I remember, I remember, the place where I was born. I remember it in great detail, some of it in large blanket chunks, some in a rag bag of disconnected jigsaw pieces, but the memories are a part of me. I remember my old route to school, the post-war houses set round tatty greens and the multi-storey flats that were being built as I walked by. I remember the Rough, a wilderness of nettles and hawthorn and sinister culverts, where we made dens, and the playing fields and the swings, and the copse under the railway arch where you could find wood anemones and wild strawberries. I remember the walk to my aunt and uncle’s house, a mile away, past the parade of shops with the hardware store that stocked everything from fork handles to four candles, and the off-licence that sold Double Diamond and, to the very sophisticated, an occasional bottle of Hirondelle. I remember the billowing folds of aubrietia on the low walls in their garden, the china on display in their cabinet, the books on their shelves. Somewhere in my memory is every crack in the pavement, every pane of glass, every tree root, every corner where the shadows fell.
Now I’ve been back to the place I left nearly 30 years ago. It’s not the first time I’ve been back. The usual reason: a funeral. It has always felt odd, going back, finding that a place has continued to exist without me, but I have never before felt so uncomfortable about the way the world that once fitted round me like a glove has been overlain by a layer of life that has nothing to do with me. The old glove is still there, that’s the trouble. Its seams are splitting and the lining’s ripped, but it is still recognisable as my old glove, under the entirely different mitten that has been plonked on top of it. The multi-storey flats still stand, looking as if they wished they were scheduled for demolition, and maybe they are. The culverts in what was the Rough are still there, lurking behind the brand new community centre that has replaced the hawthorn bushes. The copse is still perched on the stream bank, marooned now beyond a brand new link road and roundabout. The parade of shops still stands, but now they’re Indian restaurants and betting shops, and I have no idea where anyone goes to buy fork handles. At my uncle’s house, the low walls still stand in the garden, but without the aubrietia. There’s different china in the cabinet, and different books on the shelf, but the same table that I remember from 50 years ago. Part of me wants to go nosing in and unearth as much as possible of the old, just as I remember it, but I think, on the whole, I would prefer, from now on, to return and find it all swept away, bulldozed into oblivion, demolished, remodelled and rebuilt, by the people who claim it now. Then my former world can safely travel with me, as pure memory that no one else can trespass on and mess with. What this means is that I am getting seriously old. Bugger.