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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Forty Years Up North


I mentioned in my posting the other day (http://walkinonnails.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/think-rome-babylon-czarist-russia-le.html) that it was just forty years since I left the London area, where I grew up, and moved north. Saturday 4 August 1973, to be precise. The change was abrupt. Down south we had been living in what they call a maisonette. Daft name. It was a flat. One and a half bedrooms on the ground floor, a small garden in which I grew enormous vegetables, a crotchety neighbour upstairs, another across the yard who would take her ironing outside and sing popular songs from the late 1950s. She sang loudly. Had to, we being barely four miles from London Airport and right under the flight-path. It was an essentially characterless property, built in the 1930s, and situated just off a dual carriageway (divided highway). It was there that I bought my first bike for £5.00, taught myself to ride it, and fix it – because everything that could go wrong did go wrong - and started to commute along the main road, around the airport perimeter to Terminal 2, where I was for three years or so an immigration officer.

The move north came after I’d decided I wanted an out-of-doors career. Wasn’t sure what, exactly, but I knew I loved growing things, loved landscape, and hated the job I was doing. It seemed that my entire education had been shoving me in one direction (office-based, book-work) whereas I wanted to be outside, learning practical skills. After a 600-mile round hitch-hiking trip to Cumbria, where I had applied for a place on a forestry course, I learned was too old; at another interview, for an arboriculture course, it was suggested I might not like working at heights. I finally secured a place on a course entitled Landscape and Horticultural Technology, based just outside York.

So, that weekend in August we hired a van, piled in all our possessions, persuaded a friend to drive it, and headed up the A1. I recall arriving in Bishophill, a neighbourhood of tiny, Victorian, two-up two-down terraced houses tucked away inside the ancient city walls. There we were met by a couple of friends who lived over towards Leeds. It was teatime, we were all hungry, and I couldn’t find the key to the new house. Last I’d seen, it was in the pocket of my denim shirt. Ah yes, the denim shirt. Hadn’t I decided it was too warm, and hadn’t I tidied it away in the wardrobe? Indeed. And when did we pack said wardrobe? It was the first item to go into the van. The kids across the road, and their dog Rebel, had rarely been so entertained: five long-haired folk with strange accents unloading an entire household’s furniture, books and kitchen equipment onto the narrow pavement….

I tend to get quite emotional thinking about such events. I frequently re-visit the past, trying to make sense of it – or simply relishing the great wealth of experience that life has given me. When I’m not writing sci-fi novels to order, or ghosting for retired coppers – in other words, trying to pay the bills - I tend to gravitate to the past and write about it. I feel I have a lot of stories to tell. Regular readers will remember that earlier this year I completed a memoir of the fifty-odd jobs that have kept me afloat since I first started work as a fourteen-year-old in a laundry. That has been sent out to some fifteen agents. Nine have turned it down; six have yet to respond. I suppose some day I will publish it as another e-book.

Harrumph. Enough introspection. I am required elsewhere. There’s a brain-damaged hang-glider, a scientist on the verge of producing a remote thought-reader, an anarchist with a gleam in his eye, all looking to me to move the plot forward and provide action, adventure, conflict, romance… resolution. And now that I have marked the passing of another anniversary and lived a few moments in that other world, I will turn my attention to their needs.