Roots - Non-Fiction Group Project (1 of 2)
“Home is where you hang your hat” – English Proverb.
… the tree’s roots crawled out, gasping beneath the single layer of hardwood, tearing its cage apart, penetrating the surface [which would] cause [one] to feel as if they were walking on slippery foam.
Pertaining to the two and a bit lines at the start: never have truer words been spoken. In my opinion, home can mean a great deal of things. It can be where you are from, a house, a name, your grandparent’s house, a country, a comfort, in between a lover’s arms, in a favourite pub, bar, or restaurant, wherever you feel yourself or wherever you choose to sleep. I myself am of the last sentiment. Home is wherever I hang my hat, although I don’t wear hats, they don’t suit me, but you get the gist.
I know a minute aspect of Michel de Montaigne’s approach to writing but unlike him it’s very rare for me to embrace my true self, if I knew the appropriate terminology I would say I have as many layers of an onion (whatever that is) and there are only mere bursts when I feel that I am just simply me. Beneath the fronts, vanity, laughs, shyness, politeness, impoliteness, whatever, probably when I just feel like a four-year-old little boy again and all he wants to do is laugh, draw and, make a feeble attempt, to write at his Nan and Granddad’s house at 42 Kendal Avenue in Edmonton back in North London.
Surprisingly so, the last time I felt myself, or rather at home with myself, was at the very end of March, in the middle of a suburban street near a busy road in the pouring rain. I was back with my parents in Bishop’s Stortford again. A Hertfordshire town that boasts of its ties to William the Conqueror, the great Imperialist Cecil Rhodes and the singer, who I’ve happened to meet on two occasions in the pub, Sam Smith. It’s a historic market town that lays just west of the dreaded M11 and Stansted Airport hums a mere 5.7 miles from the town’s centre. The crime rates are well below the national average too. On the surface, it’s a lovely place to live if you’re middle-class, or retired, and with children. When you’re my age, maybe not so much.
As I was saying, that morning, at the tail end of March I had woken at eight o’clock sharp. Through the blinds, I could see gleaming sunshine and all I wanted to do was go back to bed. I don’t know why I had been overcome with such a feeling but I wanted to, I didn’t. I simply couldn’t no matter how hard I tried. I bid my Mum farewell with a kiss on the cheek, shuffled off downstairs, boiled the kettle, emptied two spoonfuls of coffee, two spoonfuls of sugar into a mug and put the washing out.
Wait, no, let me think, I’m not that productive in the morning, scrap that part. I didn’t put the washing out right then.
I placed two rashers of bacon into a frying pan, no oil, a dry fry, it’s better for you apparently (some pointless piece of knowledge I had acquired flicking through a women’s health magazine) and since I could do with shifting some weight, I went with it. Then I popped to the bathroom. When I returned, the two thickly cut rashers of smoked-butcher’s bacon was completely aflame. The entirety of downstairs resembled the aftermath of a tent at Redding, the remains of a load of left-wing hippies on weed having just pissed off, completely and utterly hot-boxed, and I cursed. Suffice to say, with my mother and stepfather on diets there was fuck all else to eat within the house. The classic British breakfast of four tomatoes, cheese and an android green banana is just what one needs to start the day off. It was then I stuck the washing out, it needed to be dry for tomorrow, I then necked my lukewarm black coffee and showered, set the alarm, locked and hurried myself out the front door for a morning appointment with the doctor.
I emerged an hour and a half later, around half past the hour of eleven, without broken ribs. Said injury was sustained during a drunken night out at university: a friend pushed me flat on my side. My friends later recalled, their hangovers in tow, how I had hit the ground with so much velocity that I “bounced”. No matter, I only had fractured ones. It was fine, only another eight to twelve weeks for them to heal, which is perfect if you’re looking for a reason to do nothing with your Easter holiday and the first few weeks at university. This, however, isn’t me, unlike so many I have the good fortune to attend university with, so, sunglasses shielding my eyes, striding back along the hospital road basked in sunlight, by Haymeads Lane, I find myself looking to one of my so-called homes - The Nag’s.
