But I don’t want to live here, Dad…

Street urchins

It was 1974 when Dad decided he was going to move us to a new house, in a neighbourhood 14 miles away. I recall being very upset that it would be the end of so many things that had become important to me. It would mean a change of school, there would be no park to play in, and little if any opportunity to see the friends I’d made over the ten years we had been in our old house. I liked the old house, with its creaking stairs, Victorian flourishes in terracotta and its shaky sash windows. I liked to trace the designs in the ceramic tiles in the little porch. The new place was modern, plain and functional, just like the new neighbours who all seemed to live behind venetian blinds, locked away in their own private little cocoon of domestic solitude. The old neighbourhood had a certain buzz. People looked out for each other. I remember coming home from school Summer camp in 1969 to find Mum and Dad were not at home. My Nan had died after a long struggle with cancer and they had gone to her funeral. The lady from up the street met the bus that brought me home and took me into her house and gave me sympathy, fish fingers, chips and beans. It wasn’t like that in the new place.

I remember some years later, having grown some face hair and a bit of spine, telling Dad how unpopular he was for moving us out of the familiar and the safe into a brave new world of anonymity. He protested, with justification, that he had only done it because he thought it would be a better life in the long term. He chastised me for wanting to live in the past and advised me that you cannot expect that things will never change.

Change is necessary. However, change is always shaped by someone, somewhere, and its ok if you can trust their motives. I don’t doubt for a second that Dad had our best interests at heart and he had after all worked two jobs for ten years to make it all possible. He died too soon, breathless and worn out.

I still have a tendency to hanker after the past, to wish the world was as it used to be. I don’t accept that the good old days were never as good as they seem 50 years on. They were better times. The people around about were like us. They had kids like us. The teachers were like older versions of us. They too had grown up here and they understood the landscape that we were discovering for the first time. There was a ‘settled’ quality about things.

I go back occasionally. It isn’t like it was. The buildings are still there but the sense of community has long since evaporated, replaced with padlocks and sideways glances. The  uniformity of experience that bound us together has been erased. Where there were once snotty nosed kids who did nothing worse than knock on old ladies” doors and run away now there are lads with attitude, and jeans half way down their backsides who would think nothing of knocking your teeth out if you so much as look at them for a second longer than they think is permissible. The old house looks sad. I can almost see a tear dripping from the little window that was my bedroom. Its like the old dog who recognises the lad who used to be his friend but who he hasn’t seen for years……..

This is the feeling I have for my country too. This is why I am a man who is ill at ease with what it has become. It was a better place, and a far better place before the social engineers got their hands on it. Drive around the centre of many of our towns and cities and look up, look up at the stones, catch a glimpse of the fine old buildings as they were before double glazing and tacky lean to shop fronts were blu-tacked onto them. You can just about see through the misty drizzle of the intervening years a more gracious, ordered, solid society that took a pride in itself.

It was written for Jerusalem, but it could have been Liverpool, or Manchester, Leeds or London…..

How lonely sits the city
That was full of people!
How like a widow is she……,
She weeps bitterly in the night,
Her tears are on her cheeks……
She has none to comfort her.
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
They have become her enemies.

It is a strange thing for an Englishman to feel drawn to the eloquence of the Prime Minister of another land, but I confess that I deeply inspired by the power of Viktor Orban’s speech on 15th March. More, I feel uplifted that somewhere in the world someone has at last had the guts to tell it as it is. I feel this affinity with him not because I am a fascist, or an extreme Right Winger. I feel it because I am an Englishman who has been fortunate enough to have lived in a better England than the one we now have. And I want it back.

“Europe’s beams laid on the suppression of truth are creaking and cracking. The peoples of Europe may have finally understood that their future is at stake: not only are their prosperity, their comfort and their jobs at stake, but their very security and the peaceful order of their lives are in danger. The peoples of Europe, who have been slumbering in abundance and prosperity, have finally understood that the principles of life upon which we built Europe are in mortal danger. Europe is a community of Christian, free and independent nations; it is the equality of men and women, fair competition and solidarity, pride and humility, justice and mercy.”

I think I have glimpsed once again the world as it was, the one I used to live in, and the one that I love.