I’m at home alone. Not alone-alone, but the kids are asleep, and my wife has gone out, so largely alone, despite the nearby people (likely plotting mischief in their sleep). I don’t have anything I want to get done particularly, and in the absence of a better idea, I just went for a walk around my home town.
On Google Maps.
Not just my home town, I actually walked around some various places that meant something to me at some point. I zipped around Worthing, where I spent 2 years wasting my time before getting a job in theatre, and before I’ve been to my parent’s houses over the years, and other formative places.
Nostalgia is a therapy to a person who isn’t entirely happy, and so it’s a therapy to me. Let’s not dwell on the “not entirely happy” bit though, because that’s dull, unimportant, and well, not the point. I can’t hear the word Nostalgia without remember fondly, and nostalgically learning the word notalgia — not a misspelling — that means backache, despite its similarity to the other word, with its wholly different meaning. I learnt that in maybe 1995, in How to be an alien by Georg Mikes: a novel guide on being non-British in Britain, and a precursor to the nearly-as-good Notes from a small island by Bill Bryson (Bryson’s work, whilst excellent, is no How to be an alien, and is a passing commentary on being in Britain, where Mikes talks about being British) — and, before I know it, I’m being nostalgic again.
The point of Nostalgia is that it’s remembering the good without the bad, and so, strolling around my home town, with it’s chintzy charm, and northern market town shops, it’s easy to imagine living there again. The houses are cheap, the schools are pretty good, and look how leafy the streets are and…
Then I somehow escaped the Nostalgia, as I “walked” along the road next to the Park. A not-particularly-remarkable, and mainly featureless street next to an expanse of greenery, and I landed with a bump back in reality, when I was reminded of why this street was etched on my mind.
In 1996, when I was 12, walking down that street, I saw a group of people crowded around. I saw vaguely a body lying in the middle of the road, and I saw blood run in the gutters like the Marseillaise celebrates. That kid was 15, though, and the damage done to him, by a 21 year old man, in reciprocation for not tugging his forelock hard enough in the presence of the self appointed local kingpin, was that 4 holes were in his temple, made with the pointed end of a rock hammer.
No one told. The kid was taken away by ambulance in that slow way that only the pre-millennium world would tolerate, and he stayed in hospital for several months. The act of a vicious adult against a merely slightly shitty child left him with permanent neurological issues, and he never came back to school.
And that was tolerated, and that was right, and you don’t talk to the Police. I had nothing to tell the police — it was over by the time I got there — but you don’t talk to the police. The entire town accepted that.
Then I walk down the road next to my school, and my principle memory there is of waiting for my then girlfriend when I was about 15. She was, and probably is, a lovely person, and I stop for a minute to hope she’s doing well. I expect she is. Again, though, the memory is accompanied by an altogether less tasteful and perfect one, as I remember taking part in chasing a boy out of the school, and down the road until he took shelter in a pub. He was different, and I was never violent myself, but nor was I innocent of the pack mentality that made Stephen a target every day. He was different, we didn’t know how or why, but he wasn’t like us, and he didn’t get to be himself because of it. About ten years later, he came out — something he maybe could’ve done sooner if not for being pursued constantly by a pack of snarling teenage cunts — and things fell into place a bit. The mentality of the town meant that I didn’t feel bad for him until well into my twenties.
I see the house I grew up in, where I had put together a basic DJ setup with bits I had got on carboot sales, and I had told others about. I enjoyed that hobby, and I can stop and remember using those decks, with the 4 or 5 records that I owned, and I can remember how one day, the house was broken into, and the decks were basically the only thing gone — I had told people at school about them.
And these fall in amongst hundreds of memories, about half lovely solid rural market town stuff, and half toxic, overtly masculine, and intolerant crap that happened if you were different.
Men were men, women were girls, outsiders not welcome, and that pretty little town, with its casual racism, homophobia, and abhorrence of justice remains there, and last I heard of it, a friend’s kid had taken to hiding weapons in his belt when he went to pub in case it “kicks off”.
Doesn’t matter though, it’s a proper Northern town, and that’s what counts. Tha’ll sit down, and drink the’ tea, and be proud of all this toxic bullshit.
The past is always remembered with rose tinted glasses, and it’s worth remembering that, in nearly all cases and examples, things are better now than they were.
I last went there last year, to help my parents clear the last of their stuff from the house I grew up in, and I knew I was an outsider. I might have chased Stephen, and I might have laughed at the jokes, and pretended to think it was all right, and as it sound, but I don’t miss that place. Somehow, some of the best people I ever knew came from there, but it’s a place you have to escape.
Nostalgia is bullshit.