THERE it was, sitting at the end of the street: my old house. The gravel-covered concrete driveway with Dean’s car, parked at an angle as it always was to avoid driving into the street sign in front; the white-fronted semi-detached house, as ever with musical sounds coming from the lower left window and a halogen glow from the top right. From that window too: Darren, who was expecting me. I descended the stairs to the front door, no longer under threat from the creeping brambles we had tamed in my time. Indoors, the sounds of a guitar lesson came from the downstairs bedroom, a recording studio by day. To the right, the living room: the same old sofa, the same grey carpet, the same old pile of exercise equipment and assorted detritus in the far corner though with notable new additions – metallic reflector panels and lighting stands, remnants of the day, I’m told, the living room became a photography studio. The kitchen next, our old debating ground, still with its work surface of fajita kits and ketchup; a fruit bowl filled, as ever, with fruits of surprising sophistication, none of them eaten; the tops of the cupboards still lined with barrels of protein and carbohydrate powders. On the stove a pan was frying fish, destined for the same, square bowl with leaves on that the same meal had been so often been served while I had been there. The garden, with its weeds just about under control - the best we could ever achieve – was the same. The pond remained drained, its audience of crumbling stone animal figurines rescued from beneath the once chaotic flora wishing, as ever, for the fish to come back. The barbecue had moved, the pile of tyres had grown, evidence of attempts to grow vegetables remained, the old shed had been emptied and a crime-scene tent had appeared at the bottom of the garden (where once we had excavated an old patio, believing it to be a Roman fort), but in all other ways it was precisely how I had left it. But now, who is this? Here comes ,a cat, the newest housemate: Lily, only 1, still adventurous and extremely affectionate, chasing moths in the failing light of dusk. Pets had not been allowed in my time: I was jealous. Back in the kitchen Dean, Darren and I reminisced; the dream team back together again. We spoke of PhDs and cheesecakes, the discussions instantaneously in-depth and impenetrable to outsiders, including the third housemate, my replacement’s replacement, who hid upstairs in my old room, now off limits but probably the same as before. Waving farewell, Darren and I drove on up the road, past the sports field I used to enjoy crossing, past the end of the tube line and the church where I used to play, unaware at the time of the opportunities I was being afforded. To the pub: the Cock & Dragon, our old favourite, an old man’s pub with stuffed fish and moose heads on the wall and bitter on tap, but beneath the facade a good old-fashioned Thai restaurant at heart. We chatted away, talking weddings and work; cats, holidays and being uncles, all of the things that had changed since I had left, since I had moved on to happier times.
It was nice to be reminded of all of the things I had once called home, to be reminded that there were indeed nice things to remember. For so long I had looked back on the house as where I had lived during a difficult time: the failed London experiment; where I had lived when I wasn’t happy, when I had felt trapped. But now I could see that the house should be exempt from the bad memories. It was in the kitchen I had received an email that led to me being where I am today, offering me a place at Birmingham. It was in the living room where late night housemate rivalry on the Wii Fit bubble game had defined new levels of competitiveness. It was in that downstairs bedroom/studio where I had my first singing lesson. It was in that bedroom upstairs, the window on the left, where I had lived among my own mess on the floor, desperately looking for a way out, my emotions as tormented as the mess itself. It was that mess on the floor that my girlfriend, now wife, came unannounced to sort, to put me back on my feet. A lot happened in that house at the end of the street.