The Nag’s Head is a charming pub with a great selection of craft ales, spirits and good pub cuisine. The front of the building consists of four squares with two oval shaped windows at each side. Neatly trimmed hedges guard its entrance and, going up the gang plank, are some worn garden tables and chairs that only the alcoholics are permitted to use. Two of the locals, who shall remain nameless, used to attend the pub six days a week, never on a Sunday, and spend, if memory serves me well, a minimum of seventy pounds a night. Drinking would typically start at around five o’clock, when they had left work, a business they owned, park their car somewhere close by, and walk down. Their credit cards were often declined and it was rumoured they had to re-mortgage their house at least twice so as to afford to drink.
The site itself has been described as “an art deco treasure” by the company that owns it, the Hertford-based brewery, McMullen and, according to its website, it was designed by E. B. Musman in 1936. It is now one in a long line of many identical chain steak and grill pubs that plague the country, and more so in the south-east.
Fortunately, in the eyes of its punters, it has still retained its own character but fortunately not the renowned “rougher types” that frequented it in the mid to late nineteen eighties.
In there, I worked for a year, drank in since I was about sixteen and now, at the age of twenty, whenever I’m home that is, it is my local. I make a point of visiting the kitchen staff (who I enjoyed working with) whenever I’m back.
But as I crossed the car park, noting the excess of flowers that populate its spectacular beer garden, unmatched in Stortford, stretching the whole way back around, I get flash backs of leaving school.
Somebody drunk driving. Everybody drunk driving. Two dozen sixth formers on benches. Unbuttoned Next blazers. Short New Look skirts. Soaking up the sun. Water pistols. Water balloons. Stella and limes, gin and tonics, Kudu Plains on ice. Pimm’s, purple Rekorderligs, a dozen shots of Drambuie. Marlboro Golds, Benson & Hedges, faux-Havana cigars. Shots with my favourite history teacher despite a staff meeting later. I’m somewhere between eight and ten pints. Two hours tops they said. Let’s go out later we all said. A friend’s mum hitting on us. Singing and dancing in the road. The girls stumbling about. The guys not so much better. Schoolchildren on journeys home. Their mothers scowling at us. Delinquent kids. We’d just left school. What to expect? The most riotous bunch to attend the school in years? Now no longer in the role of well-to-do sixth formers. Good times so long as the day lasted.
I smiled at this thought, intoxicated at my remembrance of it, the road arched round to the left, near the Nissan garage, at this I see an old red box-like model and recall the aftermath of heavy day-drinking even more vividly – a first date.
Going to my favourite Sicilian restaurant, Cibo, with a beautiful blonde, Elizabeth, she hated me for calling her that, serving her dumb toothy grins and clinging to the restaurant table for dear life, praying I won’t topple onto the floor before I’ve at least managed to kiss her. I did, and we went on to have a short but loving relationship. As for the rest of that evening, saying our emotional goodbyes to the rest of our sixth form colleagues and their cliques before we parted ways…
(INCREDIBLY DRUNKEN IMAGE OF MYSELF AND SIXTH COLLEAGUES).
I cast the remainder of the somewhat still blurred PowerPoint of images from my mind, followed the emerging loop round to the right and started along the final stretch through the park and back to my house.
I decided to take a major detour.
Four minutes north-west of my house is a landscape I knew like the back of my hand. It’s the scenic route I used to take to and from school. It’s a shaded land of pine trees, threaded together like a solid wall, empty sweet wrappers and dog walkers.
I’m making my way down a thin lingering path of gravel and pause for a moment, regarding the scenery around me, something I don’t often do and decide to sit on the collapsed branch of an old oak tree. The sun is tearing itself through the half empty twigs and branches, daisies (the leaves of which you can eat apparently and are rich in Vitamin-C) peppered in even clumps on the floor as far as my eyesight can stretch and, arching and rolling with the downhill breeze, the thick odour of spent car fumes.
