There’s something that draws me back to the place I grew up. Not to live there again, but to re-visit the places I used to hang out with my friends, to go back to those places and see what’s changed, what’s stayed the same.
I grew up in a small mid-Sussex town called Haywards Heath. Not exactly an exciting place to be and as soon as I could I moved closer to the coast, but I had some great times there. Even the memories that were not so good seem to hold some kind of nostalgia these days.
I guess I go back once every three or four years. My first port of call is our first house. I just park outside and look. Nobody has ever seen me and I guess if they did they might get a little freaked out. I look at the window of what was my bedroom, before my Nan died and I moved into hers. The walls of my bedroom were covered in posters I’d cut out of Music magazine – Slade, Sweet, T Rex, The Jackson Five, I just loved music. It was all I thought about. The garage my Dad built is still there. I wonder what the garden looks like now. Is that old apple tree still there? The one I used to climb and hide in. Or the space at the bottom of the garden by the hedge where I used to make mud-pies? The shrubs I used to play in with my Action Man pretending they were jungles. The dog on wheels I used to ride around on. Such treasured memories. My old dog Pluto. He was a Beagle and my first real close friend. My bed time used to be around 7.30, just when my Nan sat down to watch Coronation Street, and that music became the trigger that made Pluto bark at me. We would stay at the bottom of the stairs, and I would say, “Ready… steady…. GO!” And he would race me up the stars every night. Even when I got older he would still bark whenever the tune for Coronation Street came on, and I would still race him up the stairs. Sometimes even now I hear him if I ever hear that tune. He was a small dog, and our letterbox used to be at the bottom of the front door. Somehow he learnt to lift the letterbox cover and literally knock on the door to be let in when he’d finished his business. I love all my dogs.
A little way down the road is St. Wilfred’s school. My primary and middle school. It seemed so big at the time, but now everything looks so small!. I walk further and past my old Sunday school. What was The Dump, a piece of waste ground which is now a housing estate, but the Twitten path that links Haywards Heath to Franklyn Village is still there. I used to race my bike down this zig-zag path, and fell off regularly. But kids seem to be made of velcro and Plasticine, so I just got up and back on my bike. Go left and you walk into my favourite haunt as a child – the local woods. Again, these seemed huge when I was a child. One weekend we found the bonnet of a car on The Dump, dragged it all the way into the woods and to a bank of earth. We took turns bombing down this bank, sitting on the car bonnet, trying to stop before we hit the iron fence below. None of us got hurt. We thought we were invincible anyway.
A bit further on from the bank and the woods open up onto a cemetery. I used to come here as a child too. It was so peaceful. I just sat on a bench and thought about all of these people who lay just 6 feet below me. Reading the words that relatives had chosen to sum up their lives carved into stone. Yes, I would occasionally get scared. I could feel the ghosts there, and sometimes it got too much, too real, and I got on my bike and peddled as hard as I could to get away. But on the whole it was a peaceful space. I was a weird bloke even then.
So many memories. When I was living there I gave little thought to what lay ahead of me. Where my life would take me. I did know that I didn’t need to worry about school and grades, because I was going to be a musician. Well, it took a little longer than I thought, but I was right about that.
As I bombed down that bank on the red car bonnet I had no awareness that my future-self would one day be standing there some 40 years later, seeing the image of the child I once was.
It’s not good to dig up the roots of a tree. But it can be good just to check in on them every now and then, to remind myself where I came from, what my dreams were, and who I was, and became. Last night I had dinner with my oldest friend. We met when we were three years old and we are still friends to this day. We are both in our 50s now, but I can still see us as children sometimes, when we meet up. Some people change, but our dreams have stayed pretty much the same. Sitting there reminded me that it might be time to go back to Haywards Heath once more, and walk those paths again.
It’s been about four years.
Yes, it’s time.