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39 is fine: A trip down Le Memory Lane

First things first. If I knew the name of the hairdresser who PERMED my already HALF BLEACHED hair, I would sue.

But these things happened a long time ago. 20 years ago, in fact (hope I’ve got my maths right this time!)

This week I went to Lyon in France, for the first time since I was a student, off for my year out in September 2007. I wondered how I’d feel, going back there after so long. After all, so much time had passed that now I could instagram a place I only have in ‘processed at Boots’ photo form.

We (The Boyfriend) and I, visited for a day and night on the way home from a flying visit to see my brother and his family in the Alps. I’d booked us a swanky hotel as a treat and it sat up on the hill above the old town, in an old convent.

Bit swankier than my student digs, I thought. But as a mate pointed out on Facebook, our student digs were quite good, actually.

She’s right. I lived in a brand new apartment block back in student days. We had a pool table, and a lift. And a very understanding concierge who put up with our partying.

Although she got the last laugh taking the deposit to re-do our trashed bedroom.

Lyon was a party year. I’d fought to get there (more middle class struggles -they’re real, I tell you).

After the A-level results and going to Hull thing, my Dad had hoped I’d take a job he lined up for me in Paris, but I wanted to do my own thing. I hope he doesn’t mind that I did. I wanted to be with mates, to have a laugh.

The thing with being a student was that not much was really required of us. I’d gone from private schools where my every lesson, lunchbreak and exam result was, well, examined, to college where the tutors let you do your own thing, to uni where nobody came running if you missed a lecture or ten.

So in Lyon we needed to complete a certain number of classes or a grammar module and write a dissertation. Ergo, we didn’t go to many classes except grammar, and speed wrote dissertations in the final month or so.

I remember we had to get a computer from the concierge, and share it. It had a French keyboard, to boot.

No laptops, no wifi. Off to the city library I went to ask for books on French cinema from the vaults. Using photocopy cards, writing down notes. Hiring videos of the films I was studying. No cutting and pasting from website to make up the 10,000 word count.

For this recent visit, I decided to keep the ‘old haunts’ to a minimum. I didn’t go to my old digs, but I did have a drink at The Smoking Dog, our old pub hang out where we watched the 1998 World Cup and, according to a photo album I kept, sang ‘All Around The world’ (Oasis).

We had to use the payphone to call home, to find places to go without tripadvisor or facebook. And it was a riot.

We had weekend trips to Avignon, and Beaujolais. There we stayed in a gîte, ran out of wine, and had to ‘borrow’ some from the cellar. Don’t worry, it was unmarked, probably spare for the tractor engine or to sell at the cellar door to unsuspecting tourists.

The thing with going back down Memory Lane is sometimes the memories are faded, or even jaded. Sometimes, the Lane isn’t where you remember it, doesn’t look the same.

I headed off to Lyon first time around with a portable CD player, CDs like Massive Attack, Primal Scream, Stone Roses. My fave skater girl trainers and some bright eyeshadows.

I shared my room with my mate Jenny, and while we’d been told it was a two-person room there was only one sofa bed to share. Still, we topped and tailed until we sobered up in the second term and got a second bed.

Because our room was bigger, it became a bit of a social hub. We were the pre-drink zone, the post-pub zone. The card games, rollies and two-for-the-price-of-one pizza delivery room number. I wasn’t much into exercise then, but I remember we used to swim sometimes, and Jenny and our mate Nicky would walk up the huge hill to the Basilica while I (and others) got the Funicular train.

This time, I walked – albeit down… well, it is VERY steep… and it was very hot.

The Boyfriend and I stopped for lunch, and as we shared a carafe of random white, I stared around, almost unable to believe I was back there. Time travel.

Lyon was brighter, cleaner, bigger than I recall. I spent the 24 hours grinning at being back there, at the old town and it’s Bouchon traditional restaurants. At memories of how I basically ‘wasted’ a year drinking, smoking and messing about with other students.

The Boyfriend was very understanding of each ‘ooh, this is where…’ moment. He threw in some of his own as he’d visited the year before. I love that we had this city in common, for two so very different reasons. Lyon went from being ‘mine’ or ‘his’ memory, to ‘ours’.

Still, yet again, I felt that moment of regret for my degree. If someone told me I could study in a foreign city now, I’d be at ALL THE LECTURES. I’d have all the notepads, probably be applying for extra tuition. But that’s life, and youth, eh?

I wouldn’t tell my younger self to do it any other way. I felt proud, too. Proud that as a young woman I took myself off to an unknown city and found a life there. And some friends for life.

I walked past the restaurant we always used to go to. The Boyfriend and I decided to go to a different one. One foot in my past, but another into a future – choosing a new memory in a city filled with old ones.

It felt so funny to be in the Smoking Dog with him. Like we’d time travelled. I wondered if the banquettes even had the same coverings. Can’t have done, because we stood on them a lot. It still has the one loo, and plays some random rock music. I should have requested Oasis. But then, that was the past. When we didn’t have smartphones. Or Uber, to help me back up the huge hill to the posh hotel.

Looking at photos from that year (oh, the bleach, the BLEACH! THE PERM!), I remember laughing, twatting about, sleeping in, eating Turkish bread from the corner shop, playing scrabble (see, we weren’t totally uncultured) and the night they sailed the Beaujolais Nouveau down the river into the city at midnight.

I wouldn’t change a thing, but I’m glad I waited 20 years to find out how going back felt. It feels more poignant that it was two decades ago I stumbled down the old town’s cobbled streets to the kebab window or pizza place, and home, smartphone and wifi free.

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