She was a voice on a morning telephone

That’s how I wanted it to start. The story I never wrote, maybe because someone had already written it and it was called Maybe I’ll Come Home In The Spring, or it could have been called Two Lane Blacktop, or it could have been Jeff Buckley singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, or a 17 year-old’s winter afternoon at the Cross Keys and the Red Lion and what from here looks like a phantom cavalcade of BSA A10s and Vauxhall Vivas, a Renault 5, a Bonneville Triton, a couple of Minis and A-roads that killed people back then.

We knew where the crashes had been, the place where the car burned, the turning the car had come out of in front of the lorry, the spot where the road was covered in Maltesers one morning going to school, Star’s field, the dead cats by the road now and then, half something to feel sorry for, half something to be afraid of. The sports field where the flower show was every year, where the puffball mushrooms grew, where we kicked them thinking they were poison, the tiny muddy medieval lane stiled with stones each end where adder berries grew shining red against the grass. The place I grew up. The place I’m still from, even though I can never go back there because it isn’t there.

Sometimes I can still feel that mood,almost. The hope. The passing show. A girl called Emma – and there were lots of girls called Emma and Sally and Sandy and Wendy in those days, where I was, where I lived – once said it:  “All of the best times are sad. You know that.” And I sort of did, even then.

And sad because although they’ll always be with you, these memories of all of us driving from one pub to another, girls riding pillion with their blond hair streaming a foot behind them in the 70mph slipstream of that winter afternoon, the smell of hot oil violent against the smell of cold fields, although we’ll always have that, those of us still alive and maybe for all I know the others too, that’s the rub. We’ll always have that. And although the Red Lion’s shut now the last decade and a half, it’s not that. We can’t go back because we can’t go back.

All of the best times are sad. We knew that.

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