My Childhood Remembered With EH Shepard Sketching The Images in My Mind

I went to visit my parents and I wondered, when did I stop calling this home. Even in adulthood, when we live in independent homes of our own, it takes a while for the home of your childhood to not still be called your home. In all that rented accommodation, long after  returning to your parents no longer means bundling dirty clothes into a bag to abuse their amenities, their home is still home. The security of the familiarity of decades brings relief. Even when I owned my first flat, a dark basement perfect for capturing the sounds of men being brotherly and then brutal and then brotherly again on the streets above every night, that was not home. After 3am, I would occasionally hear a couple sneaking down the steps, viewing the mossy concrete corridor that was as near as we could get to garden as the perfect place for their drink sodden genitals to meet. I would noisily rattle my keys in the door and hear their panicked escape, tripping over their loosed garments. It was sometimes a game to wait an extra second or two to ensure their escape was as clumsy and horrified as possible. I discovered the cruelty within a human who prefers strangers not to use his doorframe as a sex alcove. Some time in my thirties, the home I lived in became my home. Having a child underlines that, you are as much an adult now as you’ll ever be, even if in your mind you feel being an adult should feel different. 

As a child, I imagined something happened, one morning you woke up and your brain was retuned, the childish things left behind. When you are a child you imagine old people have some sort of old people setting, you don’t think that they may look at their changing skin and eyes and think, “but where did all the time go? I am not old.” Do we all suddenly face a startling moment like David Bowie, sitting in the waiting room in The Hunger, visibly observing his own decay?

Now when I return to the home that was my home for the longest time, I am able to contemplate my childhood good fortune. I was born in the house, a snow storm preventing a hospital visit. I don’t know if there was hot water and towels and panic, or if that is just saved for dramatisations that usually end with a gloom faced Doctor walking from the bedroom, the silence behind him saying everything. 

Mediums require their audiences to only see the positives as they gabble to the assembled ghosts, I can have a knack of emphasising the negative when peering backwards at the dead time. I presume this is because, as a performer, we know the narrative must be filled with gloom, a past of little tragedies that an invisible biographer can stitch together to reveal the “private pain of funnyman”. 

“he lost a shoe in a well when he was three. It was his best shoe, and if you watch his routines carefully, you will notice in many ways they are cry for a shoe, for that shoe, and no other…then there was that time he dropped his candy in Peterborough…”

Walking through the nearby woods that were my play arena as a child, I thought of pf the everyday adventures of making camps in the chalky holes by the roots of fallen trees and the steep incline where my Action Man would face another death after being hurled from his armoured vehicle. The Action Man whose face I hadn’t melted with matches, like that other one I had disfigured over a long afternoon with some kitchen matches. 

When a child, all that fun seemed to be nothing unusual, didn’t everyone live near a wood of adventure just near a churchyard of imposing tombs? Walking through the graveyard, I would peer through the cracks and wonder if I could just make out an outline of the skeleton of a long dead miller. I used to hang out at the graveyard a lot. I had started my Boris Karloff obsession, so it seemed the right thing to do. I am not sure why, at 9 or maybe 10, I visited the graveyard so much, perhaps I thought it gave me depth. 

“mother, father, I am going to the graveyard again, I feel I must contemplate”

Then I just looked at all the stones I had read many times before and sat on a bench until bored.

I was the oddest child at the school bus stop, and often reminded of the fact. That was before you discover there are lots of odd children, but you won’t meet too many until your school days are numbered. Towards the end, more and more break out of their protective shells, knowing the world will soon be bigger than 6B.

 The village then still had eccentrics and rumours and a murder, but that was committed just before I was born. If I heard the accents of some of those people now I would probably realise they were the last generation to have those ticks and idiosyncrasies. How long had such voices survived until mass TV culture created a universal slang? 

The woman who lived with cats once terrified my newly red coated sisters by telling them there was a policeman at the bottom of the hill who arrested children in bright anoraks. 

As the experience of others is revealed, the good fortune of youthful opportunities, of having a good relationship with your parents, and of never having a red anorak, become clearer.

Tour is off to Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Evesham, Cirencester, Edinburgh and plenty more. Plus shows in East London w Grace Petrie & Josie Long next week, and new Christmas shows with Brian Cox, all details for everything HERE

Happiness Through Science DVDs are HERE


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