Essay

GROWING PAINS

DO YOU remember the first time? In a series of self-indulgent walks down memory lane, the writer tries to remember HOW to write.

THE FIRST time I came back was only a couple of months after I left.
A friend of mine is directing a play for the university theatre company, an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”.

I wander out of Sheffield station, up towards the city centre, as I had done a hundred times before.

It wasn’t long after noon. I’ve nowhere to be until that evening, and although I’d arranged to meet some friends for drinks, I’d taken an early train so I could visit the old stomping ground.

After a three and a half hour train journey, I’m in dire need of a caffeine fix. No fear, I thought, as I pointed my feet onto the path that would eventually lead me to my usual coffee spot.

I pause and read the poem on the side of the Hallam university building, as I always do when coming into the city.

What if? What if? What if?

Onwards, wandering through labyrinths of air, past the fountains outside City Hall, onto the trendy bustle of Division Street, and towards my preferred place to for an overpriced sugary caffeine hit.

​​ 
Dead halt.

Closed. Not just closed but gone. Windows covered in that semi-translucent white stuff that announces to the world that the innards of a building are undergoing some form of cosmetic surgery.

Well, I thought, that’s inconvenient but no bother. Somewhat furrowed in the brow, with my kilter decidedly off, I wandered on. I’d been looking forward to entering that particular memory den, not for the sub-par coffee, but for the sense of nostalgia. To experience once again stepping out of the newsroom around eleven, with a pretty redhead, and wandering in the sunshine towards the goal of a chai tea latte and a skinny stem-ginger muffin.

Oh well. No problems. Onwards.

Broomhill, that’s the one. My friends live in that general area, I’m to meet them later, I’ll just head up there and put up in that café on the corner, the one that does the nice smoothies, where I went on the day my parents first dropped me off in Endcliffe village.

Further up and further in, following on the old familiar uphill route to a place I knew like the back of my hand. A part of the city which was once ironically described by a lecturer as “full of kebabs and chlamydia”. There’s only so much you can write about those, he said.

It’s warm, but there’s a pleasing breeze blowing down into the city, as I trace my way up through the beating heart of the university concourse, enjoying the sight of people threading hither and thither, avoiding leaflets where they can.

On one side, the imposing edifice of the academic institution, on the other, the glittering façade of the students’ union. Time and memories burnt away in both these places, too many to recall at once, so I pause, and listen. Close my eyes and let the cacophony seep into me.

Not a recognisable face around me. I walk on. Past the ivy covered red bricks, and up, up, up to the fresher Mecca.

One foot after the other, and I’m there. And it’s shut. Another memory den closed off. Another place that I thought my own, shut against me.

It’s no huge thing, I’ll just go somewhere else. But as I stand outside the darkened café, the truth pokes it’s noggin out of the dank recesses of my anti-depressant addled mind. I have nowhere to go.

In this city, which I fondly regard as home, I have no home. No place. No refuge. Nowhere to be. Nowhere to go.

I come to realise, with the awful tingly, creeping cold up the spine of a dawning anxious dread, that I’m not visiting at all.

I’m haunting.

I’ve only been gone a couple of months, and yet already the city has morphed away from what was mine into someone else’s.

Most of my friends have already left. The purpose I had in coming here, attaining a shiny piece of paper that says I’m not shite, has been fulfilled.
I’m literally only here on a self-indulgent nostalgia wank.

I need a pint.

Sitting at the non-existent head of a round table, alone save the company of a dimpled, handled glass of beer and the bored looking hipster washing glasses the only other soul in the pub. I fall into thought.

I don’t live here. I don’t work here. I am, though I don’t like admitting it, unlikely to return any time soon.

It’s not home anymore.

Admitting that to myself, knowing it’s a sensible admission, doesn’t make it any easier.

The next day I’m heading back to the North-West, back to the town I swore I’d never return to once I’d managed to get out. And to make matters worse, this is a really disappointing pint.

Should have gone to Fagan’s.

Eventually my friends turned up at the pub after they’d finished in their various lectures or jobs. We had a laugh. We went to see the play. It was decent.

I left the city the next day, feeling gradually more upset the closer the station I got. Over the next few years I occasionally came back to the city, but rarely.

It took me until the summer of 2017 to finally up-sticks, sack off the north west, and come home.

Yeah, things and places and people have changed, but so have I.
It’s a different city, in a different time, for a different man. But those aren’t bad things.

And, thankfully, as one little piece of solace, just as it hasn’t since about 1950, Fagan’s hasn’t changed.

“Do you remember the first time?

I can’t remember a worse time.

But you know that we’ve changed so much since then,
Oh yeah,
We’ve grown.”

D Lake

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