time in northampton

Sometimes the passing of time doesn’t concern me, and sometimes it does.

I left my Dad and Jenny on the boat in Reading (which, by the way, seems to look like a bizarre patchwork of run-down 1980s helltown and 1990s architect’s model of a perfect waterside metropolis) and have now come to Northampton.

Northampton, for those of you who don’t know this, is where I grew up and where my Mum and a good handful of my real friends still live.

And this afternoon I went to visit my friend Natalie, who recently pulled off the quite impressive trick of squeezing a real live brand-new human out of her cervix.

She’s looking pretty good for it; and the baby is looking very lovely too. But – and I know this is a banal thing to say, but I’m going to say it anyway – I couldn’t help but be surprised by how quickly we’ve gone from sitting in school classrooms together as 16-year-olds to being thirty and Natalie having bought a house and becoming a mother.

And I was telling Natalie’s boyfriend Matt about how the sixth-formers I teach now don’t believe me when I say that when I was in the sixth form nobody had mobile phones. (“So how did you text each other?” they ask, completely straight-faced.)

And we talked about how the music we listened to as kids – 2Unlimited, Nirvana, Oasis even – has the same kind of historical relevance to today’s teenagers as, say, ABBA did for us, in that it’s now retro music that came out around or before the time they were born.

And we sat there terrified for a few minutes.

I walked home from Natalie’s – past the streets I lived on when I was growing up; past the county cricket ground with its big new stands that were never there when I was a kid; and through Abington Park. The park is packed full of memories, of course, and particularly so because it’s the first week of the school holidays and was swarming with feral teenagers, just as it used to be when I was one myself.

I bought a cappuccino at the Abington Park cafe (you could never have got one of those back when it was called The Old Oak) and I stopped to look at the ‘aviary’.

For some reason, in Abington Park there is a path, which is flanked on either side by rusting cages full of ‘exotic’ birds: canaries, parakeets, and so on, that seem completely unchanged since my first memories of them nearly thirty years ago.

The grand finale of the little ornithological spectacle was always the peacocks. Such majestic birds! Except that the peacocks in Abington Park hardly ever showed their feathers. In almost all of my memories of them, they just sat there, feathers tucked away, doing nothing.

And today they were still sitting there, almost exactly the same. There they were, trapped and bored like everyone else by Northampton and its sprawling wasteland of houses and industrial estates; its nothingness in the very middle of the very middle of the Midlands; trapped there like so many of my friends, for whom lowered ambitions and property super-inflation have kept them stuck, wings clipped, in this godforsaken characterless nothingness of a town.

And I thought about the passing of time again, and didn’t know whether to be frightened or relieved.