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Back To My Roots

Series: Back to my roots

Heading home for the summer, under a cloud. The first of five linked stories (was three).

Wednesday

So that’s it. The journey into wonderland is over as soon as it started.

I’m sitting on the train, looking out of the window at the fields passing. It’s a beautiful evening in June and the sky is blue and cloudless. It’ll be getting dark soon and I’m making the most of it before it does. There’s still a fair amount of the journey home to go.

I’m sipping from a cold can of coke that I just bought from one of those trollies that they wheel through the carriage during the journey. Occasionally we pass a house that seems to be on its own in the middle of nowhere. Who lives there? Do they get lonely? It wouldn’t be any good for me. I like to be in the centre of whatever’s going on.

I’ve certainly been in the centre of it all, living the student life, for the past year. Every night in the union or The Crown. Parties in The Dance Machine. Parties in houses round town. Parties in rooms around campus. I never made it to one lecture before twelve o’clock. And that was just to blow the cobwebs away.

I suppose that’s what did it, at the end. There’s me, going to a lecture straight from waking up on some stranger’s floor, jacket creased, hair a mess, smelling no doubt of alcohol. I imagine my eyes were bloodshot as well and I was certainly unshaven. I remember sitting there, strong coffee in front of me, leaning back, wanting to go to sleep, not one syllable of what was being spoken going into my head. It seemed to last forever.

I take another drink of the coke. I want a cigarette. But there’s no chance of that. The only seat was in a no smoking carriage.

I sit back and look out at the clear blue sky. I try to contemplate what I’m going to do now. The parties, the late nights, the unwoken mornings have all caught up with me.

I didn’t do one essay while I was there. Not one. And I had multiple warnings about it.

I’ve been kicked out. Or sent down as they put it in academia.

I don't know what I’m going to say to my folks.

Thursday

Up late. I needed a lie in after last night’s train journey. When I was ready, I went into town to register at the dole office. It was hardly an inspiring affair, just me filling in some forms and registering for work if some came available. I can’t see that happening any time soon. I had a look in the room where they advertise jobs. They’re looking for carpenters and electricians and storemen and the like. There doesn’t seem much scope for a philosophy student and man of letters who’s just been sent home forever. I imagine I’ll have to get used to this life. I’ll find a job one day.

After that, I went to the park for a while, lazed in the sunshine.

 

Friday

I know I should have walked or got the bus. But I got a taxi instead. First proper weekend night back and all that. It’s too easy and I’m too lazy and that’s how it is.

Anyway, I didn’t want to get all frayed round the edges. I’ve spent enough time getting myself ready. The last thing I want to do is spoil all that by getting on a bus or traipsing through town.

So I get a taxi. It arrives as planned and I get in and the driver starts engaging me in talk about what’s on tonight and where I’m going and all that. I tell him I’m off into town and meeting Dixie and that’s it. He asks where we’re off after that. I don’t know, I say. We’ll take it as it comes. See where we end up.

And then we’re there, pulling up outside The Ship. I thank him and get out and wander up the hallowed steps into the watering hole and look round and he isn’t there. Dixie boy. Late again. So I go up to the bar and buy my beer and grab a seat in the corner of the pub.

It’s changed in here a little since I’ve been gone. I can’t place it. Is it a lick of paint? A new carpet? It’s not the pictures on the wall. They’re the same as they ever were.

Someone puts some music on the jukebox. Right now it’s a funky sort of sound so that will do for the moment.

Twenty minutes later he arrives. He has a big grin on his face, enough to warm the coldest heart. I’m already on my second pint when he breezes through the door, nonchalantly like nothing has happened. He waltzes over to me in the corner.

“All right mate,” he says. “How’s it going?” I look at him. Dixie. The boy.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m all right. Doing fine. Back for good.”

“And how’s that?”

“Oh, you know. I’m a lazy boy. No compulsion to get anything done. And the time moves away. Leaves you standing. Like you’ve just been born.”

He looks at me and laughs. Flashes that grin again.

“Happens to us all,” he says. And walks over to the bar.

I glance out of the window. It’s getting busy, groups of people hanging around outside, beers in their hands. As I’m sitting here, it occurs to me, in a way that it hasn’t properly up until now. What am I going to do, now I’m back? It’s not that I’m anxious for a pay rise after studentville, or anything like that. I’d be happy with a low key job. But I’ll need money. There seems no real option but to keep pushing at what I want to do. That said, I’m not sure what the openings are for a budding rock journalist, poet, or underground DJ in a small town like this.

