Up until the age of 16, most of my psychologically significant experiences happened near a road called the A34. I remember reading as a kid that people who grow up near A roads die younger, makes sense, bad air and loads of cars. Mainly the bad air though.
My dad made a kidnap-like gesture when I was still in nappies and headed for the airport down the A34, got arrested. He intended to take me to Ireland, he said. Personally I think even his drunk-ego-drunk on ego would have known that this wasn't a plan. 35 years ago, he would have made it to the old country, but while there he would have met very sober consequences. The fucking police weren't nice to my mum, who had called it in. She was 23.
He's not a bad person. He's just done some bad things. I take the rough with the smooth and if I'm too rough, maybe you're too smooth. Or maybe not.
Me and the kids I played with had a field near our houses, next to the big road, that we spent a lot of time on. That was good, that was the limit of my range, we were so lucky. I love that field. Elderberries. Blackberries. Rosehips. Trees. Grass. Loads of things that are good for a kid. Old railway line turned into a cycle path, scary bricked up doorway under the A34 road bridge, food for ghosts and mystery. We rejected every other name for that field. It's The Field.
The A34 runs past my old house to Manchester airport. That has always been pretty cool. One road out of the town to anywhere. On the way back home there's a walkway above the road, a skeletal-steel bridge, next to a pub called The Gateway. That's my gateway home, that's my phase line back into the 3 mile or so perimeter where I am completely at home and understand the most. This is the strongest fortress on my psychological map of the earth. Uncoincidentally, I am under attack here more than anywhere. One of the most successful lines I've ever written is 'Manchester is a third parent, loving and occasionally unkind'.
Memories aren't only in your head if you can't walk down a road without having them. You'll sow seeds as you walk without necessarily intending to, they grow roots and bear fruit.
I cycle up and down this road every day almost. My dad is old and infirm so I have to make beans on toast and finish the crossword and reassure him that he isn't completely alone as the clock ticks towards an end that is very far from his prime, which I witnessed and was quite something.
I saw him the last time he ran, he was fast, I was about 11, he was faster than I would have guessed and I was impressed. The man was-is 42 years older and he really moved. I was there when he broke his ankle in the garden about a year later and he never ran again, believe me, I wanted him to. Later on I used to watch out for him, if I happened to be on the A34 at the right time of day. I'd see him on a bus and chase it down, just to show him I could. I had the routine clocked and sometimes we coincided. I'd leather the road, going that way anyway, and feel like I was part of something. Before I was born my parents were both good runners, I wanted them to know I was like them.
On reflection, allowing a 60 odd year old woman to become my best friend and a major axis of my life was maybe asking for trouble. This is my father's immediate older sibling, I'm talking about. No one teaches you not to love the old ones too much, because they'll break your heart. I was 16, and it is one of the only major events I can pin down to the year, I'm disinterested in the chronology of my own life because I know it all happened to me. The day we lost her there was a small earthquake in Manchester, and as the walls and floor of the hospital waiting room shook I remember feeling my sense of reality breaking down for a moment.
Previous experience of people passing away had not prepared me at all for a structural pillar collapsing. There was no concept of self collapse, group collapse. I learned a lot in 2002, no, lie, I learned a lot because of 2002.
Every time I passed the hospital where she died I forced myself to look at the ambulances and crossed myself. I did that with no relation to any kind of organised religion, which I do not subscribe to. I did it as a form of meditation, out of respect and it hurt. I forced myself to do it even when I was trapped in this town and knew that it was bringing me down. I did it twice a day for years, for our Mary. At 21 I left Manchester and even though I'm here today as I write, I know I've never been back the same, thanks be to me.
I make the sign of the cross because that is the first sign I was taught, but brothers and sisters, I bless myself.
This one's for you Tom. Thanks for reading, one and all.