Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ghosts in Wylam

Was it a mistake to visit the village where I was brought up?
What did I expect to find and who did I expect to see?
The village shop, run by Mrs Gilroy with her bent-over back, green overall and kind smile, who sold us Penny Arrows and Sherbet Fountains and whose daughter sliced bacon on a lethal-looking steel machine, is now a bistro. The greengrocer's is a café, and the pub seems to have been turned into flats. The Post Office is still there, and so is the Freemason's Hall opposite the Methodist Chapel.
The school (where headmaster Mr Hazen used to charge around with a cane quivering in his angry hand), is a library and a museum to celebrate George Stephenson, who invented the Rocket railway engine.
As a child, I knew at least one person who lived in every street; I knew their cats and dogs, sisters and brothers, and Grandpas. I knew whose Mum did hairdressing in their living room, and I fed Mr Sleightholme's bantams when he was away on holiday to escape the attentions of Mrs Hibbert, who sang in the Village Institute choir.
I walked down the street where a young man from the estate up the road had chatted to me as I crouched down to look at a toad that was squatting in the middle of the pavement one dark, misty night.
The tree in the middle of the field- the huge, indestructible, endless tree- has been blighted with a disease that has led to its shedding most of its branches and presenting hollowed stumps to the sky in protest.
I felt a sense of loss; the ghosts of childhood sucked the energy out of the day.
I decided to phone McMum's friend, one hundred years old and counting, preparing myself to tell her that McMum died a year and a half ago. The number was unobtainable.

No comments: