March to the Sea
Another one of those weekends where I seem to exit it even less rested than I started it. On Sunday the girls were at an all day festival of pop in Sunderland, my stomping ground of old, so I drove them up in the morning and then hung around seeing old friends and taking Jacob to the beach. After waiting at a McDonalds that transformed temporarily into one of Dante’s circles of hell for an hour the girls re-emerged from the gig and we headed home. I downed a caffeine drink on the way back to make sure I didn’t start drifting on the empty and terrifyingly dark A19, so when we finally got back sometime after midnight last night I ended up lying on my bed wide eyed and awake for quite a while. Rather expectedly I’m functioning about as well as a coalition government, except with added caffeine shakes.
Tiredness aside though, it was a really fantastic day. I’ve rarely been back to Sunderland since I abandoned it for the leafier surroundings of York over a decade ago. Thankfully the friends I left behind tend to travel to York on a fairly regular basis for drinking, which is understandable given the alternative. It was the first time I’d gone back since starting a family, and it allowed me to reflect on just how far I’ve come in my life since I left. Standing on the beach with my little man tentatively dipping his toes into the water I could look out across the sea and reflect on how I was undeniably a proper grown up now. It felt rather good.
In the afternoon we went back to the crumbling old terraced house that was home to me and five others for over half a decade. It was home to decadence, poverty, good times and bad. Ostensibly I went back to take photos of the place because it’s where Blood on the Motorway opens, and I wanted a visual refresher of the place for the opening paragraphs. But standing on the crumbling stone steps and looking out on a street that has barely changed in the intervening years I felt a slightly overwhelming wave of nostalgia, along with a rather unexpected sense of pride.
I realised that I’ve come a long way over the years, transforming into a fully-fledged human being from the bumbling buffoon I used to be. The guy who lived in that house and would wake up without gas and electricity more often than not; who used to set his alarm for 1.45 pm so that he could wake up to watch Neighbours; who used to return from a weekly shop with seven frozen pizzas and a box of cereal. I’ve always had a sense that I’ve been underachieving somehow, stumbling through life from one day to the next, a sense traditionally borne out by the overwhelming evidence in its favour. In the past I was a bit of a fucking shambles really, but stood on those stone steps it suddenly occurred to me that I’m not really, not any more.
I look at my life now, at my wonderful family, my two wonderful kids, and I can’t quite believe I made it to this point. Quite aside from the fact that I seem to have stumbled into an actual bona fide career entirely by accident, I’ve also ended up with a brilliant family. My little girl spent the day yesterday with her mum and was good as gold the whole time, when quite frankly she could have been an absolute nightmare and there’d have been little anyone could have done about it. She’s such a lovely girl; incredibly sweet natured, caring and considerate, and has a brilliant sense of right and wrong. My little man too is an absolute sweetie, endlessly charming everyone who comes into contact with him, and every bit as good natured as his big sister. I can only assume that I’ve had something to do with how well they’re turning out, and after a life of trying to achieve something, anything, it occurs to me that I’ve managed to get there without even realising it.
As one of my friends said after watching me chase Jacob as he went on some kamikaze run up a hill in the park; ‘I can’t quite get my head around this whole Paul the adult’ thing. Neither can I, but I’m glad that’s who I’ve become.