Maybe it stems from being an only child in a small family but I’ve always gone to inordinate lengths to keep in touch with people I know.
I hate saying goodbye to friends when they move away and I rarely forget a birthday.
I sent a Christmas card for 30 years to an ex-neighbour until last year, when I found out he died in 1979.
A lifetime ago, when I was going through a really bad time, someone who cared sent me a card that read, ‘Friends are relations you choose for yourself.’
I still have it pinned to my wall. It’s as true today as it was then.
I recently found myself driving through the town where I was raised.
I hadn’t been back for a long, long time and an acute attack of nostalgia forced me to visit my old street.
The trees, that once served as goalposts/swings/shelters had all gone; as had most of the gardens, concreted over to provide parking space for multi-car families.
The small parade of shops was derelict and boarded up, the good-natured old newsagent, who we plagued mercilessly throughout our childhood, long gone.
I don’t know what I’d expected to find but I knew it wasn’t this.
I drew up tentatively outside my old home. There was no sign of the privet hedge my dad trimmed each Sunday morning.
The greenhouse, with its dank, humid, promise of life had been replaced by a prefabricated garage.
The current owner spotted me and was naturally concerned to find a complete stranger peering into her home.
Some women are born posh, some become posh and some have poshness thrust upon them. This lady belonged to the Hyacinth Bouquet variety.
“Are yew looking for something?” she enquired squinting over her Dame Edna’s.
“I used to live here, when I was a child.”
“Oh yew did, did yew? Well come and look at this,” and she marched me unceremoniously around the back.
My father’s beautiful garden, once fragrant with swaying chrysanthemums was now home to an ugly squat electricity sub-station.
“I bet yew did not have to contend with that as a child,” rapped Hyacinth. I was too stunned to reply.
I wandered aimlessly around the streets like an accident victim until I stumbled across an old neighbour walking a dog almost as old as himself.
“How are you, Mr Homes?” I called. “It’s me, Vic Barlow, from number 12.”
“I’d never ‘ave believed it,” he croaked. “Our Marion reads me that column tha writes, she lives in Poynton now.
“I remember thi granddad were a reet good singer and thi mother were one o’t best pianists I ever heard.”
“And now I have two sons who are both excellent guitarists, “I added proudly.
“And thee writes that stuff in t’newspaper?”
“It’s bloody funny how talent can skip a generation,” and with that succinct observation Mr Homes departed.
The only local shop still open for business was a hairdressing salon named ‘Gerard’s.’ ‘Gerard’ was not a name you readily forgot and as a ten-year-old street urchin I’d been his only friend. I entered the salon.
“Do you have an appointment?” asked a young stylist baring her midriff.
“Err no but I’d like to speak to Gerard.”
She giggled before disappearing into the back and returning with her boss.
“Hello, I’m Chelsea, can I help you?”
I was agog, stood before me was my first love at primary school.
“Chelsea, if you don’t mind.”
“As in flower show?”
“As in football club.”
I was glad she didn’t support Arsenal.
We embraced and I commented on how young she looked.
“Cosmetic surgery,” she explained. “Spent a fortune on it over the years. You want to try it, Vic, get rid of those wrinkles.”
She made skinny-latte coffee and we caught up on life.
Eileen/Chelsea married Gerard, had two children.
Shortly after we ran out of conversation, when you haven’t seen someone for 40 years there’s not an awful lot to talk about.
I drove into the town centre. The market was still there and in my mind I could picture Auntie Ann working the fruit and veg stall.
“Ten a pound your pears, plumbs and peaches, picked from the tree today, they’re loverly.”
Except there was no Auntie Ann fruit or veg, just cheap clothes, tools and bric-a-brac.
The stallholders no longer ‘pitched’ but mooched moodily in the background half-heartedly rearranging their wares.
I took a short walk and found my old school had become a motorway ramp, the playground, once resonant with screaming, laughing children buried, without trace, beneath the M57.
It was time to go home to Macclesfield where I made a promise never to look back.