Saturday, 23 April 2011

The house that built me

Or at least this was one of the houses that built me. Me moved to this place when I was twelve or so. Previously we had lived in another council estate not too far away, but my father decided that this estate would be better for us. He had no social circle at all, so he was not remotely influenced by the issue of the friends my mother and I would leave behind. In fact, he was sure that I was mixing with the wrong sort altogether and that the move would do me good.

So we moved to Kenton. My sister was already living on the estate so that was a plus. And, as my parents got older, it would become more and more of an advantage. They got to see their grandchildren growing up and my sister was able to look after them in later life - first my mother and then, when she died, my father. Anyway - I've been helping my sister clear the house.

I always hated that house. Our previous estate - Newbiggin Hall - had been tough, in its own way. But my brother Paul had gained sufficient reputation among the local hard nuts before he went into the army, that the mere mention of his name gave me all the protection I needed. I had a little gang of friends and we played out on long summer evenings and cycled out into the country in the holidays. I went to a good primary school a walk away and subsequently caught an old red Routemaster double decker to the grammar school in Gosforth.

It was far from idyllic. There were some scary people living on that estate. But Kenton Bar Estate came to seem far, far worse. I used to visit my sister on Saturdays before we moved and Kenton Bar had seemed bright and cheerful, helped by the cycle route through cornfields.

But our house was one of the flat-roofed bungalows at the North Kenton end of the estate and darkness turned it into a badly lit maze of concrete and brick. I never felt safe walking back there after dark. I never felt like I belonged there.

Over the years I have swayed from a vague embarrassment about it, to a kind of pride that I came from such inauspicious beginnings, to a resentment of those who had a softer nest, and back again in no particular order. Sometimes I can feel all three in one day. But I feel horribly guilty that my parents - whose only aim was to keep me fed and clothed and safe - were ever caught up in that embarrassment or resentment, and could not benefit from a pride that was perverse. They had - I had - so much more than they had when they were children. They had a right to expect much more from me than they ever got by way of thanks or appreciation.

It was in the lounge of that house that I watched Lawrence Gordon Clark's M R James adaptations at Christmas in the 70s. It was here that I watched the Monster Movies on Tyne Tees television - back to back horror films from the thirties to the glory days of Hammer. It was here I would watch Top of the Pops and revel in how disturbed my father was by Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry. It was here that I would stack my records on the Dansette Bermuda and sit in my bedroom reading comics or sci-fi novels. It was here that I first read Frankenstein. It was here that I watched Monty Python and Morecombe and Wise and Dave Allen and The World at War. It was here that I sketched and drew and doodled in notebooks and typed up my first attempts at short stories on my dad's portable typewriter. It was here that I cycled back to from my girlfriend's house, the dynamo light blazing on the tarmac as I freewheeled down the hill at night. It was here that I started to became me.

Do we need something to push against? Do we need to have some grit in our gizzards? If so, then that house in Kenton Bar Estate had such a function in my life. The house you leave when you leave home will always have a special significance. For some it will remain a symbol of home that they will try and recreate. For me it was the embodiment of everything I wanted to shed when I started my new life at college.

But you never do shed it of course.

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