I realised recently that Oxford has become my haven over the last few years, the place I escape to when I want some space - whether a break from routine, a little distraction, or a change in direction for some part of my life.
Lately, I've really needed this: with 2014 having been difficult in a few different ways, I decided that my birthday on Monday just gone would more than just metaphorically represent a new year in my life; it would be an opportunity to put unresolved problems behind me and move on. I wanted a distraction, to help me get through the final hurdle, new happy things to think about with which to bump sad memories out of my mind, and somewhere safe that I could create a conscious space of change from which to move forwards, all whilst getting hugs and spending time with friends. So, Oxford.
I arrived just before 9am yesterday, having embraced the cheap but obscenely early 05:11 train from Manchester (combined with a night out the night before, meaning I was already in Manchester city centre at 2am) - Ruth, JTA and Dan had test-drives booked in a selection of new cars for shortly after that, so I fixed myself breakfast, showered and napped until they returned, and Dan woke me around 1pm so that I could be sociable.
The afternoon melted into evening - time flies when you're having fun, etc. - and there were sofa-snuggles with Dan, chatting and catching up on one another's lives (including the many things I've forgotten to blog about here, including how I've accidentally become an academic, working on a legit research project and speaking at a conference in September, plus that I'll be living in the Netherlands for three months next year, and that I'm going on holiday to Seattle in October… I really ought to blog more, I guess?)
I worked on my knitting whilst we chatted, and then there was the obligatory board game (Guillotine, another addition to my Amazon wishlist) before pizza and the most hilariously terrible/terribly hilarious film, Orgasmo, about a Mormon-missionary-turned-accidental-porn
star. (It's better than it sounds. So much better.
Ruth also baked me a birthday cake with so much ginger that it was almost orgasmic - even including a birthday candle. (I will never be too old for birthday candles. Never.)
More snuggles with Dan this morning as we waited for the rest of the house to rise, and a particularly wonderful moment as we talked about dating and relationships, and I quite bluntly friend-zoned him - it's not the first time that one of us has said to the other that us dating wouldn't work out, so I had no hesitation or fear in saying it, but this time was the first either of us has outright said it whilst face-to-face, and so the kindness and compassion with which he agreed that our dynamic was too good to screw about with still managed to take me by surprise, whilst also reminding me once again why my friendship with him is one of the most precious things in my life. It's a quite platonic love we have for one another, but each time I think that our friendship can't mean any more to me, that he can't make me feel more special and loved (in this special kind of way that's like nothing I have or have ever had with anybody else) - he finds a way to prove me wrong.
We spent this afternoon before my train home exploring woods and planting his next geocache together, taking in fresh air and talking, still learning new things about each other even after 7 years. (7 years! It feels like the hillside midnight cuddle party in Wales in 2007 happened yesterday, watching shooting stars and cuddling.)
Then, as he parked up near the station, almost ready to drop me off for my train, he suddenly remembered the proximity of a particularly difficult geocache he'd found and blogged about, as his retrieval of it was rather superhero-like
- he rightly knew I'd want to attempt it, and took me down to where it was. I had a go, with his encouragement and advice, but all too quickly, adrenaline began to soar through me and as I began to shake, I knew not falling into the river would be impossible. I wanted to keep trying but I knew I wasn't safe and despite that, I didn't want to give up - I was close to frustrated tears and annoyance at myself as I admitted that I was quitting - but his gentle encouragement turned to reassurance that he'd not done it first time either, and my annoyance and fear of looking weak and stupid in front of someone important to me melted away. (Next time I visit, I'm taking my climbing harness, metalwork and ropes…)
We made our way to the train station again, got some food and shared another cuddle or two before I had to get on my train, by which point I was fighting back tears, a small part of me sad because I never
want to leave, moreso this weekend than I have before, but also happiness and security, knowing that distance changes nothing for us.
I had no idea, seven years ago, what this connection would bring me. Back then, I wanted something different to what we've got now, something that didn't work and in fact, nearly destroyed our friendship - but I can't even find sadness in the year we barely talked following that: having nearly thrown it all away once, what we've got now feels all the more wonderful.
Six weeks' of placement, two weeks' of theory, three weeks' annual leave, four weeks' theory, and then December, and hopefully, my next visit. May it pass quickly.