I grew up in an ‘extremely rural’ part of Carmarthenshire, in south west Wales. The nearest town was 10 miles away, the primary school I went to three miles away, and I was surrounded by farmland. For about 10 years before leaving for university, I lived in the countryside. Now that I’m back in the motherland after my years in Italy, I’m no longer living in the middle of nowhere, but in an actual town.
You’d think after a childhood and adolescence in a rural environment, that I’d very much be a country girl. Well, not really. I’d spend most of my time indoors, playing computer games (I have vivid memories of spending an entire summer glued to Civilization II) or reading, and then later on watching TV (bought with my own hard-earned cash, thank you very much). There was one summer, 1999, when I was 13 years old, that I spent a lot of time outside, on a homemade swing listening to Radio 1. But generally speaking, I didn’t appreciate the beauty that surrounded me. I was far away from the town, far away from anything that a teenager found interesting, and even my friends were a good couple of miles away at least.
When I moved back to Wales last summer, I wasn’t moving back to my childhood home, but to the town of Carmarthen. After having lived in a city for most of my 20s, it was the first time I’d actually lived in a town. I’d studied abroad in the beautiful hill town of Urbino in central Italy, but the halls I lived in were a 15 minute walk from the town itself. Now, I’m only a few minutes’ walk from the town centre.
Even after having lived in a city, it’s a strange feeling having neighbours. Last Sunday night I left my window open, as I felt warm even though the temperature had cooled; and the morning after I woke up to two female voices outside, talking in the rich, warm local accent.
It’s wonderful to have everything I need nearby, again. I can go to Tesco on foot, into the town centre if I need to go shopping, and both the train station and bus station are nearby if I want to go further afield. I don’t drive, and when I lived out in the countryside I felt very isolated. This town may be only a tiny fraction of the size Milan is (15,000 compared to 1,500,000!), but I’m very glad that I’ve been able to retain the independence I had in Italy when it comes to transportation.
One thing that still amuses me about living in a small town after nearly a year of living here, is just how often I randomly bump into relatives and people I know. On Tuesday lunchtime I had to go to the bank, and my aunt was standing outside waiting for my uncle to finish running an errand. On Saturday when I went to Tesco, I saw my brother and his family outside. I’ve seen cousins with their babies, served old teachers at my temp job over Christmas, and seen family friends who I hadn’t seen for years at the supermarket. It makes me realise just how alone I was in the big city of Milan all those years.
However, it’s not been a completely smooth ride coming to live in my hometown. The place is full of memories. This is the town where I went to secondary school, where I worked as a weekend/part-time sales assistant from just after my 17th birthday, where I went for nights out with my friends. I sometimes see the bus an old co-worker of mine used to take, and think about how my feelings for him were never reciprocated. I see the nightclub I used to go to with my friends, now closed down and empty; as is what used to be the best bar in town just down the road from it (rip Jolly Tar, we will always miss you). I see the street where I had my first kiss at 18 (hey, don’t judge me); and what used to be the pub where I had my first drink, which is now a very nice continental style bar. So much has changed, a whole new shopping area in the town, businesses which have come and gone, but certain ghosts continue to haunt the old streets.
It’s a strange feeling, a new beginning in an old place. Somewhere which has changed a lot in the time that I’ve been away, but has also remained the same as ever. Somewhere I hadn’t actually lived in before, but had spent a lot of time in. It is nice being back in familiar surroundings, but it’s also nice to have a new aspect of it too. It’s a town which doesn’t have the best reputation within Wales, but it’s mine, and that will never change.