In the near-distance, speeding cars, somebody’s lawnmower and birds singing. One of which is so loud, elongating its two-pitched notes, almost that of a wolf-whistle, clearly drinks in my pub. I chuckle to myself like a sad bastard. The odd pigeon darts by, manoeuvring through the trees with the accuracy of an RAF fighter pilot. Strong black staffies bound away from their owners and over a wooden bridge with soiled boards and collapsed logs. All of which are tattooed with bird droppings. Bumble bees hover in clumps over the ground, looking like a spring-time mist. Year eight school boys with twenty Mayfair leap over armies of stinging nettles and away from Mr. “Heyminger” – the school’s final solution to quell underage smoking before others get the same stupid idea.
Everything around is green, almost stained with it, the benches, logs, large stones used as arrows for short makeshift pathways but off to the distance, only dead clumps of brown. At night, it’s easily the set of a low-budget horror on Netflix, but for now, it’s the home of dogwalkers, both day and night, and middle-aged doggers respectively. The trees blot out the reminders of suburbia and I love that about it. Scrawled on a nearby fence, as I decide to move on now, getting gradually steeper towards the school, I re-read the graffiti:
Youre life, your choices live it Befor its Gone
It’s spelling has always irritated me more than the actual graffiti itself. A warm calming breeze finds me as the shadows crisscross the winding paths. It’s here, at this point, near a barbed wire fence, that I had my first cigar. On my right, a wooden fence leading to an old flame’s house, I’d like to say I haven’t jumped it before but that would be the lie of a “mature” twenty-year-old who’s reminiscing.
PE games of capture the flag come to me with the emergence of fresh air. As one who suffers terribly with hay fever I can’t say I’ve ever benefitted from a breath of fresh air, but I find myself enjoying my major detour nonetheless.
The sun has stopped bleeding through from the trees now, it’s darkened, and summons in me some terrible memoires that remain in the mouth of this forest and it knows how to keep many a secret for sure. Brambles wear you off from the school a solid wooden bench and chairs, many a closeted homosexual encounter has happened there, I know, I’ve heard the rumours but I passed my A-levels sitting at this bench. Littered chocolate bars, the distant expanse of the school field in the near-distance, the resting place of many a lost promise, of many potential sports stars lost to nothing but no ambition.
There are ghosts here. The ghosts of my lads, playing, sodding around, unspoiled by alcohol and some, drug abuse, pushing one another into the thistles at my right on our Monday-to-Friday journeys home. Times have changed now, but not this place. On the surface, if you look hard enough, the many soiled condoms, virginities lost, cigarette ends, a reluctant blowjob given, empty bottles of vodka that probably culminating in a teenager or two’s stomach being pumped and, somewhere around here, somewhere where I can’t exactly recall now, a positive pregnancy test.
What’s the story there?
Nobody knows. I have my suspicions but we will never be sure. All of this played out once and probably will again. The kids are a mere stone’s throw away from their parents’ homes, the housing estate that exist just over the tall hedgerows.
I snapped out of it at the sight of a boy, Robert I think he’s called, who was a part of the form I looked after when he was only in year seven. He’s bigger now, much taller than me, and so I decided not to say hello, he’s forgotten me. I trailed off to the right, in search of an exit and spotted, floating on a sea of sundried leaves, a wigwam.
My childhood best friend, Ryan Shepherd, and I, when we were about eleven or twelve-years-old, had constructed it in a ditch attempt to shield us from the rain. There still is the same clearing above. I couldn’t believe the wigwam was still there. In fact, other kids had made some adjustments to it for us, adding new logs, pine sticks, and built it up, making it taller than I remember. Amazing. I took a photograph on my phone and decided to find my way out of the forest, Birchanger Forest, some sixty-nine acres of woodland.
It was probably three in the afternoon when I emerged, doing an impression of a Seven Dwarf, and so, I then headed on the not so short, almost mundane walk, into town via its park: