Wednesday, 16 August 2017

2668 Memory Lane.

Nine hundred and fifty miles from San Francisco and I'm outside the house in Vancouver where I lived when I was a child. It's all coming back to me. The view of the bay and the mountains, the tree my brother and I used to climb from the deck down to the garden, the basement we played in for hours making brick towns on the floor, squashing the shiny black beetles that scurried about down there when they threatened to encroach on our game (in hindsight they were quite possibly cockroaches), the snails I used to gather in the garden and name and keep in jam jars on my bedroom window sill, the transistor radio my parents bought me for Christmas 1975 through which I first heard Abba's SOS and The Hustle by... who the hell was The Hustle by? No idea.

There was no plan, just a taxi to the address and then once disgorged onto the pavement I wasn't sure what to do next. "The house was blue," I tell my family as we approach from across the road, "but of course it might not be blue anymore." I peep round the hedge. It's not blue, it's grey, and it's even prettier than I remember.

I knock on the door on the off chance that someone is in and a nice lady opens it. "Excuse me," I say, "I used to live here in 1975/6 and..." I don't get to the end of my explanation before she invites us inside. No sooner have I crossed the threshold than I burst into tears. I had no idea that would happen. I didn't expect to cry but then I didn't expect to be invited inside. I don't know what I expected. I just wanted to see it again.

"Stop trying to recreate your childhood through us," one of my sons said a few days ago when I bemoaned something not being exactly the way I remembered it.

Is that what I'm doing? Maybe. Or maybe some places have a hold on us we can never shake off and this house is one of those places for me. No wonder, now I'm back here I understand its grip - it's beautiful, in a beautiful place, more beautiful even than I remember it, improved upon and extended with an additional storey on the back.

"Your parents probably had this room," the current owner says, showing us into the first room we come to on the right. "It's the den now."

"They did!" I say, and then I'm overwhelmed by tears. The whole thing is too incredible. To be transported back in an instant to another world, a world in which I am nine-years-old and living with my parents and my brother in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, 5000 miles from where I've spent my life since.

"I think you need a big hug," she says.

We walk on through the living room to the deck outside. Despite the smoke hanging over Vancouver from the forest fires burning in the east, you can still tell that on a clear day there's an incredible view, all the way to Vancouver Island. "Such a shame," says the owner, "that you can't see it today."

She takes us on into the dining room. Suddenly it's 1975 and my parents and brother and I are sitting round that table having Sunday lunch (we might have been living in Canada but we were still British) seagulls are flying down to the window, landing on the wooden platform the owners we rented the house from had erected for this purpose. Chairs scrape back as my brother and I rush to feed them with scraps from our plates.

After a comprehensive tour and swapping contact details with the lovely owner, we walk to my old elementary school using Google maps on my phone. "So," says one of my sons, peering in through a classroom window, "Canada, how many provinces?"

"No idea," I say. "They didn't teach us stuff like that. I was in a progressive classroom. I had to plan my own timetable so I wrote stories about witches and warlocks for nine months."

On the bus back to downtown Vancouver I hum The Hustle to Middle One.

"Van McCoy," he says.

Love E x


P.S. Ten provinces and three territories. I looked it up. 

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