Monday, 24 March 2014
Too many ghosts...
I'm listening to Bruce Springsteen's latest album as I write this. Not altogether sure I like it. It's an odd mishmash of styles and I think I read that a lot of it was old material that hadn't made it onto other albums. I've also bought the new Suzanne Vega and like that a lot. Anyway, enough of music. I have just returned from a trip back to my hometown of Liverpool. I hadn't been for a couple of years and every time I visit, my Scouser friends try to persuade me to move back permanently. One thing I love about Liverpool, apart from the wit and the creative energy of the city, is the amount of green space. Sefton Park, Calderstones Park, Otterspool and Greenbank Park are all close by in my old area of South Liverpool. In Hillingdon, where I currently live, parks are in short supply. In fact, unless you drive, you can't get anywhere to have a decent walk. There are plenty of recreation grounds, patches of dog-stained land surrounded by flower beds full of crisp packets, beer cans and struggling, scraggy rose bushes. Not terribly enticing.
If I take a bus, I can walk by the Grand Union canal, but once you pass the end of the moored houseboats, it gets a bit desolate and dangerous-feeling. I only walked there alone once and was constantly alert for lurking hoodies with knives and mugging on their mind. Perhaps it's having survived two knife-attacks and one gun-point assault in the past that has made me so nervy, but I can't relax unless I know there are plenty of people around. No walking along gloomy towpaths and sinister city streets for me.
Here's a photo taken in Greenbank Park. My old school playing field was over the road. I think it's been built on now.
Sefton Park houses the famous Palm House: http://www.palmhouse.org.uk/what-we-do-history-and-renovation.php completed in 1896 and surrounded by statues of the famous, including the gardener Le Notre (1630-1700):
and Christopher Columbus, captured in stone as if forever searching for the next New World:
Although I was born and brought up in Liverpool, I had never set foot in the Palm House before last Wednesday and was surprised to find this colourful knitted patchwork giraffe amongst the plants: that's my friend Claire trying to spot its head amongst the foliage:
When I find myself back on the streets which witnessed all the angst of my teenage years (including the time when, aged 17, I decided to end it all, swallowed a bottle of aspirin and ran to the Prom to hurl myself over the railings and drown dramatically in the grey-green waters, only to find the tide was out and my poetic ending would have consisted of being sucked down into the hideous, glutinous mud), something strange and sickly comes over me, a kind of vertiginous nostalgia.
I see myself in shrunk-in-the-bath Levi's and black polo neck; in mini dress and blue patent shoes; in navy gym slip and emerald green school beret. With pigtails, ponytail or waist-length red hair; with horrid, unflattering specs and braces on my front teeth. I see my little, curly-haired sister, hear her laughing; see my father in his tweed jacket and trilby hat, camera round his neck, sucking one of the peppermints that he was never without, and my mother with her softly waved, strawberry blonde hair and freckles, her wonderful blue eyes (why didn't I inherit them?) sparkling as she makes a slightly smutty joke that gets us all groaning, "Oh, Mum!"
Ghosts of myself flicker around every corner like pieces of the jigsaw of my life; like feathers dropped from passing seagulls whose cries take me right back to nights when the booming of ships' sirens in the night would remind me that I was not alone and that soon, dawn would come to remove the monsters from inside the wardrobe. A few weeks after my mother died, the gardener was mowing the lawn when he looked up and saw my mother waving to him from the bedroom window. I wonder if she is still there, haunting our old house? We sold it in 1996 but it's changed hands several times since then and is currently up for rent. There are too many ghosts of my own past in Liverpool. The place calls to me. I feel it in my gut. But I know I must resist.
Going back would not be healthy for me. It would negate all the efforts I made to leave, to hitch-hike down to the Big Smoke (where I soon discovered the streets were paved, not with gold, but with chewing-gum) and make my fortune: well, at least achieve my dream of working in publishing. I must resist the pull of the ghosts, yet, is the lilac tree still there in the back garden, with the vaporous shade of my dad's striped deckchair beneath its boughs? And our old cats, Sandy and Cloudy: do they still haunt the rockery, springing out at the shades of long-dead mice? See what I mean about not being healthy? I would die of nostalgia if I ever went back to live anywhere near my old home. No wonder they call it home-sickness. It's a sob in the soul, a moan in the memory, a tug on the ancestral umbilical cord. And yet...