He comes back with the beers and puts one in front of me. He slides onto the stool and has a long drink. He’s read my mind.

“So, brother Seb. What are your plans now you’re back for good?”

“Not sure,” I say. “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

“No, I suppose not. You hanging round here for a while?”

“I think so. Doesn’t look like I’ve got a lot of choice about it.”

“No, I suppose you haven’t. Well, I have to say, it’ll be good to have you around. Maybe we can get that band together at last. We’ve been talking about it long enough.”

“Yeah,” I say. “We should go for it”.

We were in a band years ago, when I was still at school. Nothing came of it, of course. We played one gig, at the local sports club, me on guitar, him on drums. It would be amusing to resurrect it.

“So who else is out tonight?” I ask.

“Just the two of us,” he says. “Billy’s with some woman or other. So is Callum. He’s started seeing that Marie who comes in here.”

“Is he?” That’s an interesting development. I had a fling with a friend of hers when I was home at Christmas.

“So where later?” I ask. Dixie’s drunk half a pint in one.

“A few more pubs. Red Lion? George? Barley Mow? Bull?”

So that’s what we do. We finish our beers in The Ship and head out into a brilliant June night and visit all the watering holes outlined above, and a few more. By the time we’re nearly at the midnight hour, I’ve forgotten about the disappointments of the last few days, as well as the downbeat nature of our chosen venue. I’ve still got to tell my parents, though, that I’m not going back to university. I couldn’t face saying anything today.

On my way home, my mind goes back. Even though it’s only a little more than forty-eight hours since I was last at university, it seems a long way away already. It’s the difference in the environment. When I was there, I was in a place of learning, of sophistication. Back here, I’m in the heart of what they’re calling “the industrial base”. Or, to be more precise, as the industry itself is fast disappearing, the culture that goes with it. In short, it’s harsher here. But I’ll get used to it.

As I’m walking along, the warm night air all around me, the moon shining down on me and me alone, it hits me. I’m here, I’m free, I’m now. This is going to be a good summer. I know it deep in my heart. I may have been forcibly removed from one wonderland. There will be others that await.

Saturday

Spend the day in the garden, just chilling. I bring my tape player out with me for a soundtrack. All jazz and soul. I could be on the Riviera, with all the delights to be enjoyed out there. I forget I’m in a small town somewhere in England.

I meet Dixie again tonight. We do much the same as last night, We leave the last pub and contemplate what to do with the rest of the evening.

“Clubbing?”

“Yeah, I suppose so. Where do the beautiful people go these days?”

“Lux?”

“Aww. Do we have to? I wouldn’t call most of them in there ‘the beautiful people’.”

“Granted. But, you know, it’s probably the only place that’s open round here.”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Could be worth a visit.”

I look at him. There’s a twinkle in his eye. Whenever there’s a twinkle in Dixie’s eye, you know there isn’t any choice.

“Go on then.”

“Nice one Mr Dean. I knew you’d agree.”

So we head off to the town’s only permanent nightclub. The venue known as Lux has been around for generations. It had a name change recently. It was called Ritzi back in the day. It’s now settled on Lux and will no doubt change it back when some bright spark decides a “rebrand” is in order. They still haven’t got rid of the hideous red seats, though. Perhaps that’s something for the future as well.

There’s still graffiti outside here. They call it the wall of fame, or shame, depending on the way you view things. We always used to look at it with wide eyes when we were young, queueing for teenage discos. It serves as a social document of the fun and games of local beauties, tearaways, and reprobates. They’ve cleaned it up at various times, when a new puritan local dignitary has taken over the running of the town’s affairs. But you can’t stop it. If the boys and girls want to tell their tales about the lives, loves, and savagery of the local luminaries, they will. And do. Dixie’s featured in despatches, penned by a local beauty or other. “Dixie,” it says, with a heart next to it. He doesn’t seem to notice. He just waltzes by, takes it in his stride. He does that with everything in life.

There’s a short queue and we stay on our best behaviour when we walk past the men in jackets with “security” on their backs. In a few seconds, we’re through the door and paying our money. And then we’re into the arena, where the music blasts and the lights flash, and the floor is sticky with spilt pints of beer. In front of us are groups of office girls, dancing round their handbags, and gangs of boys and girls hanging round the edges, glaring at each other menacingly.

We go to the bar and Dixie buys the beers, which come in squashy plastic glasses, the sort that pushes the head over the edge. I put mine to my mouth, take a drink. It will do the job.

I move away and hang round near the edge of the dancefloor. Then the music changes to something more funky and soulful and uplifting and the expression on Dixie’s face changes as well. He says he wants to head for the dancefloor and I follow. We find a space and start to move around.

They've changed DJs. That’s pretty clear. We dance to the first record and then it moves into something equally as infectious. We keep dancing, getting more into the music. The same happens with the next record. And the next. Dixie’s in front of me. He looks at me and smiles. That Dixie smile. He could have it all, the world in his hands. It doesn’t matter what mood it’s in. Dixie makes everything seem groovy.

There’s a girl dancing near him who seems entranced with him. She dances closer and makes her intentions clear. Dixie’s happy enough to oblige, he moves towards her and it isn’t long before they’re starting to become intimate. It makes me smile. Good luck to the boy.

I decide to leave him to it. He doesn’t want me interfering. So I finish my beer and head back to the bar and buy another. I have another dance but not for long. I’m feeling quite drunk and tired and ready to call it a night. I have a quick look round in case there’s anyone I know in here. I’m thinking back to Christmas and what happened then. She’s not here tonight. There’s no one else who catches my eye. There will be in the future. But not tonight.

So I put my plastic glass down and head for the exit. In a few moments, I’m on the street, on my way out of town. I need to get a taxi. But I want to walk some of the way first. Just take the night in.

Sunday

I decide to bite the bullet. I have to. I spill the beans about not going back to university. My parents are all ears. I don’t tell them I’ve been sent down, not exactly, I dress it up as much as I can. I tell them that I’m not exactly academically inclined, that I can’t get into writing essays, that lectures don’t inspire me, that sort of thing. Then I say that I’m thinking of not going back and how do they feel about it?

They’re more understanding than I expected. They say that they’d noticed I’d not been saying much about the course. They do add comments about the sacrifices they’ve made, things they’d like to have done if they’d not been supporting me financially. But it’s nothing I can’t handle. I tell them I’ll get a job and support myself that way. Neither of them object. Though I do wonder if they would be so accommodating if they knew the full history.

I have some dinner – it's roast beef for the prodigal son’s return – and then I get ready and head to The Red Lion. There are a few people in here who I recognise, not many. I have a couple and head home.

Monday

I see myself in a film. I always do. Especially today. I’m walking up the high street and it’s a hot afternoon. There are people round me but I don’t notice anyone in particular. Everyone’s an extra in the film I’m in.

I’ve not been doing much today, just hanging out round town. I decided to bring a camera with me, record the town going about its business, as posterity for the future, assuming we have one. Nuclear war and all that. Maybe we’ll be wiped out in a few years. So we might as well make the most of it while we can.

I’m not sure everyone understands that. Not really. They understand it theoretically. Stop planning, pandering to other peoples’ wishes, thinking about where you’re going to be in ten, twenty, thirty years' time. Do it now. All of it. You might not be able to do it any other time. Don’t think.

I think about people I knew at university. I need to get back there soon enough to see them again. I catch my reflection in a shop window. My mop looks suitably dishevelled today. It’s perfect for my film. A guy walks by me with a t-shirt on that says “school kills artists”. I carry on walking and think about what I’m going to do.

Tuesday

It’s here. The first signing on day. I can tell at the start that it will be the most miserable experience of the fortnight. For one thing, I have to get up on time. I’ve got an appointment at half past ten and I can’t be late or there’s a possibility I won’t get any money. That wouldn’t do. I need money to get by, to buy clothes and records. To buy beers in The Ship. To get into the red leathered hellhole that’s known as Lux at the weekend and drink their watered-down beer, watch them dance round their handbags and avoid the punches of the local savages. No money. It wouldn’t do at all.

So I get up early. Nine. It’s almost the middle of the night. I wasn’t even in bed at this time when I was a student. There’s no one in when I wake up, though. They’ve gone out to their own jobs.

I go downstairs and have some tea and cornflakes and put some music on, something with jangly guitars and heartfelt lyrics and all that sort of stuff. Then I go in the shower and get myself ready and get dressed. It’s a pair of faded jeans today, rolled up with deck shoes and a black t-shirt. It’s sort of rainy out so I put on a raincoat as well. Then I leave and head for the bus stop.

I stand and wait for twenty minutes until the bus arrives. I stand under the shelter out of the drizzle. I have my hands in my pockets and I light a cigarette and watch as other passengers arrive, a woman with two young children and an old man with a copy of the Daily Mail under his arm, which he sits and reads and coughs from time to time.

Eventually, the bus appears in the distance, trundles along and finally stops in front of us. The woman with the children gets on first and sits towards the front. I follow them on, pay the driver, and take my ticket, and head towards the back.

