by Aidan Chivers
The air around me is calm and still as I wake up, but if I keep my eyes closed and breathe slowly, I can still hear the fading echoes of church bells, morning lectures and Latin grace. They have not vanished, but are softly receding into old, fading patterns which hold glimpses of a life that feels increasingly distant. New, crisper and more immediate rhythms hold me in their sway as I go about my days, enjoying the pleasures of fresh experiences and emerging friendships.
As I venture out of my accommodation into the French autumn’s early morning sunshine and unexpected warmth, I hear the gentle notes which have gathered around these slow-paced surroundings: hints of evenings spent in our town’s one lively bar, of poetry read alongside the River Sauldre, of camaraderie mixed with endorphins on the athletics club’s evening runs through the streets.
The road outside has lost its first shiny glimmers of newness, along with the leaves which fleshed out the avenues of trees when I first arrived; the contours have softened into that gentle fuzziness of familiarity which comes only through the recurring music of daily acquaintance. It doesn’t overpower the echoing chords of Oxford, but mingles with them in powerful and striking ways.
Sometimes I perceive a gentle, personal harmony as a new aspect of life bears a resemblance with a past that only I can know, a connection I alone can make. At other times I sense a subtle discord as my calmer, simpler life out here sets the chaotic nature of university in harsh relief – or when the rush of Oriel life feels enticing and distant in my more peaceful environment.
Recurring themes from older, more familiar experiences can give the new tunes further richness and depth. These unique moments of intersecting rhythms can be as intoxicating as they are fleeting, and sometimes compel me to record them in whatever way I can, to avoid them being smoothed out in the cyclical parades of everyday existence.
In this way I have tried, particularly with my writing, to savour the passing time, and draw out moments of permanence from that mellow abyss which is carved out by the destructive forces of routine. I have tried sometimes to freeze the echoing sounds of my days into a lasting score, to be played over and over in later life.
In some of my more introspective moments before I came to France, I wondered if the time spent out here would help me draw some more solid lines around the blurred edges caused by the distractions and ripples of university life. I hoped to isolate the soothing melody of personal identity which fluctuates and varies, but provides a source of enduring comfort in its recognisable nature.
But now I wonder if it is really a meaningful task to peel those hazy interactions away and look within. Perhaps that recurring personal tune only makes sense within the chorus of other conflicting and complementary experiences.
If you really try, you can strip away all the instruments from your orchestra one by one, looking for the conductor who, you hope, holds all the secrets in his hands. But with all the musicians and instruments gone, he might just look around him in bewilderment.
Sometimes you just need to sit back and appreciate the whole spectacle, complete with complexities, rough edges and competing harmonies.