When I were a lad

A sure sign I’m in the grip of a mid-life crisis: I took the family on a trip down memory lane last weekend, subjecting our poor kids to an interminable tour of every place of minor and major significance in their dad’s life.

There were the lodgings in Allingham Close I shared as a single man with a flea-ridden cat afflicted with diarrhoea — what a treat those discoveries were early morning when running to catch my daily train from Hanwell to Maidenhead twenty-two years ago. I have so many tales to tell of that bedsit. Like having to warm up water for a bath on the cooker, then carry the pan up three flights of stairs to the highest room in the house. Another of the tenants forgot about his vat one day and left it to boil dry, which meant I returned home from work to a sauna, the wallpaper peeling off the walls. What fun.

There was my old kebab shop on the corner of Boston Road. I virtually lived in there before I was married, consuming a delicious shish nightly. They had the best mango juice, served in little glass bottles. Yum. Up in the other direction, there was the mini-market I used to always buy my tandoori chicken pizza (and nothing else, much to the proprietor’s annoyance). That shop later became Cudi Food Centre, and so naturally my beloved had to perform the full rendition of the time I was sent there to buy parsley, lettuce and Turkish cucumbers, and returned home with coriander, spinach and courgettes. Personally, I only remember a third of that blunder.

We didn’t make it up to Southall. Being so close to Eid, I didn’t think I could muster the courage to sit in a traffic jam for hours just to drive up Longford Avenue to show the kids the flat were I first met their mum. But I bored our children to death about the first time we ever met anyway, while wandering in Brent Lodge Park, seeking out Hanwell Zoo. So of course I told the story of how I turned up for that meeting wearing a scruffy pair of Nike jogging bottoms, congratulating myself because I had bought myself a clean pair of white socks for that very meeting.

Driving past Scotch Common, we pointed out the bench we sat on for a private conversation to discuss our wedding plans one-to-one. We got in trouble for doing that, our mutual friends taking their role slightly to the extreme, but to be fair to them, they were only trying to protect their sister in faith. My wife also had to show the kids the pedestrian crossing opposite Dean Gardens, where I got down on one knee to propose to her while we were waiting for the lights to change. She took the appearance of the little green man as a sign. What a true romantic I was back then.

Alas, we didn’t get as far as Ealing Town Hall to reminisce about that wonderful day twenty-one years ago when we became man and wife. If we had, my beloved would have had to recall how I turned up in my red Ford Fiesta, decorated with a white ribbon on the bonnet. Those were the days. Ealing was in mayhem that day and the town hall was decorated in blue and white police ribbons, after the Real IRA blew up a Saab 9000 outside a pub on Ealing Broadway in the early hours of Friday morning.

Just as every time, we had to take a trip along Argyle Road to Sutherland Road, to um and ah over our first home together. Naturally our kids moaned and yawned, complaining that we do this every time we visit Ealing, pulling up outside that nondescript cream-coloured building. Sorry, kids, it’s mandatory; you’ll understand one day.

Once more, I had to tell the tale of the blackbird singing on the chimney pot opposite when I used to wander down her road long before we met. Together, we reminisced about the leaking roof which the landlord insisted was merely condensation. My beloved remembered how we proved it was a leaking roof the evening my father visited for dinner and the bubble in the ceiling flooded the kitchen.

Then, of course, we had to make a trip to our old allotment to remember the good old days down there. Our friends, with whom we shared the allotment back then before they migrated to the Gulf for a decade, have a new plot now, so were able to let us in to reminisce some more. Such joy.

All in all, a wonderful outing, both remembering the old days and lamenting how much the area has changed. What memories, when we were young and slim. A day of rolling eyes and bored groans, as our kids cringed at their oh-sooo embarrassing parents getting so excited about the completely mundane.

Still, they’re used to this. This was the sequel to my return to Hull in 2018, only with better memories and decent food. At least this time there was no yearning for a return migration. City life is no longer the way of life for us. Country bumpkins all the way.

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