Monday, November 22, 2010

My Playground of Yesterday

I've just spent the weekend visiting my Mum in Liverpool. She still lives in the house in which I grew up, surrounded by much of the furniture, decorations, and books that were there in the nineteen-seventies. Normally when I see her, it's a flying visit, one of many over the course of seeing my small family and Helen's large family in the North West of England, but this time I was unaccompanied and there for two days.
We don't run out of things to say to one another, although there are contemplative silences when we talk. There's no background of music, radio, or worse, television, so the silence this weekend was only broken by our thoughtful exchanges, and my return to my mother's piano.
It still stands against the rear wall of the front room, as it has throughout my life. When I was ten, this was where I would labour with grudging piano practice, waiting for it to be time to watch Doctor Who. In my teens, it was where I would experiment with polyphony and songwriting, my budget synthesizer having fallen short in both regards.
But this year, I returned to the piano able to play four short pieces and a multitude of scales and exercises, having, 33 years after my last lesson, finally sat my first Associated Boards exam. It's a hundred years old, my mother having acquired it second hand as a girl in Belfast. What must her memories of it be like?
My sister called round on Sunday bringing her three daughters, all of whom she has produced in the last seven years. They're delightful, but very lively. The effect on my nerves was such that after they'd gone, I announced to my mum that I was going out for a late-afternoon stroll. I left the house and headed down towards the Mersey, walking the route for the first time in at least two decades. I was soon overcome by a sense of geographical nostalgia, reacquainting myself with pavements, verges, and buildings that I had forgotten I had forgotten. I started trying to remember what I would see before rounding each turn, to see whether it would tally, but it was hard. I grew resentful of new buildings, more so when I could not recall what had been there before.
As I reached the river promenade, I turned south briefly, past the scene of an epic childhood bicycle accident, and towards the church around which much of my pre-teen youth activity revolved. The scout hut where I spent three eager years as a cub was still there, along with the adjoining church hall I had nearly forgotten.
These places are the landscape of my dreams, topographies I have visited nocturnally for years without really associating them with their real counterparts. As the late afternoon gave way to dusk, the experience acquired a wistful tristesse, and I felt compelled to walk on to my first two schools. Both Infants and Juniors still stood, and apart from a prevalence of security barriers and comic sans signage, looked exactly as they had in the seventies. I circumnavigated both as best I could, and welled up inside.
Not, you must understand, because I had been a happy pupil. Rather, it was because I had been carrying around memories of these places for so many years, and to see them again laid out in three dimensional bricks and mortar was overwhelming.
Returning to somewhere you knew as an adult could never be like this. The adult mind does not create vivid abiding memories in the way a child's does.
I walked home (home! well, towards what was once home, and in a way I used to resent, but now don't, still is) past what used to be a recreation ground and is now a posh housing estate.
I am amused to be able to say at last, "Eeh, I remember when it were all fields round here".