Could it be Falling Leaf Syndrome, doctor?

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

It’s difficult to separate, sometimes, what you can remember, what somebody showed you a photograph of, or what you remember remembering but don’t remember directly now. If that makes sense? If not – it’s a getting old thing.

The first mental image I have of myself is from before I could walk. It’s from a black and white photograph. There I am, plonked down on the back garden path at Bedford Road. I am playing with a bucket – not one of those little plastic children’s buckets, no, but a full size cast-iron builder’s bucket. It is almost as big as me. I am wearing dungarees and a stupid sunhat. I look a bit fat, frankly – but then babies do. I am not smiling.

Bedford Road was an Edwardian(ish) terraced house in a long, long narrow road on the outskirts of a rather ghastly town. It’s still rather ghastly – famous for it, in fact – but hey, it’s a town. It has stuff like shops, and metalled roads, and railway stations, unlike here. I recently emailed Betty, my Godmother, to ask her what number we lived at. She’s older than Mum but still compos mentis – I knew she’d know. She told me. She lived next door to Mum and Dad at the time. She told me she used to come home from work at lunchtime and Mum would put me over the garden fence so that I could toddle up and down her garden path and chase the dog. She said she used to babysit me on a Friday so that Mum and Dad could attend Cycling Club meetings, and was always slightly worried in case I woke up as she was (still is) a single lady with no experience of babies. Mum never told me any of this, and now all her memories are gone. Details – like dead leaves, so fragile and so easily blown away.

The first proper, non-photograph, non-Betty memory I have of myself is when I was three. I thought this was pretty good, but Ex can recall lying in his cot as a baby and watching the model aeroplanes suspended from the ceiling spinning round. Possibly the start of a lifetime interest in aeroplanes. I wonder who made the models.

When I was three I was sitting on the closed seat of a brand new (disconnected, of course) toilet in the living room of the new bungalow Mum, Dad and Grandad were in the process of building. Mum’s still there now. So’s the toilet (connected, of course). Unfortunately Mum no longer recognises either the toilet or bathroom as real rooms. They have invaded them. They are In There Now. But I digress. I think we must have been having a tea-break. I vaguely remember Dad being there – so Mum must have been (she was never anywhere Dad wasn’t). How memories are layered. The same street, the same house, the same room and so many versions of your life lived out in it.

And now I am thinking of moving, and for some reason – maybe this is where Falling Leaf Syndrome kicks in – had an irresistible urge to set eyes on that house in Bedford Road again – the house where I was born. That must have been why I emailed Betty for the number – I didn’t realise it at the time. So, courtesy of Google Maps, I viewed it, and duly saved it to Favourites. Really, it looks just like thousands of other terraced houses – a narrow, mud-coloured sliver of downmarket real estate squashed into an endless vista of other, near-identical properties.

I can’t imagine myself actually living in the Bedford Road house – even if it was for sale – or in that town – can I? And yet I wish – I so wished – to be allowed to go inside and wander round, alone. For some reason I needed to know whether the stairs were on the left, as I remembered them, or on the right, as appears from the placement of the windows. And did the kitchen really did have a brown Belfast sink? I believe I wished to sit on that garden path (getting down there is a possibility, getting up again another matter) with bucket and stupid frilly hat if necessary – and become ‘me’ again, at the age when anything might have happened. Before it did happen, and went pear-shaped.

Falling leaves return to their roots. Chinese proverb, popularised by Adeline Yen Mah’s best-selling biography/autobiography: Falling Leaves (1998)


Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

I recently learned that Google has extended its mapping service and now not only drives along people’s roads, filming their houses and catching them out in such nefarious activities as walking the poodle, taking the bins out, etcetera, but also employs relays of solitary walkers to film trails inside the Peak District National Park. The walkers set out with that periscope-type camera strapped to their backs. I am just wondering why Google doesn’t use drones now – or maybe it does. The scary little beasties seem to be everywhere, so why not some low-level flying along walking paths and up and down mountain tracks? The occasional beheaded walker to be written off as collateral damage.

Because after all look at the results – and they are truly impressive:

The Peak District has become the first national park to have its trails and hard-to-reach locations captured on Google Street View.

Selected bits of the Peak District have become the first off-road terrain in a British national park to be featured on Google’s Street View.

I am not against Google Maps per se, having used them myself when house-hunting. It’s very useful to be able to walk up and down the road in which you are thinking of viewing a house, since that highly-photo-shopped picture of the house on the property websites doesn’t give you any idea what sort of area it is in – whether there’s a gasworks at the end of the street; or the street’s so narrow there’s nowhere to park; or there’s a school right opposite which will be besieged by parking ‘mummies’ and dangerously running-about children twice a day; or there are tattered red and white ‘England’ flags flapping out of the windows – meaning you will be living in a National Front stronghold, or at least among an unacceptably high number of football fanatics, who will drink lager in their front rooms during the World Cup and cheer, suddenly.

