Every one of us is submerged in time. It pushes us downstream, washing over and around and through our lives, unstoppable and disinterested. To struggle or resist is silly, futile. Yet – yet. For me at least I can’t help but struggle against the current, fighting to find my footing. I do not want to wash away from each moment as soon as it happens, watching it recede into the past. The jokes with family members whom I rarely see, the tastes of favourite recipes that I can't replicate, the smell of Chanel No. 5 on the landing. Just imagine being able to freeze everything: the current of time and the shifting stones of events suddenly halted, ripples and bubbles preserved. (Not all moments in time; re-filing tax returns and knocking the boiling kettle over should remain as one-offs.) I would freeze these moments of warmth and home and every day existence if I could. Sometimes even imagining this is hard, when we are busy and travelling and each day brings new considerations and street names, different faces and sounds.
Hereford, though, makes this feat of imagination easier, and we can at least pretend we are frozen in time. We have the opportunity to relive the same action until we are satisfied. The market in Hereford is always alive, always has the green and white gazebos stippling the main square. The Wilkos department store in the Maylord Shopping Centre remains pleasantly normal, the Market Hall has not changed its vendors or lighting since the seventies, and the Marks and Spencer continues to sell socks.
As Christmas approaches, the shops fluff up their plumage and begin the festive courtship ritual to woo customers. The Specsavers staff wear Christmas jumpers with carrots and red noses dangling off their chests. There are appeals for money and there are LED lights on every lamp.
The Odeon is playing the Christmas blockbusters with their enticing remakes of books; in the theatre the annual panto is delightfully surreal. Morrisons and Tesco compete for the best Christmas slogan whilst price-matching mince pies. The big chains have Christmas music from the eighties and nineties (Mariah's 'All I Want for Christmas is You' is Number 2); browsing the racks is more fun as everyone is humming along absent-mindedly.
Even the long walk into town takes on a timeless quality, with the sun always setting too soon, the hills on the far side of the cathedral floating in a violet mist. And as November transitions to December, the requisite fairy lights multiply across windows and colonise a few unlucky front bushes. Due to the ever-present traffic the smell of exhaust hangs heavy in the cold and humid air, mixed with the smell of winter gardens. The walk is always calm and unhurried because no one is ever looking out of their home to notice me looking in, curious to see an unrelated life that thinks it is unobserved.
Once back from town, back with family, the cosy house makes it easy to remember the reassuring routines of a household that I just left behind, running the dishwasher every night before bed. Although the cats are a little bit older and a little bit cuddlier, their markings and facial expressions are the same. There are a few new mugs, but the old faithfuls still sit on the shelf as well. It's funny - even though the house itself changes every once in a while, the inside has the same warmth and details with the familiar artwork and snowy shag rug. The kettle remains a centrepiece and the Bags for Life are still on the back of the kitchen door. The chicken curry tastes perfectly the same.
These rhythms are like eddies that tirelessly circle on the edge of time’s racing current. But I am still pulled away. Although I can briefly join I cannot remain: there are too many exciting forks and meanders and rapids downstream, some of which I can see and some that will be a surprise. They pull me onwards and away and I am left bittersweet. There is the bitter truth that the plans and dreams of everyone under this roof mean this is the last time we will have this type of moment in this home. But sweetness – there is far more sweetness. We will find each other in another house, and we will still drink Earl Grey together, and the market will continue selling local parsnips and cheap phone cases. The stores will never stop playing Mariah Carey, and Christmas in Hereford will repeat itself, ad infinitum, whether or not I am here to witness it.