Whenever I go back to Ward HQ, which is fairly often to be honest (birthdays, bank holidays, anniversaries, Easter, Christmas and any other excuse Mumward can think of), I usually at some point sneak up to my old bedroom and spend a few minutes going through my bookshelves, slipping a few paperbacks into my bag to take home with me. It’s a slow process, but I am gradually transporting my entire library from Worcester Park to my flat, two or three books at a time.
Those quiet moments, upstairs on my own, form a peaceful respite away from the rest of my family. Standing there, reviewing all these books, it’s almost like I’m buying them again for the first time – my bedroom suddenly becoming an extension of the Notting Hill Book Exchange, or Any Amount Of Books on Charing Cross Road. This time round though, each book has a perculiar link – at one time, I found each of these books interesting. Something about each and every one of these books caught my eye; something made me pick it up, walk over to the counter and pay for it (I am, for the sake of romantic simplicity, overlooking those books I obtained for free – either as gifts, or through stealing). With some, it’s obvious why I bought a particular book; with others, it’s a complete mystery. Sometimes it was connected to a brief obession of mine, inexplicable once passed; sometimes it would be something longer lasting. I rediscover myself by rediscovering these books.
Possibily equally revealing is the question of why I should pick a particular book to take home with me now. Why do I feel the need to revisit that moment of my past rather than any other? Usually it’s a sign that a previous obsession has returned. Shortly after writing about my dream of a holiday from everything, I came home with a copy of Altered States and The Mind Benders. Last time I went back to Ward HQ, it was just after I heard that Keith Waterhouse had died.
This photo was inside the copy of Billy Liar I brought home that day. I guess I must have been using it as a bookmark last time I read it.
Yes – that is me driving.
I’d like to think that the fact that I’ve decided to adopt a left-hand drive position in my bright red car is a sign of my innate cosmopolitanism. In truth, it probably wasn’t due to my youthful Europhilia, but simply because, as a child, cars never played a particularly important role in my life. Dadward was always a reluctant (and not particularly good) driver. We would walk. If somewhere was too far to walk, someone else would drive. If no-one else would drive, we wouldn’t go.
As I look at the picture, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t really look like I’m having fun. I’m taking it all very seriously. I’m not sure what I’m looking at, but it definitely isn’t whoever is taking the photo (I assume it’s my mum, I’m avoiding her eye as she crouches with her camera). I have no idea what those two yellow fins in the bottom of the picture are part of, but I suspect I’m jealous of whoever got to sit in it. I’m stuck in this shitty red car.
The fact I appear in the picture allows me to date it quite accurately. I must be about five years old there. I was born in April 1981. That means this photo was taken in the summer of 1986. 1986! Seven years into the Thatcher government. A year after Live Aid. It was the mid-eighties. But look at those people in the background – that’s not how the mid-eighties have been sold to me. This is supposed to be a time of teenagers in high-waisted trousers driving sports cars; primary colours or moody black and white; textured, volumised hair and mobile phones.
There’s only one person in that photo who appears to acknowledge which decade it is, and she is obscured by the man in the blue suit. Everyone else seems to think it’s the tail-end of the 1970s. I mean, just look at that guy in the burgandy shirt and grey shorts behind me. Who does he think he’s kidding? Surely he should be wearing a linen suit (with the sleeves rolled up) over a pastel T-shirt and a pair of espadrilles (without socks).
Have I been lied to?