Paul S. Gifford
The old chestnut cliché states: “you can never go home again.”
I never quite realized just how true that is until I arrived back in England sixteen days ago. Since emigrating from England to California in the early 80’s, I have been back several times for a holiday. And yes things had changed a little but I was so busy running around and enjoying myself I failed to notice quite how things were.
Not only have things changed significantly, I have also got used to a completely different world. And when I say completely different world – that is no exaggeration.
I just wrapped up in a ski jacket, scarf, gloves and snow boots and wandered back to my old school. A place where I spent five years of my life. Not the greatest years of my life to be honest – but a significant chunk of my childhood. On the way I went through my favorite park; Redhouse. Once it was filled with smiling kids, older folks walking their dogs, and the star attraction – the old Red House stood in pompous grandeur as a reminder of an earlier simply time. The house has fallen into neglect, it has been covered in graffiti, windows smashed, evidence of a fire: it is a shadow of its former self. The place where I used to play on the swings has been replaced by, of all things, a basketball court. Kids, appearing no older than thirteen, curse as they smoke their cigarettes and scowl at you as you walk by. There was even a homeless man who was living in the bushes. I gave him a pound coin and whereas he did not speak his eyes thanked me. He was surely no older than myself and I wondered what set of circumstances plummeted to such lows. I also wondered how he was managing to endure the sub zero night temperatures.
The school itself was another shocker. It has turned into an academy several years since and has an academic reputation of the highest order. Yet the place seemed cold. Back in the day it was open, and led onto to flowing fields at the back and finally to a canal. A place where I used to spend many a lunch time. Now not only is it fenced it all the way around they have razor wire and closed circuit television as security. It appeared more like a prison than a school.
I suppose the weather is tarnishing my perspective somewhat. And are things truly as grand as you remember them? I know that memory has a terrific self editor making things seem much rosier than they perhaps ever were. There is also the innocence of youth to contend with.
It is also a different day and age.
I have to admit that American culture is slowly drowning out the old ways. From fast food joints, to the clothes and music, to the slang used. Finding a traditional fish and chip shop – that only serves fish and chips – is almost impossible in my neck of the woods. Even the pubs sell abundant amounts of American beer.
So where my future lies I have yet to decide.
©Copyright January 2, 2010 by Paul S. Gifford