Today's challenge - The place you grew up - was an interesting one for me. I grew up in a West Midlands town called Halesowen and lived there from the age of four until I was twenty one; which means that I have a broad spectrum of memories of the place and it was terribly difficult to pick any one particular point in time to write about. However, I think the memories between the age of six and eleven are probably the strongest and so I decided to head back to the Halesowen of the 1980s...
The place I grew up
I grew up in a terraced house on a hill in a West Midlands town called Halesowen.
I always liked to think that we lived at what was the sweet spot of the hill as, whenever it snowed, it was always just outside our house that cars would run out of puff; wheels spinning impotently against the gradient, their engines redlining for a few seconds before the driver would finally admit defeat and reverse in order to trundle sheepishly back down the hill.
On the opposite side of the street, just down the road from where we lived, were a number of factory units. I’m not entirely sure what they did – although I still remember the occasional acrid chemical smell that would drift from them on the breeze – but the factories were important because, once the workers had gone home for the night, their car parks were our playgrounds. I learned to ride my bike on the factory car park, riding around and around in circles with my dad steadying the saddle, until I suddenly realised my dad was standing watching me and I’d been riding on my own for the last five minutes (the shock of which caused me to immediately fall off – but it was worth it, I’d earned myself a Flash Gordon sticker album!).
The road sloped sharply downwards – making it ideal for high velocity skateboarding; a practice that would likely have given my parents fits if they’d known about it. But we were young, we were invincible and danger wasn’t even a concept, let alone a variable that factored into our decision making process. At the bottom of the road, a right turn took you onto the main road that led into town but, in order to do that, you had to tackle the tortuous slope of Furnace Hill which always seemed impossibly steep. At the top of the hill, should you veer from the main road, you could eventually reach a path that led you to a brook where we would swing on a rope and dare each other to venture into the abyss black culvert from which the flow of water emerged. We rarely went far.
However, if one ignored the temptation of the brook, you could cut through the grounds of the high school to emerge on the other side of Furnace Hill, almost in the centre of Halesowen now, the spire of the millennia old church the focal point of the view.
There were only a few places that I enjoyed spending time at in Halesowen but, one of them, was so popular with me that, during the school holidays, I’d make a daily pilgrimage to it; scaling Furnace Hill on the way there and my own road on the way back.
I was a voracious reader in my youth. I had devoured the entire collection of fiction possessed by our school library by the time I was six and had moved on to reading encyclopaedias so joining the library was an amazing experience for me. With thousands upon thousands of books to choose from, I dove in with gusto; and never more than during the school holidays when I’d get up early in the morning and set out with a plastic bag full of the library books I’d finished. I’d traipse up Furnace Hill, trudge into the centre of Halesowen and into the library. Empty my bag at the counter and wait as they scanned the books back in. Then I’d walk around the library and pick eight new books to read before walking home, plastic bag again bulging, and spend the day tearing through them. The next morning, the process would be repeated. Eight books a day, six days a week for six weeks at a time. It’s safe to say, I did my fair share of reading as a child.
The more I write, the more I realise that all my memories of the place I grew up are positive. Maybe that’s just the way my mind works; I don’t tend to bother dwelling on the bad, such memories have a tendency to simply evaporate from my head. And maybe that means my vision of the place is one that has been filtered through rose-tinted spectacles but, since they’re my memories, I guess that’s allowed…