I have been looking forward to seeing old friends in Newcastle since the day we finalised it. Sadly, they are just far enough away to preclude a practical day trip and weekends for us both are somewhat hard to co-ordinate. However, the school holidays and a little alignment from the Stars meant 2 days together.
Looking back at my time in Newcastle, hindsight is the problem. When I left, I thought a particular set of things was true, that my time had been life’s normal ebb and flow of ups and downs. Stopping at Wetherby services on the way up is similarly laced with memories. It is where I bought my Wife a soft toy to cheer up when she had gotten lost following me home after picking up a car I bought, and the smiles walking back to my car somewhat worried where she was. On the other hand, I had stood there and can remember that hours after standing in that spot my life would change forever, and overwhelmingly that would be for the worst.
Yet, I am going to see two people who stood beside me, who felt frustrated by the physical distance but who offered me a sanctuary should I need one. If I had walked away and left it all with just what I could have carried, they would have put me up and helped me back on my feet again. They knew the truth and endured until I saw it too. Because I literally had no idea that my life wasn’t normal. Marriage ran like my childhood, so it was all I ever knew. Hindsight tells me the truth. They didn’t only not believe the lies, they said they were lies. Of course one was my best man, of course, we stay in regular contact, and I miss them sorely. Travelling up reminds me of the great times I had with them, the other friend I am visiting and the supporting cast genuine caring people who made the good times.
The saving grace of the situation is that I was able to enjoy the great that I had while I had it, which maybe is why the loss hit so hard. Being a full-time parent and part-time everything else was a blessing and a privilege. An amazing gift I got to do not had to do. The downside was other people’s attitudes towards me, from the, it’s your day off/ time with assumptions, to the, you must play Xbox all day assumptions and the general feeling that I did nothing, had no job and merely grudgingly did minimal necessary babysitting duties when I had to. I was proud of how I kept my little council house, proud that the family was fed, clothed, warm and looked after even when 10 days before pay day I had 2.50p to do it with. Proud of my hustle that kept an extra income coming in without stopping me being the best Dad I could be. 9 pm to 12 pm or beyond working and up at 6 am. Our house was tidy, clean and welcoming, clothes were clean and ironed, I laugh at how I used to spray my wife’s clothes with a little fragrance, so her drawers and cupboards smelled sweet. Even if she never noticed or said, I knew. My son I spent hours together, he would watch me do the house stuff, cook meals, clean, but then we would always have our playtime, be it our soft play date every Wednesday. Or going to the park before picking mum up from work, he helped pick shopping and sort clothes, we watched the shiny show before the evening work run, and when I was at college, we sat and ate breakfast at McDonald’s before we went as his treat. Philadelphia Bagel with milk, and because we had over an hour to kill, all the time he wanted in the world to eat it or get it on his cheeks. I would learn he would play.
I was not Xbox dad, and I am still proud of that, and still treasure the times we had. Divorce has rewritten that, of course, the lies obscure, I will always hold the truth in fond regard. And so I drive on familiar roads, to show off my new life and catch up on the year.
When I sit in their lounge, my sadness is that I have not sat there more. Their boys have grown up just as mine are too. The welcome is warm and authentic, I could have been away a day or a year or ten, nothing has changed much, the bond the same. I am keen to share my happiness, and they share theirs, all along I am aware that the details have been washed away by the tide of time, the smiles and laughter of my everyday just a single jest in a story. Much of the time we sit and talk, indeed, we sit and talk until it is late. We depart, warm and full to our hotel, their house already full. The next day they joined us to see my favourite place the Baltic Mill Contemporary Art Gallery, then coffee and lunch at a little café on a street rich in memories of mornings with my eldest son when he was my only son, breakfast and motorcycle shops on Westgate Hill.
The morning goes too fast, and it is time to catch one more friend before we leave. All the while of this trip I have commentated on the places we go, putting them in the context of my life and why they are so dear to my heart, or not, of course. Our time together so short, I leave and sit in my car, small tears refusing to be held. We say nothing, departing on a familiar journey, my heart sadder each time I do. One time I left here full of optimism and hope, twenty-four hours later I would be holding my mother’s hand in ICU.
As I look at the Tyne, I have no idea what to feel, as I tour, I am talking about the great and the good times of the places I pick out. I feel the contrast with the tour of where I spent my childhood. Perhaps my friends Toon pride is infectious, but this is deeper, I want to remember Newcastle fondly. Growing up, I cannot bring myself to see it as anything but how it was, a place to escape. Yet, I was glad to leave Newcastle, I never wanted to live there, mostly, I believed, because I keenly felt the fact I was an outsider. With the life I have now, it really doesn’t matter, but then, with a son and the necessities of my life as it was, it made me restless. I was longing for a home when I was in a place where I was also feeling the most at home.
Of course, while I was and always would be an outsider, and in any place that makes you unwelcome to some, I was welcomed and accepted. People went out of their way to draw me in and include me, to prevent my isolation (which didn’t go down well). My longing to be home was not the place, I had no idea what home felt like yet, and it would be years after leaving Newcastle that I would finally feel at home on my own in a little house.
Driving home from the past, another stop, at a too familiar service station, not so fond, I got food poisoning of a sandwich from here one time, and then home. Yes, home, to reminisce about what could have been, never was, and what is. I look back and my time could have been so much more of the good, but really that is a lie. Without the circumstances that got me there, I would never have been there or met the people I did in the places I went. The good and bad happened because of each other. That hurts, I desperately wish that was not true. I want the good of that time to be cut out from the past in which it is embedded.
Sadly, this applies to so much of my life. The good times are so much clouded with the shadow of the other, the bad things. This sadness, is one I cannot escape, that looking back, so much will be seen not only in the light of hindsight which is harsh itself, but the long shadow of emotional control and abuse, and the knowledge that what made times good was ignorance as well as circumstance.