I’ve just got back from a university reunion, with people I haven’t seen since the 1980s. I ‘m coming to realise that whole real people have been born, grown-up, married, had children, bought houses and died in that time. It’s an odd feeling.
There were people there I’d known and lost touch with, others I’d only met once or only on Facebook. I walked around the places I used to walk, looking for someone I knew very well, but I never quite caught up with me, disappearing down those stone streets.
A lot of stuff had changed. Brilliant independent shops had become the kind of shops you could find anywhere else, another triumph for Chris Patten and the Tory government’s universal business rate that made it easy for the chains to ‘compete’ and offer ‘choice’ so long as it’s their choice and the competition is run according to their rules. And no patchouli oil. There was a time it was as if they’d sprayed the stuff out of crop-dusting aircraft over Milsom Street. Now there wasn’t a single shop in Walcot Nation that sold it. Not even ‘Appy Daze, the herbal high head-shop, where I had a chat in my Barbour with the white dreadlocked owner and we both bemoaned the fact that The Man had won, man. Heavy trip. Bummer. Maybe next month he’s going to have some essential oils, but the only essential oil we knew about back then was that funny green stuff you spread up the side of a Marlboro back in the days of Not Your Heart Away. Times, as they say, change. The past is another country. And besides, the wench is dead.
Bath was still beautiful. Those funny trees up on the hill, the ones you can see from the main street, Milsom Street, still look as if they’ve been painted on scenery flats in an amateur dramatic production. I got my first pint of decent beer, Wadworth’s 6X, in years after being exiled to the likes of Adnams and Tolly, away from the place I said out loud as I drove past Swindon was still ‘nearly home.’ But the first pub, the Saracen’s Head I went to was empty at noon on a Saturday. It used to be standing room only in the Sary and a sea of voices and cigarette smoke. The Hat And Feathers was shut until the evening and had become a steakhouse.
I still don’t know how I feel about that weekend. It’s left me thoughtful and calm, like the wonderful peaceful walk I had on Sunday morning with someone I’ve talked to on Facebook a lot but only ever met once before. It taught me something too. I’d foolishly said I’d bring some instruments to help out someone’s band. I said I’d play. Back when I’d just left Bath I wanted above pretty much everything to play sax in a band and gig in pubs. This last Sunday, I did for the first time. I was worried about it, but then we played for over two hours and while I missed some notes and messed-up others, so did everyone else and it was ok. It was more than ok.
Then a trip out to the airport and a picnic of bread and humous and water and blueberries in a damp layby discussing the fall of the Moorish civilisation as the rain gusted over rusty farm machinery dumped outside someone’s stone barn. It was as close to a perfect Sunday as I’ve got for years. It was being with people who are part of me. And new ones who feel like that too. Thank-you all. I needed that. Everyone does.