I remember growing up in Radcliffe, in Lancashire. A small industrial town, with hundreds of chimneys belching smoke over the valley. None remain now.
The cotton industry has collapsed. Our temporary historical blip, of imperial protection, has been replaced by global capitalism, and the terminal decline of British industry.
Near our house was a railway line. It took courage to cross the lines, because although there was a gate with a crossing, we never knew when a train might come.
In the field grazed cows; and we had to draw on our courage to cross this too, because we couldn’t tell the difference between cows and bulls, and lived in fear of being chased.
My best friend had a ‘bogey’, made by his dad, out of old pram wheels, and a plank of wood. It was the only one in our group of friends. And he possessed considerable status as a result.
In story books, I learned that this was rightfully called a ‘soapbox racer’ or ‘go-kart’. But we had never seen a soap box, and a go-kart was a motorised vehicle for racing.
We used ours to race down the gulleys and ravines in the slap heap, careering down, till we reached the bottom in a noisy skid.
The bogey was steered by a piece of string leading to the front wheels; and it had no breaks to stop with. Halting was effected by judicious use of our feet, scuffing our smart school shoes.
Recently, however, I travelled home, to visit my parents; by train, instead of as usual by car. As I passed our old house, I saw the slag heap, repository of so many memories.
Dimly remembered places from childhood often appear small when we encounter them later in life. We ourselves were, of course, small; so objects in our environment seemed huge.
But there is always disappointment, when we visit an old haunt. My primary school and the road I used to walk down: so small, so insignificant.
Memory plays tricks. There were no coal mines in our area. So what kind of ‘slag heap’ was it? And my best friend? I can’t remember his name.
Our lives are a journey in disillusionment. Or should be. The question is whether we stay stuck in the regret, or are able to move forward, from the fantasy to the real.