my town. My gran used to send me letters with snippets of local news in while I was at uni but I never really cared. Even the football team’s gradual slide towards relegation is greeted with a shrug and I used to have a season ticket.
Compare this to how I feel when I walk the streets of Bristol, proudly pointing at places I used to live, talking about the shops which have come and gone since I lived there and wanting to give the entire city a hug. The contrast couldn’t be greater. If some people truly feel that way while walking down their hometown High Street or meeting up with a reunion in Liquid “just like the old days” then fine, but I think they’re mad. Bristol will always be where I’m really from.