Sunday, 12 March 2017

I Returned To My Home. But My Home Had Disappeared.

Today I'm using a prompt because I'm away from home and in a rush.  It's a push to have enough time to keep up a daily post.  But I'm determined.  I'm not going to miss a day.  Not yet!

72. Where That Place Used to Be: Think of a place you went to when you were younger but it now no longer there or is something else.


The first place I lived that wasn't Crawley.  I spent one year there at university.  Just a year.  But it was an important time for me.  I packed a lot into those three short terms of study.  This photograph was taken on my first day there.  Eighteen years old and hunched back.  It's going to take a lot of work to overcome that.

I discovered I hated my first course and had the ability to work out how to change to one where I was far happier.  That period was hard.  I'd wander the streets of the city in the middle of the night listening to depressing music

I joined a university animal rights group and was active with it for at least three weeks!  There were three of us.  I was one.  The second was a woman.  I had a big crush on her although would never have said.  The third was her boyfriend.  I met them a term later, accidentally.  A friend dragged me to see his friend - in order to borrow weed - and it turned out his friend was the woman.  She was naked in bed.

I became a campaigner.  Against the Poll Tax.  That worked out well enough.  Against the lessening of student grants and the introduction of loans.  That didn't work at all and we could never have dreamed how expensive university education would become under successive governments.  I protested against Thatcher when she was in the area.  Protested against the Tory controlled council led by Eric Pickles when they were cutting funding to women's refuges and other charities.  For a while I hung around with the Socialist Worker crowd until I became disillusioned by them attempting to hijack every protest and make it seem like it was their party.  I'm glad to see that the Socialist Worker people in Newcastle don't do that.  They just seem to muck in.  Had I stayed in Bradford I'd have been part of a group forming a new student political party.  If that ever happened.  And in those animal rights week we had a well attended candlelit vigil against vivisection at the university and ran a public meeting attended by several hundred people.

I was a hiker.  Those were excellent days.  The hiking club was brilliant, organising several walks each week in the same area.  We walked throughout Yorkshire, made it to the lakes and had a long weekend in Snowdonia.  I will always remember that last cheese and wine party at which all of the surplus funds were spent.  I will always remember a few details of the people and the evenings we spent in a Bradford pub singing folk songs.  I'll remember the time we invaded a Bradford Irish Society ceilidh and I won the raffle.  And then there was the time we walked back from Ilkley in the night and reached a stone circle on the moor just before midnight on Halloween.

I had friends.  And many people knew me.  Once someone was shocked because we walked the length of the campus and everyone, without exception, said hello and called me by name.  That's not an experience I've had since leaving Bradford.

I learned of curry houses and knew them well.  My first Bradford curry was eaten on my second night of college.  I was with a bunch of second and third year Catholic students and we'd gone out feasting after the chaplaincy bar closed.  I loved that bar.  At the time it was a safe space.  Perhaps, had I stayed in Bradford, I would have lived out the rest of my course living in the Catholic chaplaincy.  Although I wasn't a Catholic.

I learned of drunkenness and hangovers.  I had my first drunken night on my third night of college.  I didn't know better.  I'd hardly drunk anything before that day and I think that night I more than doubled my lifetime consumption of alcohol.  So many bars.  So much cider.  So much surprise to be woken up at half past two in the morning, collapsed in a public toilet.  I walked back to the university hall.  Felt fine.  Chatted with a couple of people who invited me to share their bush for the night.  They cheered me when I got back.  There was much sarcasm.  That led to my first hangover.  My second was a month later.  My third was ... well, there hasn't been a third.

And the biggest way Bradford changed my life?  Halfway through my year there I converted to Christianity.  I got born again.  Full works.  If that hadn't happened I wouldn't have left Bradford after a year.  I'd have finished the degree I was enjoying so much.  I'd have got a first.  Almost certainly.  I wouldn't have gone to a theology college.  Wouldn't have met my wife.  Wouldn't have done everything that led from Bradford to Newcastle.

My room at Bradford was number four, block P, in Shearbridge Green.  I have many memories of that place.  I loved it there.  I "said the sinner's prayer" in room number three, occupied by an Irish guy named Ian.  I spent much time with the guy in room seven, who was the brother of one of my brother's best friends.  In that block of twenty-five rooms we got to know each other well, shared our two self-catering kitchens.  We went through highs and lows.  Had triumphs and mistakes.  And yes, I made quite a few and did things that I am still ashamed of if I think of them.  Each of us had tales to tell.  We drove to Brighton overnight.  I got stuck in a water fight that lasted for hours.  I knew the city very well for a first year university student.  Loved it.  Loved the people I met.  I went to dawn prayer meetings in cemeteries.

And Shearbridge Green is still big in my mind.  At least, it was.

Last year I returned to Bradford for the first time since 1995.  I'd returned for one day then and ended up playing a guitar and worshiping God in my old church so they could test the new sound and recording system.  Towards the end of that time they stuck in a cassette tape.  Recorded my voice and playing.  I still have that tape.  Last year I returned again and decided to seek out my old haunts.  I wanted to see Shearbridge Green again.  I'd have been a weirdo.  Rung the doorbell.  Said, "I used to live here twenty-five years ago. Can I come and see inside?"  I walked up the hill to the University with eagerness.  Walked through the campus.  And arrived at my old home.

Except.  It wasn't there.  Shearbridge Green had been demolished.  Shearbridge Green was a car park.  My home was gone.  Later I walked in the city centre.  I thought I might visit that pub, the one where I had sung so many folk songs.  Except.  It wasn't there.  My old haunt had become a betting shop.  Here it is.  My old home.  Dead centre of the picture.

And here, as much as I can make out, is the spot above which I slept for three terms.

My home was gone.  I walked away.  Very sad.  It was as if my past had been ripped away from me.  Perhaps that was a good thing.  The events of living there led to my twenty five year Christian walk and overall it might have been better had I never started walking that way.  Perhaps it's symbolic too and perhaps it's apt that I write about it today (Friday).  One week ago today my parents' house sold.  Someone will be letting it out.  They moved into that home before I was born.  That house, just like Shearbridge Green, is lost to me.

And that's a good thing.

Because that was my past.  And what I want is my future.

My future isn't my old home.  It's not Sussex.  It's not childhood.  And it definitely isn't Shearbridge Green.  Seeing that car park hurt.  More than I would have imagined.  But it healed too.  Seeing it was a break with a past that is no more.

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