I’ve been looking back at the past… yes, I know, entirely normal situation for Dave-ros, but this time it was more than just scanning photos of the cute little dog I grew up with: at the weekend, I went back to the first town where I can remember my family living… Gillingham.
(No, that’s “Gillingham-with-a-juh” in Kent — you’re thinking of “Gillingham-with-a-guh” in Dorset, a place I’ve never been and have no interest of visiting!)
We moved out of that place in early 1985 (back when Colin Baker starred in Doctor Who), and all things considered, we were lucky to escape, as we lived in a terraced house near Watling Street, close to Chatham, birthplace of the chav. Still, my earliest clear memories are from there — watching Doctor Who, going to playgroup and a certain school once attended by Sir David Frost, visiting the park, shopping at either end of town (as well as accompanying someone to the “video shop” across town, in the early days of VHS!), or just being at home with my mother, grandparents and (until we sadly lost him) uncle, as well as an old dog until she died, and a young dog when she joined the family.
However, I had a lot less nostalgia than expected — and this might be simply because, almost exactly 11 years ago (and that almost exactly 23 years after we moved away), I visited the area for precisely the same reasons: reliving the past. Back then in March 2008, when I lived on Caledonian Road in London and worked in a council office as a generic admin officer, somehow it felt more like I was reaching back to my childhood, but this time it was more like going through the motions.
Having said that, I did a few things I didn’t on my original visit — the first being to get off at the actual train station, instead of having to get a rail replacement bus there from across the Medway! I’d only seen the station itself from the inside once or twice in my childhood, most certainly the day in (probably) 1983 that my uncle took me to Charing Cross in London so we could see Return of the Jedi on the Strand, and stuff ourselves with junk food; nearby is a footbridge over the railway line, with meshed sides, which I crossed with my folks many a time (with the optical illusion that the railway wasn’t “moving” as I ran across). I missed it in 2008, but this time I crossed it, albeit rather taller than I was back then…
While I photographed our old pad (with the converted loft where my mum used to have rather more space than my own box room) back in 2008, and used this picture to let her know about my trip after returning to London, this time I just stood in front and spoke to my folks on the phone (a rather more advanced one than I’d had back then) for ages, having repeated my old walk home from school; I even recognised the papershop on the high street, though I couldn’t quite work out where the greengrocer’s used to be (with a worker back then who reminded me of Kenny Everett). However, I’d made a decision to walk from my old homestead to the forest on the edge of a hill, to which my grandfather and uncle had walked me many times in the early 1980s… but when I got there, I saw a sign saying it’s not a public footpath any more, presumably due to the new corporate buildings nearby!
I thus ended up walking to a shopping centre way down in Hempstead (called “Presto” or “SavaCentre” back in the day), which left my legs knackered, though at least I met a friendly, face-licking dog along the way. Seeing this place again was nostalgic, albeit for not entirely positive reasons: my grandparents used to take me shopping in the supermarket at the back of the mall, and one time I became separated from them and wandered outside crying… and at the front doors, two strange men (one of them reminding me of Christopher Biggins, who was big on TV back then) picked me up, to comfort me! Fortunately my grandfather ran up at this point, having been looking for me, and may just have saved me from an early demise — I would have been five or six at the time…
(Worth noting that although the exterior had been done up, and the shops inside bore no resemblance to the 1980s, the floor looked like it had been around several decades!)
Unlike in 2008, this time I was in the vicinity of Chatham I didn’t run into a gang of chavs who laughed at me for not understanding what their pyjama-clad leader had mumbled in my general direction (though there were a couple of chavs at the station who couldn’t understand the announcer saying the train would be going to Strood, and asked if it was going to Strood!). Yes, although the area is much quieter and less populous than anywhere I’ve lived in London, it seems you’re more likely to run into obnoxious, swaggering teenagers who think you’re the dopey one if you’re not dressed like them… perhaps it was a good job I stayed away from the network of alleyways (which distinguished the town from everywhere else in my childhood), and also didn’t walk to Cha’am itself, passing under the railway bridge (the gigantic-seeming arch of which may have made me dream of night engulfing half the sky, after my grandmother walked me there one day).
What have I taken away from my two trips to Gillingham? Well, while back in 2008 I killed time before the rail replacement bus left by going to the nearby shopping area and buying an uplighter light shade, which is still with me after moving from Caledonian Road (but which I forgot to mention here before), this time around all I have to show for my trip is a copy of Private Eye (fortunately not a 1985 edition!), which I bought at the supermarket as an excuse to get cashback (which I turned out not to need anyway). This is because I was so late back to the station (thanks to my excursion) that I couldn’t visit that shopping area, where I’d hoped to find second-hand CDs in the charity shops!
(And it’s not just because Keith Flint died recently — almost exactly five years after Dave Brockie — that I want to find more albums by The Prodigy, I just need to improve my music collection!)
What else did I take away from this trip? Aching legs, mainly, thanks to my step-count for the day going well over 23,000 — but that’s something I may never do again: partly because I’ll not make such a stupid mistake as walking so far again (especially now I know the local buses allow contactless payments and actually give you a receipt!), but mainly because, as I’l say in my next post here, I’m doing away with Fitbit, at least for a while…
And yes, although I’m playing Batman: Arkham Knight at the moment in London (with Shadow of the Tomb Raider to follow), I’ve also relived the past by playing old games, such as Gorf on the VIC-20 (which my mother bought) and Pole Position in arcade form (they had it at the fish-and-chip shop to which I accompanied my uncle, very possibly missing Michael Jackson’s Thriller on TV that very night!).
Finally, I listened to as many songs I remembered from those years living in Gillingham as I could on the train in, including “Close (to the Edit)”, “Sweet Dreams (are Made of These)” and “Don’t You Want Me”, but one I don’t currently have in my collection is one I remember clearly from Top of the Pops in 1984…