I’m not in the mood for this. I’m really not. I’d sooner be at home with my books and records. But, as I say, I haven’t got any choice. The bus moves off and I look out of the window at the rainy Summer day and watch the same houses passing as I’ve seen all my life, on this journey. I put my head against the window and nearly fall asleep as we make our way towards town. Sometimes I see someone I know, probably from school, and I look away as if I hadn’t.

The journey’s quicker than I thought. The bus stops on the corner and I get off. I walk down the street, towards the office where I’ve got to sign on. The rain’s stopped but it’s still damp underfoot. I walk past one of the pubs we go in on a Friday night. I’m looking forward to the weekend coming round again, though. When your week doesn’t have any structure, all the days soon start to roll into one. What day is it? Do I care? Not a bit of it.

I walk down the street. Ahead is the grim building where I have my appointment, the one with the dark, imposing walls and the look of a nineteenth-century workhouse. It might even have been one, for all I know. That’s how they kept you in check then. Fear of the workhouse and the lash.

I walk to the end of the road, wait for the traffic to stop, and cross. I walk down and through the door and am immediately brought down. It has that effect on me, coming here. It’s the sense of failure about it all, the misery that surrounds the place. I walk into the room where I sign on and stand at the back of one of the queues. The men in front of me – and they’re all men – are middle-aged and have one thing about them that stands out. They look downtrodden. Life, society, the world have all conspired to put them at the bottom of the heap, for everyone else to walk all over. It’s sad. Here I am, with nothing more than having unceremoniously left university, and I’m thrown onto the pile of failure that lurks ahead of me.

Of course, they’re not really examples of failure. A couple of years ago, they would have had normal lives, stable homes, self belief, respect. Then, through no fault of their own, they were tossed aside as a result of market forces, profit, and loss, competitiveness, or whatever you want to call it. It wasn’t their doing. And you mustn’t forget that.

It does tell me one thing. Don’t get trapped, don’t trust anyone with your life, keep a handle on it yourself. I’m young enough and sharp enough and bright enough to make my own way in this world and to do it on my own terms. But that’s for now. Give it five, ten, twenty years and those opportunities will be gone. I’ve got to do it now.

What, exactly, “it” is, I don’t know yet. Form a band, become an actor, painter. I don’t know. I’ll decide what I’m going to do on the way home.

And, at that, my contemplation is interrupted because I’ve come to the end of the queue. The woman sitting behind the counter looks up at me behind thick glasses. I smile at her with my sweetest smile. It doesn’t work on this occasion. She stares at me with a hard look on her face. Miss Moneypenny she is not.

I know what she’s thinking. Here’s another of life’s losers, wanting a handout. Looks wet behind the ears. Probably living with mum and dad. Why should I pay for him with my taxes? He should work. Or go in the army. That would sort him out.

“Name?” she says.

“Sebastian,” I say. “As in Flyte.” She gives me a look.

“Surname?”

“Dean. As in James.”

“Sign here.”

And that’s it. I turn and walk away, past the rows of middle-aged men and out through the door to where the sun’s come out. I head down the street. I don’t know where I’m going. I want to get as far away from here as quickly as possible.

I think about stopping in The Ship on the way home but think better of it. If I have one beer, I’ll want more and then I’ll be good for nothing later. Maybe I am a good for nothing, I don’t know. The teachers at school always said I was. And I don’t want to spend money. I want to save it for the weekend.

Wednesday

I sleep in late. It’s what days like this are made for. It took it out of me yesterday, having to get up and sign on. God knows what I’ll be like if I actually have to get up and do a job. It will kill me.

Right now, I’ve just come out of the shower and am thinking about what I should wear. The sartorial look of the suburban doleite is paramount on a warm, summer day like this. It needs to be good for town’s high street, which is my catwalk. I open my wardrobe and decide on the light blue jeans again, slim fitting, rolled up with deck shoes. Then I’ll go for a t-shirt with a Henley collar. That will do the trick.

I head out of the house and walk up the road to the bus stop. There are few people waiting, not many, just the usual pensioners and women with children. It’s pretty much like yesterday, except the weather’s better and there are more people around. I’m fed up of getting the bus though. My mum needs to add me to her car insurance. I’ll remind her about it tonight.

The bus arrives, I get on and sit in my usual spot towards the back. It makes its way into town and I stay on until it pulls in at the bus station.

