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Lancashire lad

I remember growing up in Radcliffe, in Lancashire. A small industrial town, with hundreds of chimneys belching smoke over the valley. None remain now.


Lancashire featuredSteve Latham


The cotton industry has collapsed. Our temporary historical blip, of imperial protection, has been replaced by global capitalism, and the terminal decline of British industry.

Near our house was a railway line. It took courage to cross the lines, because although there was a gate with a crossing, we never knew when a train might come.

In the field grazed cows; and we had to draw on our courage to cross this too, because we couldn’t tell the difference between cows and bulls, and lived in fear of being chased.

Lancashire la 2Across the railway line, was a slag heap. These are the spoil from coal mines. Polluted and polluting. But to us kids, it was a huge, towering mountain, where we could have ‘adventures’.

My best friend had a ‘bogey’, made by his dad, out of old pram wheels, and a plank of wood. It was the only one in our group of friends. And he possessed considerable status as a result.

In story books, I learned that this was rightfully called a ‘soapbox racer’ or ‘go-kart’. But we had never seen a soap box, and a go-kart was a motorised vehicle for racing.

I suLancashire lad 2ppose our use of ‘bogey’ is similar to the ‘bogey’ in railways: a small chassis carrying the wheels for the train carriages.

We used ours to race down the gulleys and ravines in the slap heap, careering down, till we reached the bottom in a noisy skid.

The bogey was steered by a piece of string leading to the front wheels; and it had no breaks to stop with. Halting was effected by judicious use of our feet, scuffing our smart school shoes.

Recently, however, I travelled home, to visit my parents; by train, instead of as usual by car. As I passed our old house, I saw the slag heap, repository of so many memories.

Lancashire lad1It looked smaller. I shouldn’t be surprised. Rain and weather had diminished its size. And I should not have been surprised at my inexact memory.

Dimly remembered places from childhood often appear small when we encounter them later in life. We ourselves were, of course, small; so objects in our environment seemed huge.

But there is always disappointment, when we visit an old haunt. My primary school and the road I used to walk down: so small, so insignificant.

Lancashire lad 3 editar arribaI too was insignificant. Provincial. I now live in London. Compared to this, small town Lancashire is an infinity away, in time as well as in space.

Memory plays tricks. There were no coal mines in our area. So what kind of ‘slag heap’ was it? And my best friend? I can’t remember his name.

Our lives are a journey in disillusionment. Or should be. The question is whether we stay stuck in the regret, or are able to move forward, from the fantasy to the real.

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