I was catching up on my reading a bit yesterday - in particular Shannon's blog, probably my favourite of all the blogs I read regularly. Always inspired and interesting, and I love the way he writes about bringing up his daughter in a style which is refreshingly free from the nauseatingly gooey terms that so many parents seem to use when referring to their young offspring. I imagine she'll come to treasure the memories it'll bring back in years to come.
I remember very little of my own very early childhood - until I was about six or seven only maybe a dozen isolated hazy recollections come to mind. Even looking at the handful of photos which have survived doesn't trigger anything. Before my parents bought their first house and we "settled" when I was 14, we'd lived in a total of I think ten different places, none longer than three years and most a matter of a few months. While I was growing up it didn't seem to matter all that much: a facet of the Army life was that everyone else was in the same boat, and so the answer to the question "Where are you from?" was easy - it was the last place you happened to have lived at.
But when my mother died in 1988 I quite unexpectedly found myself experiencing an acute sense of not "belonging" anywhere. My stongest link with my past had suddenly been broken, and although by that time I'd been living in Coventry 15 years, the longest time I'd ever lived anywhere, it wasn't "home". So one Saturday, I set off on a train journey down to London - to Hornchurch - in search of my past. It was where I was born, where my grandparents and aunts/uncles had lived, and because we always used to go visiting them, it was the only place we ever went back to.
I remember on the 45-minute journey out on the District Line losing count of the number of times I nearly got off at the next station, endlessly doubting whether I was going to find what I was looking for - half-remembered places and events from thirty or more years previously. But I persevered. And I was glad I did. Although my grandparents had died and all my relatives had moved away, everywhere was just as I'd remembered it: the road from Upminster Bridge station leading past my grandparents' flat... the newsagents' where I'd been treated to an ice lolly... my aunts' houses next door to each other on Upminster Road... the fence I'd looked through as a small boy at the school where my cousins had gone... my other aunt's house just round the corner... and the church where I'd been baptised. And finally, on the other side of town, the house we'd lived in when I was just a baby, still just about recognizable from the background in a couple of old photos of me in my pram.
I took some photos to cement it all in my memory and a few days later when I'd had them developed I looked at the souvenir of my little pilgrimage. I'd found the answer to my question; I had a past; I'd found my roots.