It is a privilege to introduce today's guest blogger, Matthew, from AbodeOneThree. Eloquent and poised, with a phenomenal sense of depth is exactly why it is privilege to have him here. Thank you Matthew for sharing the page with me.
At the age of seven, it felt as though I was never going to be them. It was just impossible to conceive back then; too far removed to even register as a whispered promise, an ominous prediction laced with foreboding. To be them, I would have to grow up. To be them, I would have to be eighteen; be a man. My parents assured me that it would happen in time; that it could not be stopped. They told me that one day I would be taller, older, that I would be just like them - but even at the age of seven I knew that my parents could not be believed. They had already tried to peddle the myth that vegetables were tasty and had been exposed as liars as soon as I had taken a forkful of cauliflower. I was sure that they were equally wrong now. At the age of seven I knew a lie when I heard one – and at the age of seven, becoming one of them felt as likely as choosing to snack on tomatoes as opposed to chocolate.
They seemed only to exist in the upper part of the city, spending their lives on Park Street and splitting their days between the bookshops, record shops and restaurants that defined it in the late nineteen-seventies. I loved that street and even at seven I wanted their lives; craved their identities, their independence. I wanted their intimate knowledge of those buildings, those shops sunk at unforgiving angles into the side of the hill, rooted deep into the tarmac and the paving stones. Back down Park Street, back down that imposing hill sat the other half of the city; the half on the flat, a maze of concrete and pedestrianised shopping precincts that the preceding decades spawned so prolifically. We would always begin our family visits to town down there on the flat; my parents dragging my brother and I kicking and screaming through department store after department store, shoe shop after shoe shop. It was a necessary evil; a means to an end - for if my brother and I managed to avoid fighting, if my parents managed to avoid fighting, if everybody got on and there were no arguments, no fights then there was a chance that we would leave the humdrum of the precincts and climb Park Street. It was a laborious, calf-burning ordeal which we would spread into shifts; split into hikes between shops, all the time moving us upwards, closer to the peak. Finally we would reach the top, stand in the long shadows cast by the university spires and look down upon the flat, over the city that lay beneath us - and it was always worth the effort; always good to be away from the department stores, the concrete and the grime. It was where I felt I belonged.
I would watch them come and go on Park Street, hurrying to lectures, from lectures; meeting friends for coffee or talking in the bookshops. I wanted to be them so badly; torn between wishing my youth away right there and then and struggling to comprehend that the day could ever come naturally where I stopped being too young, too short, too squeaky or too square. I was seven and they were eighteen, I was a boy and they were men - and at seven it felt as though I would never be a man, never. Surely it was too far away to ever come to fruition - too much time between seven and eighteen for something not to go wrong; for the Russians to finally drop the atomic bomb on us or for an asteroid to hit the earth and wipe us all out. Every time on Park Street, every time I saw them I would do the maths in my head: by the time I was old enough to officially be one of them the year would be 1990. That was the future, out of reach in the darkness and hidden from view. It was as alien as the thought of being a grown-up and at the age of seven, in the late seventies, I felt as though neither adulthood nor the nineties would ever arrive.
The boy I was thirty years ago put everything he had into growing up quickly. Inevitably he got his wish, grew up far quicker than any boy should. He would realise too late that this version of the future was not the one he really wanted; realise even later that what he really craved as a seven year old would require him to turn his back on them, accept that his endeavours would ultimately deny him their company. Instead, he would be tasked with finding his own place, his own comfort, his own skin to exist inside. It would take him many years to acknowledge, even more to truly accept – but the years he could not fathom as a child would provide time for him to learn – and learn he would, in time.
These days I look back at that boy with a man’s perspective and I look back on Park Street through older eyes. These days I think about that wide, steep street and see important, happy memories, not a tragic and bitter reminder of what could have been. Thirty years since him and I began our long and slow descent from the top of that hill, I think he would be accepting of how things turned out – but above all, I think he would be content to leave them to their own devices finally; content to leave the ghosts behind, back up the hill, back in the past. Back where they belong.