I walk up the street, past the record shop which I usually visit. I’ll have a look in there later. But first I’m in the mood for some second-hand clothes shopping. There’s a little alleyway just off the high street where there’s a newly opened vintage emporium. I wander in and the girl behind the counter looks at me and smiles and I go over and start to check through some of the garments on display.

There’s some wonderful whimsical pop floating out of the speakers which is perfect for a summer afternoon like this. I can’t see anything at first. But then I do. There’s a handsome electric blue polo shirt in front of me. It looks knitted and has a foreign name on it, could be Italian. I take it off the rail and keep looking. There’s a stripy, Breton style top that would go well with the other stripy, Breton style tops that I’ve got. I take both to the changing room and try them on. I’m impressed. Both will work perfectly.

I leave the changing room, go over to the counter and pay the girl. She’s sort of blonde with her hair tied up and she engages me in conversation, asks me where I go round town. I tell her The Ship, The Red Lion, The Bull, the usual places. Then I say I’ll see her round and leave the shop. I head off, past an outside seating area of a café which I’m tempted to visit, but then remember my finances, and onto the high street. I need to check out the records.

Thursday

I wash my new tops. Both of them. Mum’s at work so she won’t get in the way, wanting to put them in the washing machine. They need it to get rid of the musty second-hand shop aroma. Then I hang them out on the washing line. They’ll be dry soon because it’s a warm day.

But there are other issues. Crucial ones. My giro arrived today. It’ll serve as my drinking voucher for the next two weeks so I mustn’t spend it at once. I go to the post office at about two and cash it, buy some cigarettes on the way back, and spend the rest of the afternoon in the garden. I get the extension lead out of the shed and plug in my record player. Then it’s time for some jazz to blast any blues, that might be hanging around still, away. I put some ice in a glass and have a cold drink of orange as I’m lying here on the sun lounger. I take my top off and let the sun’s rays shine on me. I could almost kid myself that I’m Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. The difference being that I’m not actually a graduate. But I’m not going to let any minor details like that get in the way of my dreams.

In the evening I go to The Ship. It’s been too long since I’ve been out. They’re all there, Dixie, Callum, Billy, and the others, full of their tales of sin and deprivation. We have a few, sitting in the corner, the breeze blasting through and the jukebox playing. We’re meeting in here tomorrow night.

Friday

Here we go. The weekend’s here. At last. Even if the days run into each other when you’re on the dole, it’s good to get to Friday and know that you’ll be going out and doing your thing. I’ve not thought about what I’m going to do with my life for a few days. I’m just going to take it as it comes. I can’t be bothered to look for job advertisements, not now, but I won’t mention that at home – it might not the most diplomatic thing to do.

I think about going into town in the afternoon but decide not to bother. I’m up late and want to save myself for a good night. I can’t be bothered getting hot and sweaty on a bus or round town. So I do what I did yesterday, sit in the garden again with my music.

I get ready early. Have a long soak in the bath with my tape player on, playing all sorts of soulful tunes to get me in the mood. Afterwards, I chill out in my room and decide what to wear. It’s turned up jeans weather again, with deck shoes, faded. I go for the new top. The electric blue polo. I ironed it earlier.

I make sure my mop’s all right and then I head out. I still can’t afford a taxi but I get one anyway. It drops me outside The Ship and they’re all there again. In fact, it’s packed. Dixie has a big grin on his face and he comes over and greets me as I buy the beer. Callum’s leaning against the bar. There’s no sign of Billy tonight, apparently, he’s otherwise engaged, which doesn’t surprise me. You never know what that boy’s up to.

We have a couple in The Ship and then Dixie says let's go to the wine bar. So we finish our beers and head out of the door and it’s getting dark as we walk, car headlights passing, and I think about being in a film again. This could be a street scene in a Godard film or something and I smile to myself when I think about it. And my mind goes to University again and I wonder when I’ll get back there. I force myself to stop thinking about it. I need to. I need to engage with the here and now and forget everything else.

We head off down the street and there are people around in gangs and they’re extras in my film. I see them walking. In and out of scenes. In and out of lives. They’re everywhere I go. We get to the wine bar and the music’s loud as we walk through the door. It’s dark in here and packed and Callum goes over to the bar and, while he’s standing there, a group of girls engage him in conversation. Dixie heads over and I’m behind him. The music’s uplifting, a strong soulful song that I love and it gets deep inside. Even though I’m aimless and rootless and drifting it doesn’t matter. When the feel of the moment gets into you that’s all that matters. And I feel something inside me that jumps out and tells me that everything is strong and alive and brilliant. Tonight is going to be a good one. I know it.

 

 

 

 

 

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