Friday, 9 May 2014

The Heat

     That's been my earworm for a couple of hours now. I'm playing it on repeat as I type. And wailing along to the chorus in a slightly worrying overearnest manner.

Going crazy, trying hard to forget
From your heat now
I just want to go back, hold on, to the way that I was
'Cause you took away all my young life
And I hate who I've become
From your heat now.

     It’s fair to say that my upbringing was not conventional. Except it was. .. But it wasn’t. I’ve kind of touched on it before, but there’s a whole other heap of weird. More than half of my life was spent on a former Prisoner of War camp in East Anglia.

     Yes, you did read that right. From the age of eight, I spent weekends, school holidays, coughtimeswhenIshouldhavebeenatschoolcough there, before I ended up living there full time for eleven years, until I was thirty. It never struck me as odd. Which is odd. But children just accept the everyday as normal, and this was everyday. Mundane, even.

     So it was just as normal for me to say ‘We’re out of loo roll, I’ll get some from the gaolhouse’ as ‘We’re out of loo roll, I’ll nip to the shop.’ Or ‘I think there’s space in the old theatre. Or you could try the chapel.’ More frequently, I could be heard saying ‘Fuck off! Bollocks is this place haunted’ although I did have one or two experiences that were a bit *woo*. But it was just normal for me to be there. It was home.

     It was only really when I was a teenager and my friends came to visit that I realised how exceptionally lucky I was. Because in Norwich, we all lived a fairly similar existence. Home by x o’clock. Schoolwork. Meeting outside Topshop on Saturday lunchtimes. No phone calls after nine. But from April until November, I could go through the back of the wardrobe and disappear. I had a whole other world to escape to.

     A whole other world where I could, and frequently did, stay out all night from the age of fourteen. I met people from all over the world, who were (thrillingly) interested in me and what I had to say. My age wasn’t a barrier to getting to know anyone. We would sit up all night, discussing music, poetry, philosophy and other wanky staples of student life. I had twelve acres to roam, dog by my side, lounging in long grass, or exploring old, forgotten buildings with a set of skeleton keys. I had complete freedom. I was happy.

     But it changed as I got older. Familiar faces faded away, conversation dried up. There were no more all night conversations, or joints smoked in lunch breaks. Things became more polished, more efficient, less human. And I changed too. I stopped laughing so much. I didn’t romp around in the undergrowth and thickets. I grew up, but I shrank as a person. And then depression seized control for a time. I used to say, slyly, that the only way I’d leave that patch of land would be in a box. It nearly came true.

     It’s been four years and ten days since I was there last. I remember it so very clearly, that last leaving. It wasn’t a goodbye, or a farewell. By that point, I despised it with a venomous and toxic hatred. I wanted it destroyed, razed to to the ground. Every brick, every Second World War stanchion, every gate, I wanted to grind into dust beneath my heels, tear the whole place apart, rip the bars from the windows with my bare hands. With fairly unsubtle twatty symbolism, I refused to look back as we drove away. I’ve barely allowed myself to think about it since, because I hated that place, what it did to me, who I became as a result of living there.

     But an hour ago, I was walking home, along the streets of this fine city I call home, and the outline of houses against the sky suddenly jolted me into remembering how strange I found that when we moved back here. How odd it was to suddenly be surrounded by two storey buildings again, to see them silhouetted at dusk. And around me, there was blossom in the trees, sun on my back, warmth in the breeze. And a hauntingly familiar feeling came over me. That May feeling. That sense of being on the cusp between the long, cold, dull months, and the whisper of new green shoots of promise. And I had the remembrance of summers long gone and buried. That feeling, entirely unique to me, of what May meant. As soon as I thought it, I tried to banish the thought. I don’t want to think about it. I won’t think about it. But the memory was kind.

     May was always my favourite month. Getting things ready for the summer ahead, setting up, cleaning, painting, welcoming people back. May was when they would return, like the swallows, like the sunshine, the warmth flooding back. The camp became alive once more, waking up from hibernation.

     I’ll never go back there. In the welter of bitterness after I made my abrupt departure, it’s become even more firmly associated with alienation, bitterness, recriminations... I could go on. I have no links to it now, no reason to be there. And from what little I know, it’s a very different place again now. Maybe better. Maybe.

    But I’m glad I remembered today that it wasn’t all bad. There were good times. I was happy there too. I hope that the people who are there now are fully aware of how precious it is.


Sam said...

This begs the question, why? Was this a place of historical interest where you (or your parents) were paid to work? It does indeed sound *most* unconventional and I'm intrigued as to what happened to make you so bitter about the place... if this were a novel there would be following chapters to unfold the story further...

Lucy Benedict said...

It was the family business :-) No historical links, and we destroyed a lot of it, sadly, albeit with good intentions... If I ever stop being Lucy, I'll tell you ALL about it. Although I might well tell some of the story obliquely one day in any case...

Sam said...

Of course, the anon part is both intriguing and frustrating as a reader but I fully respect your choice to do so! X

Lucy Benedict said...

The anon thing is what I use as a tool to lure people into my web of intrigue ;-)