The International Writers Magazine: It's True: You can't go home again
Hackwriters retreats to the East of England for a year or two....
‘Never judge a dinner until you get the pudding,’ my Auntie Eva used to say and it suddenly popped into my head as I saw the food being served at V... in the town square.
Let me explain. My friends said let's go and celebrate you finally getting the house. They chose what seems to be the only Italian restaurant in the town and I’d said I’d meet them there.
Of course if you have ever stood in a house that the recent owner has just vacated and felt faintly suicidal you’ll know ‘celebration’ wasn’t high on my list of priorities. It's call 'Empty House Shock' apparently. Where were the fixtures? All those built-in shelves? How well they disguised the stains and holes in the carpets. Come to think of it how come you never noticed the damp (well hidden by strategic furniture before) that the doors that looks so in period are actually plastic! Who on earth fits plastic doors inside a house? The ‘lagged’ loft turns out to have gaping holes to the exterior and will be freezing in winter. The toilets seem blocked; the double glazed windows don’t appear to have any opening windows! In fact the underlay is rotten and there's a rather horrid smell coming from somewhere... In short you are thinking more about your fire insurance than doing it up.
I think longingly of the newer properties I saw but sadly inappropriate for the senior citizen I have to care for. I examine the builder’s quote for a loo and shower of £6000 quid and wonder how that is even possible. But then rapidly reflect on how lucky I was to find a builder who'd do the job so quickly. (At the last house I had Polish builders who didn't listen to a word I said and just built what they wanted, painting magnolia over the wonderful 300 year old brick walls for example). Only now do I notice the incredible security arrangements of the house next door. Damnit I forgot to check the crime stats for the area. Too late now.
So I decided to walk along the sea front to the Italian restaurant, still in shock and filled with gloom. I must have been late as there was a bit of glaring as they balefully studied their menus. Dean Martin blasted out of the speakers in this authentic bit of Italian kitsch circa 1960. The waiter/owner stood in his tight black t-shirt drawn vividly over a large paunch and he wore a beret over his possibly bewigged pony-tailed hair.
‘No sorry, can't do Primavera - we don’t get any vegetarians up North’.
Everything was meat or shellfish and pasta and worse, when it came the pasta was served with chips! Apparently up North dinner isn’t dinner unless served with chips - whatever you order – even salad! You ever wonder why obesity is a problem north of Peterborough – this is probably why.
Dean Martin grew louder, no one but me seemed at all upset by the naffness– the pizza bread dripping in grease – the authentic sadness of the place. We never got to pudding, thought that it too might come with chips.
I’m thinking I’m 183 miles away from London, it’s at least five degrees colder and it’s still 1960. There is even a signed photo of Sophia Loren on the wall. Who you ask?
Walking back along the front the ‘illuminations’ flicker with austerity – I counted five tattoo parlours and clearly no one ever picks up dog shit. I realise that I haven’t bought a house - I purchased a life sentence. I cheer myself with the thought that one day the senior citizen will peg it and I can escape – but then sober up remembering that a:she is immortal and b: the average house takes 270 days to sell up north (if it sells at all).
Your thinking it’s never this bad or here’s another soft southerner who can’t hack it up north. But I was born hereabouts. I escaped. It's bloody true though. You can never go home again. The home that was is gone – you are changed by your travels and if you go back you can see what is clearly invisible to everyone else. What you don’t have dog shit down south? Well yes but we pick it up and put it in little plastic bags and hang them in trees… (or that’s what it seems like folks do when I walk in the woods).
Maybe things will get better once I have tackled the damp and got new carpets in – had a few walks on the beach in the raw wind that sand blasts your skin off. Can’t wait for that. Now if I can just get the sticking front door to open…
© Ed October 2012
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