Wednesday 28 December 2011

It's been a while...

It’s been a strange day at the end of a strange year. I travelled to London today, ostensibly to do some writing, but also to try and clear my head a little. Things have been difficult recently, with an onslaught of very troubling health issues for two of the people I care about most, and it’s been almost impossible to shake off the fear and prevent my imagination running ahead of itself, especially when home is a constant reminder of the challenges we’re currently facing.

And so I went to London. I usually go to Bristol or Oxford when I want to write, but railway engineering works and holiday timetables conspired to drive me to the capital instead. When I got off the train at Waterloo, I had no particular destination in mind – I just went down into the Underground station and decided on the Northern Line rather than Bakerloo.

Sitting on the tube, looking up at the list of Northern Line stations, the first name that leapt out at me was Hampstead. It wasn’t too far and, being a fairly affluent area, I thought it might be a good place to find a quiet little cafe where I could sit and type for a while. As the journey continued, I noted the adjacent station, Belsize Park, which always puts me in mind of the lyric from Marillion’s “Kayleigh”, but I also had vague recollections of that station being one I’d used a few times in the eighties, when I was working for Activision.

After completing another chapter in a Starbucks on Hampstead High Street, I followed a whim and wandered down the hill towards Belsize Park. After walking for five minutes or so, I got a prickling of déjà vu while gazing up at an old church, and felt compelled to turn off onto a road called Pond Street, which also had a familiar feel to it. Some way down this hill, I suddenly recognized the building where Activision used to have their London office, and a whole wave of past events came flooding back. I’d not been here for something like 24 years, and an awful lot changes in that length of time, but I found myself walking down to the bottom of the hill and turning left to stroll up onto the Heath.

It was a cold, bright afternoon, with an amazing red sun hanging low in the sky, and I suddenly knew that I’d been here before too. A press photoshoot for myself and Anna (who was then my girlfriend rather than my wife) had been organised beside the wreckage of an old fallen tree, and we’d sat there – two shivering teenagers on a day as cold as today – while the photographer tried to capture that post-apocalyptic feel so popular in the eighties.

And now here I was, almost a quarter of a century later, wondering if I’d meant to come here, trying to remember where we’d stood and what we’d said. The recognition was eerie, creeping up on me as I walked around – vague recollections snapping suddenly into place. And it made me appreciate the importance of memories – a particular challenge that’s facing two people I care about, and who are both struggling with memory problems – as they define so much of who we are.

In any case, it was oddly fulfilling to revisit the ghosts of the past. I think I may track down a few more of my old haunts and see what thoughts I left there.

Happy New Year, everyone.