Google Maps does save you a lot of time and petrol but it works both ways. Prospective buyers of your house, who might otherwise be fooled into coming and viewing it, may take a virtual dislike, and you’ve lost them before you’ve begun.

And it is useful for spying. When the Irish lady (she of the red jumper who lurked behind the glass – see earlier post) and her husband moved away, unexpectedly I was feeling lonely without them. In a moment of weakness I typed into Google Maps the name of the far-away town they had moved to, and the street name, and then ‘walked’ the length and breadth of it.

I imagined them walking there in the flesh. Which way would they go to the shops? What would they see around this corner? Was there a bit of a park nearby, for the old dog’s daily walkies? But it didn’t end there. Confession time. Unable to resist employing a minor gift for detective work I managed to find their house, still on sale on the estate agent’s website (they leave them there for ages after they’re sold, I’ve discovered – to make you think there is much more on their books than there is – oh that one, unfortunately that one just sold, but this one… ) and clicked on ‘Start Slideshow’, and inspected every single one of their new rooms. The place was smaller than I expected, though neat and newly-decorated. Shame about that little bit of decking instead of a garden…

I imagined I was the only one with this grubby little secret but later discovered that most of the neighbours had done variations on the same prying search. Even the lady who had bought the house next door had done it. She was cross with them for not telling her about the rotten floorboards concealed beneath the bedroom carpet. I think she was plotting long-distance virtual vengeance of some sort.

This virtual Peak District tour, though – it’s walking porn – walking for those who haven’t the energy to walk, just want to enjoy the views they would enjoy if they were walking. Similarly there’s cookery porn – cookery programmes for those who live on chips and take-away curries in real life – gardening porn – garden makeover programmes for those whose gardens are full of children’s toys, dog poo, long grass and rusty swings – holiday porn – for those who can’t even afford a train ticket to Blackpool – and even ballroom porn – for those who have never sewn on a sequin and couldn’t fleckle if their lives depended on it. And now we have this long-distance yomping porn – for those who rarely get off the sofa or close their laptops. Slugs, the lot of ’em.

Google’s latest wheeze did, however, inspire me into writing post. I thought I would go out for my usual walk round the block, but ‘wearing’ an imaginary periscope-type Google camera. (There is only one walk you can do here, really, unless you go round twice, or clockwise sometimes and anti-clockwise other times, or make a sort of squarish figure-of-eight of it by cutting through alleyways.) With the help of my imaginary periscope-type Google camera I would proceed to ‘record’ my little walk, but using words in place of film. This, then, would be boredom porn – for those who actually have interesting and beautiful places to walk, but yearn to experience the exotic desolation of my surroundings – without actually having to come here.

So, out of the back door (everyone uses their back doors as their front doors round here. My house doesn’t have a front door, only a side door – but I don’t use that) and here is my garden. The grass is a bit too long. Felix is crouching in the midst of it, eyes firmly fixed on the wire bird-feeder, swaying with hungry sparrows in spite of him. He doesn’t eat them very often. More often he just watches. Sparrow porn.

Now round the slippery, muddy bit at the side – when it rains, torrents of mud slide down the hillside and make, specifically, for my driveway – and out into the road. Opposite, now, is the house of Caravan Man. He used to be Washing Man because he was depressed and would stand in his back garden for hours watching his white sheets rotating on his rotary drier. Now he’s got a girlfriend – well, sort of – so he’s given over watching his sheets go round (laundry porn) and bought a white caravan, not to use for anything but to fill up the whole of the concrete hard-standing outside his house so that lorries, vans and neighbours can no longer use it for reversing. Now they struggle with tight three-point turns and worsen the potholes instead. The potholes are full of water. This morning the Council men came and (hurrah!) one of them raised the other up in a cherry-picker and he mended the orange streetlamp. Tonight, for the first time in months, there will be something other than pitch-darkness outside our windows.

Weather – blue sky, just little scratty bits of cloud. But it’s cool. The lawns are wet, the potholes still full of stormwater. Autumn is here to stay.

Past the Chinese chap with the very loud voice and the nice garden.

Past the chap at the end who breeds parrots and lets several dogs out every time he sees me. Hello, doggies! Disappointingly for him, dogs do not tend to attack me.

Past the nettles – a whole back garden, nothing but nettles. I wonder if there is the corpse of a stabbed-person in the middle (we specialise in stabbings round here) or maybe a maggot-infested badger, or an ancient mattress with brambles growing through the springs…

It reminds me of Nan’s garden. There was an old apple tree surrounded by a sea of mint, and on one sawn-off branch of the tree the head of a bisque doll. My uncle hung the dolls head on a twig. Then he joined the RAF and went away, and the twig grew, and grew, and eventually the doll’s head was firmly stuck on the fattened twig. Nan warned me that the doll’s head would be bound to break – the twig would burst it. I didn’t believe her. Then it happened. That’s life, isn’t it? Bad things happen, but somehow you manage to pretend they might not.

And then they do.