The view from my childhood bedroom window is still there. A tower block, an open green space, gasometers in the middle distance.
The bedroom window itself, much like my childhood, is no longer there; the street I grew up on was demolished in the 1980s. The rows of low-rise blocks of flats, packed in densely so they resembled something like the layout of a series of prison blocks, has been replaced by a smaller number of smaller dwellings. They look like houses, but in reality they are two-up-one-down maisonettes.
|Me and my dad, when I was just a few months old
I haven’t set foot on that street for almost 30 years, although I drove along it once about 15 years ago. But thanks to the wonders of Google Streetview, last night I went for a stroll through my old neighbourhood. It’s a lot greener now than it used to be, and there are many more cars, despite there being fewer people.
I stared at the space where my bedroom window once was – easy enough to find as there was a lamppost outside it. That’s the kind of thing that tends to remain in situ, so finding the last lamppost was all it took.
After that, I crossed the road to the tower block where my cousins lived, then walked down the street to the library, built in the early 1900s. I visited my schools, and walked past the renamed pub, outside which there was almost always a trail of blood after closing time. The row of shops at the end of the street is still there. There’s a chicken/pizza/kebab place where the haberdashery used to be, but William Hill is still there.
I know I’m far from unique in this regard, but it felt odd looking at the places I knew as a boy, knowing that the one place I knew as ‘home’ no longer existed.
I left the city I grew up in, Birmingham, when the first opportunity presented itself and I’ve rarely gone back in the years that followed my mother’s death. This week I am set to return, for the inquest into my father’s death, which will be heard at Birmingham Coroner’s Court.
It’s something that has led to a little more reflection than usual, of late. On the role of fathers, on childhood memories, on family and on what it means to have roots.