This long Easter weekend, my girlfriend and I drove up to Shropshire, where I grew up. While there we did a bit of a tour of my origin story – the houses I lived in and the schools I boarded at. (I feel I should point out that it was at her request – I didn’t just drag her round my old haunts pointing at houses on a whim!)

Earlier in the week I listened to an excellent podcast in which Ben Willibond, of Them There, talked about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and used it as a way into discussing boarding school trauma – Comfort Blanket Season 2, episode 7. It left me, unexpectedly, reeling a bit in memories of the experience of being abandoned to strangers shortly after my 8th birthday.

Over the years my feelings about my schools, the teachers who worked there and the experiences I had there, have evolved. You only need read School’s Out to know that when I was in my 30s my primary feeling was one of explosive, furious anger. Crucifying then shooting a fictionalised version of the teacher who reduced my stepmum to tears, and then blowing up the school, was deeply therapeutic.

Now, in my 50s, and after being diagnosed with both autism and ADHD, I’ve mellowed towards my second school, Adams’ Grammar in Newport. I was a truly terrible student, and there were 2 teachers in particular who treated me either badly or with such disregard that I responded by checking out of my education entirely; I spent my 6th form almost exclusively in the coffee shop across the road, trying to chat up girls.

Nonetheless, the institution itself was quite indulgent of me, going so far as to let me back in on probation after I’d been expelled, and then letting me into 6th form with a pathetic showing of only 3 O levels. I later learned that the headmaster, Mr Taylor, felt he had seen something in me worth nurturing and protecting. He had been a silent ally as I struggled, and I’ve come to the conclusion that at any other school I would have been toast and would never have made it to higher education. Adams, I think, did about as well with me as any school could have and it was, in the end, a basically benign environment. I was lucky I ended up there.

My previous school, Tettenhall College, was a different story. At TC it felt like there were far more kind and benevolent people on staff than at Adams – people I really liked and who I think fondly of to this day – but the institution itself was dangerous and allowed truly poisonous individuals to treat the boys horribly with no real oversight or repercussions. I was lucky that a paedophile who had found a safe space at TC had left a few years before I arrived, but there was still serious physical and psychological abuse meted out to boys in the junior boarding house during my time there. While I was never actually beaten, many of my dorm mates were, with a metre ruler, and I recall seeing inch-thick black/blue stripes across more than one backside as we changed for games.

I vividly remember one night being made to sleep on a pile of metal scaffolding bosses under a table in an unheated corridor in the depth of winter, and there were occasional ‘special’ swimming lessons where we were told to go trunkless – it is a measure of how much I have suppressed that I genuinely can’t recall which of the staff members it was who insisted that swimming trunks were unhygienic and should be dispensed with whenever he was on duty.

Once I even ran away and went to the local police to report the situation but they simply walked me back to school and handed me straight back, because of course they did.

But honestly, it’s not as if it would have been alright even if TC hadn’t been a haven for monsters. Even if everybody there had been a living saint, the experience of being driven to a strange place and left in the hands of strangers 2 months after my 8th birthday was more than traumatic enough to scar me for life. It’s taken a long time to even really acknowledge and begin to understand what it did to my sense of self and the effect it has had on all my relationships.

So driving back there was a strange, unsettling experience – the first time I’ve revisited those places since I’ve truly begun to reckon with and understand the ways in which they shaped me. It’s a reckoning that is ongoing and probably will be for the rest of my life.

On a more pleasant note, I bumped into an old friend, of my father’s generation, who taught me to act when I joined the village amateur dramatic group as a boy. A kind, gentle man and a terrific actor, I make a point of seeking him out whenever I visit Blists Hill, where he works as part of the living Victorian museum. He brought up a memory of the time Jasper Carrott came to visit our village, and mentioned that he thinks of my dad every time he hears Jasper in The Archers.

My dad and Jasper were good friends, having come up together in the folk clubs of the Midlands in the sixties and seventies. Jasper was even his booking agent for a time. So when my dad moved out to a small village in Staffordshire, Gnosall, and started putting on folk nights at the village hall once a year, it was natural Jasper would be invited. By this point, around 1988 I think, he was probably the country’s biggest stand up comic, and him coming to do a small village hall gig was quite a coup. My dad, keen to milk it, did not announce he would be appearing, and in his introduction apologised for asking the audience’s indulgence for a quick set from ‘my old manager’. When Jasper strode out the roof came off the place. It was an amazing evening.

On Easter Sunday, looking for somewhere to have a pint, my girlfriend and I ventured into a new pub on Gnosall high street, The George and Dragon, since my old local boozer, The Horns, is now locked up and closed. This pub occupies the space that used to be the old village shop, and we sat at a table in the exact spot where, in August 1980, I watched my grandad bend over an ice cream freezer and just keep going, collapsing to the floor, felled by a massive stroke – the first of many that whittled him away over the proceeding years. It was deeply surreal to be sat on that exact spot, raising a glass in his memory.

The locals were friendly and garrulous and, having picked up that I used to be local, asked my name. This led, very quickly, to more reminiscences of the night Jasper Carrot came to the village – ‘He introduced him as his old manager!’ One wonderful night, 35 odd years ago, is still the first thing people bring up when they think of me and my dad and Gnosall.

It was surprisingly moving to go home again, and to be reminded of very dark times of pain and confusion, but also of a night so vivid in peoples memories that it surfaces with the tiniest provocation, bringing smiles and laughter.

When you consciously activate your memory you tend to focus on people and feelings, the big incidents that stick in your head. But when you revisit a place in person other, simpler memories return – I drove a road I must have driven 1,000 times in my teenage years and I still knew each curve and bump; I walked down streets I used to walk every day, navigating places with ease despite not having been there for over 30 years.

The everyday memories, the sights and sounds and textures of a living environment work differently on memory to the big moments, giving rise to more instinctive, visceral recollections and a feeling of temporal displacement and disorientation. It’s all very Sapphire and Steel, frankly.

It’s hardly an original observation, but memories both good and bad persist, tied to locations and people, long after you night think they have faded, echoing down into our everyday lives in unexpected ways. Sometimes it’s good to stir the pot and take a look at what surfaces.

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