What It’s Really Like To Move Home As An Adult

Photo by Toa Heftiba.
There is something inescapably weird about walking past your old front door, 15 years after your family moved away. It’s pretty strange to vote in your fifth general election in the church hall where you once did ballet. It’s somehow poignant to walk back from a pub, lightly buzzed, through the same smell of blossom you remember from playgroup. It’s more than a little unsettling to take your toddler to forest school in the very park where Paul from your year once simultaneously (and famously) fingered two girls on the same bench. 
Seventeen years since I packed up my grandfather’s old trunk and a carload of XL laundry bags to go to university, I have rather unexpectedly moved back to the city where I grew up. 
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Oxford is the city that made me. It’s where I learned to ride a bike, kiss with tongues, tie my shoelaces, roll a joint...

Although I was born in London, we moved to Oxford when I was about four and so, to a large extent, this is the city that made me. It’s where I learned to ride a bike, kiss with tongues, tie my shoelaces, roll a joint. Not necessarily in that order. The day my mother left – to move north, to a cheaper house on the outskirts of Merseyside – I was pretty sure I would never come back. Why would I? Oxford was where my ex-boyfriend lived. This was where I’d worn ill-fitting dungarees and a Punkyfish T-shirt while watching disinterested boys on skateboards. This was where my parents had thrown bowls at each other and applied for their decree nisi. This was where I’d worn braces for three years as a patient of the aptly named Dr Savage. This was where I’d watch the host at a house party vomit onto a multiplug and thus short-circuit their entire house. I was 18. I was leaving. There was nothing left for me.
Yet here I am. And not just back in the same city, oh no. By a quirk of fate and some probably illegal dicking around by an absentee landlord and unprofessional estate agent, which left us with just three weeks to find a home after they pulled out of our original rental agreement, I am now living in the very next street along from the one where I lived for 14 years with my parents and older sister. The very next street. If I had the energy and footwear, I could climb onto our roof and see my old bedroom while sitting on our chimney pot. I ran into my old neighbour the other day, while walking to the shop to buy laundry detergent. It is wild.
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Oxford was where my ex-boyfriend lived. This was where I'd worn ill-fitting dungarees and a Punkyfish T-shirt while watching disinterested boys on skateboards.

I am hardly alone in leaving London. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 340,500 people moved out in the 12 months before June 2018, the largest number since the ONS began collecting data in 2012. The BBC claims that over the past decade more Britons have left London than moved to it (although a high birth rate and external migration has more than covered the loss). Most of these people are in their 30s and 40s, the majority new and young parents (the average age for a British woman to have her first child is 28). The housing charity Shelter has said that we need to build 1.2 million homes to meet the needs of younger families who cannot afford to buy and "face a lifetime in expensive and insecure private renting". Frankly, who can afford to buy? 
One study, carried out by Heriot-Watt University for the National Housing Federation, estimated that 2.5 million people in the UK are unable to afford their rent or mortgage. Which means 2.5 million are in "hidden households" that they can’t afford to move out of: house shares, adults living with their parents, people living with an ex-partner. 
As much as I owe her my life, I didn’t much fancy moving back in with my mother to watch Poirot reruns, sandwiched between her and my young son until one of us finally rolled off this mortal coil. So I did the next best thing; I moved back to my hometown. 
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A group of my oldest, dearest friends were living or moving here with their families. My dad and younger sisters would be on hand to help out with childcare. I know the city so well that the mental load involved in moving house with a small child was minimal, which is another strange but brilliant thing about moving back to the place you grew up: while there is very little joy of discovery, there is correspondingly little stress in navigating the unknown. 
Before even setting foot out of our removal van I knew where the nearest Argos was, I knew where to buy a cheap samosa and cold beer, I knew precisely how many minutes it would take to walk into town. I knew the nice parks, I had friends to visit, I knew where our nearest bus stop was and which number we’d need to get to the train station. In many ways, moving back to Oxford was like slipping on an old coat so familiar you already know which pocket you’ll find the mints in.
Of course, there are odd moments, hard moments, disconcerting moments. Meeting girls you haven't seen since Year 6 PE at playgroups, with their two kids and wedding rings; being brought up short by seeing a stranger walk out of your old front door; the lurch in your stomach as you walk past a man you once fancied so much you posted 37p and a Mars bar through his letterbox (now pushing his own buggy). 
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Before even setting foot out of our removal van I knew where the nearest Argos was, I knew where to buy a cheap samosa and cold beer, I knew precisely how many minutes it would take to walk into town.

Yet simply by living here I am building new layers of experience, memory and association across the city, like a sedimentary rock. Life is a constant state of change, even in a city as medievally static as Oxford. And so I am changing what this place is, for me and my new crew. I may greet old shopkeepers like lost friends, I may look at lamp-posts the way other people look at family albums, but I am also introducing my son to a city that has never existed before, for him, or me, or any of us. A city where I no longer wear hair mascara or carry a Walkman. A city where we go to a dinosaur museum and eat Pom-Bears nearly every weekend. A city where I can buy a navy spotted handkerchief for my partner from a men’s outfitters that keeps its merchandise in wooden drawers. A city where every Wednesday afternoon my son pretends to be a pirate with a milk moustache. A city where I am both child and parent, drinking by the river in my swimming costume in the evening and packing a nursery bag full of wipes in the morning.
I’m back in my hometown. Where everything is different and everything is just the same.