Well, the north wasn’t frozen. It was cold though. The wind follows you around enshrouding you in its blanket of winter chill. Like the bully behind you in school, it flicks away at you ears and aims icy blasts at any weakness in your defences. Any gap between your scarf and collar is all it takes for the cold fingers of the north to slip onto the contours of your cold vulnerable neck. Even if you cover up it’s too late. The beast has breached you guard and it stays.
On Christmas day of 1995, I decided to drive up north. I left at five thirty. Next door’s lights were already on and I heard muffled squeals of wide-eyed delight floating from their windows. I’d borrowed a car for the trip. Sadly my faithful old Fiesta was having brake trouble. But I was in a brand new Fiat Uno. What could possibly go wrong? Cruising round the sweeping bend to take up the familiar path of the M1 the back wheels slipped. Ice was everywhere.
It was a cautious journey. As the harsh white sun began to rise, sending a dazzling ray gun to the rear view mirror, the whole winter’s scene began to emerge. It was beautiful. All around the green of the fields and trees were covered in the static white of a deep frost. Long dark shadows were stretching from the trees pointing their skeletal fingers to the north west. By Junction fourteen on the M6 there were only two lanes available. But the whole point of an early start on the day itself was to avoid any delays.
My parent’s road was a sea of rough ice; as if the choppy water of a gusty day had frozen in an instant. Getting out of the car I noticed the unusual direction of the chill wind. It was coming from the north east. A Siberian special. It was a memorable break. On that journey I decided to open the bonnet to see why the screen wash wasn’t working. I knew it was frozen but I just wanted to check. The bonnet lever came off in my hand. I laughed.
It was significant because the return journey took over seven hours. It wasn’t because of the traffic; I had to stop at every service area to clean the windscreen.
The wind this year was a more normal north westerly; hardly friendly but it brought the brightness of the blue sky and the pinkness of your ears like the familiar old school bully. My father had put the ramps out. I scampered up the clattering aluminium into the pulsating warmth of the snug little terrace. It’s impossible for any stealth in that house. The now familiar gouges out of the door frames and skirting, exactly five inches from the floor had left a (t)rail of destruction on the ground floor. Upstairs was also a challenge. After the safety of the stair lift it was no-man’s land. It was a minefield of flat floor and sharp bends. I only fell over once. The para-medics were quick. Job done, minimal embarrassment.
It was six days of mayhem and calm. I wanted to spend time sitting with my father. We had plenty of family visitors. Children and adults alike showered us in cascades of Christmas cheer. Next door cooked our Christmas dinner. I was touched. In amongst the flattened spaces and closed down shops and pubs of Seacombe, is a community of kindness. It’s always been like that. Our road has been full of big families and big hearts. As a child I was never alone. This is part of the magic of returning to Wallasey. The houses may have been transformed by double glazing and paved front paths but the big heart is still there.
Let me talk about Monday. My older brother Tom had assumed he’d turned up to give me a lift to Liscard. Well I had a list of things for him to do. My dad now refers to our able bodied relatives as “those strange people who can see and walk”. I asked Tom to search for my dad’s missing wallet and then to get a few things for me. The wallet wasn’t found.
My other brother had that pleasure; unearthing the little minx from under the armchair. But Tom just carried on with his usual optimistic demeanour. I went to the pub. It was an old friends’ reunion. But it wasn’t a reunion. We were re-asserting our bonds. We are now going to meet up many times. It’s a new chapter.
Straight after the pub I was driven to my old friend Julie’s house. This is a little cottage down a mysterious little driveway. No-one knows they are there. That’s part of their charm. The irregular bumps and potholes of the improvised path jolt us into a turbulent welcome to these exclusive little dwellings.
Julie now shares her house with Colin. Colin is a big part of her history but now their clandestine trysts are also in the past. They are together and it shows. Julie has always had a restless side. But it’s gone; replaced by the generosity and comfort of a couple happy in their own existence. I’m delighted for both of them.
The following day, was another time for doing nothing. Phil and Rosie arrived. Phil found the wallet. My dad feigned a romantic reunion with his missing friend. The laughter reflected our relief. Between the two of us, Dad and I had searched in vain. If only we could move chairs. “That’s because he’s a strange person,” commented a relieved man referring to people who still had functioning bodies.
The following day, Julie and Colin arrived at seven fifty to take me to the station. It was another little comfortable moment of benign humour. Julie describe me as “chipper”. Well I was. It had been a brilliant break. Again the train was heaving. But I had my space. I arrived back home at one fifty.That was just over five hours from door to door. I love trains.
Thank-you for reading.