‘The Trees’ by Philip Larkin begins with:
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
There’s no real way back for me now
Every once in a while I get on the train and go visit my home town. It’s a pretty regular place which welcomes the world with the sound of diesel engines and the smell of a dusty Victorian waiting room. From the platform edge, if you stand on tip toes and know where to look, you can see Brush electrical machines. The Brush is a factory where my dad worked for forty years, he cycled there and back every day of his working life, I don’t really know what he did there but he went in clean and came back covered in grease. It’s a place that taught me a lot about social inequality and it made me angry and it made me hate Thatcher. But not once did he grumble.
After leaving the station I take a walk through the average streets of Loughborough. In my memory the sun is always shining, but in reality it’s usually overcast and raining.
I go past the Curzon cinema. In the art-deco dark I heard Pearl and Dean and watched Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow. A film I would never dare to remember if it weren’t for my first kiss. I can still taste it and strangely enough it tasted a little bit like popcorn.
Then I visit the Emmanuel with its slate roof and black railings. But it isn’t a primary school anymore, it’s a council building. I squeeze up close to the railings which seem to have always been there and the feel of them brings back the excitement of home-time. The building is empty but in my mind’s eye I can see the brightly lit windows misted with breath and I can see paper chains strung from one side of the class to the other and I can see chalk and glitter pictures put up on the walls before bonfire night. Over there used to be the outside toilets where at break time we’d compete to see who could pee the highest. I gained celebrity status when I peed all over Mark Gregory.
Then it’s on to York Street. Philip Larkin used to ride the train from Hull to visit his elderly mother here every weekend. As a teenager I imagined looking at the world through his eyes and even carried a book of his glum poems around with me. If you don’t do something toe-curling and cliched at the age of 17 then you’ve never really been 17. I then press on to the house where I grew up. The streets where I learned to ride a bike are filled with a tender knowing, the type of knowing that pulls at your insides. Still buried in the back garden is my childhood pet, wrapped up in his soft blanket. And from my bedroom window I can still see a tree which is no longer there.
Larkin’s second verse:
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
But I won’t be able to go back there again. Not for a long time anyway. I’ve moved with my young family to the other side of the world, to Australia.
I’ve seen many of my friends fall apart, made ill, ruined by the job. I don’t need to explain why this has happened, after all I’ve spent the past six years parodying and poking fun at the reasons. But politics and regulation and consumer culture have wrecked our profession. This isn’t funny, so I’m sorry if I ever made you laugh, I never meant to. And because of Brexit, because of the perplexing and upsetting decision to return to an era of baseless flag-waving I’ve sold off my assets. There’s no real way back for me now. So if you want to find the problem with the NHS and you want someone to blame then look no further than me. I am the problem. Because I’m someone who can never return home.
‘The Trees’ by Philip Larkin ends with:
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.