They say you can never go back. You can go back, of course. The thing is, when you do, people look at you funny, and you can feel a bit like a tourist, or worse still, an intruder.
The last time I went back to my hometown of Scunthorpe, was some 15 years ago. It was my first visit in four or five years and I wanted to indulge my nostalgic side by driving down my old street for a look at the old house where I used to live. If was expecting to feel all warm and fuzzy about the experience, I could have saved myself the trip. At the very least, I could have packed a pair of glasses with some seriously tinted lenses.
I remember pulling into the close, at the rear of the house and glancing over at the old garden gate that I'd opened and closed so many times over the years. Ideally it should have been a tender, poignant moment, but it didn't quite turn out that way. A group of young kids were kicking around a football, just like I'd done with my mates all those years ago, and seeing a car they didn't recognise, they ambled over for a closer look.
It's worth mentioning that this was a council housing estate. Of course, the word estate is a bit of a misnomer, since it suggests, on this side of the Atlantic at least, a rambling country homestead with an elegant manor house to match. In reality, it's social housing for the working classes - more urban blight than country life - so things can get a little rough around the edges, you might say. (The photo above is of Westcliffe Shopping Precinct, just across the road from my old house. I must have walked that little strip thousands of times while growing up. Can't say I remember leaving beer bottles on the ground, though. Not Stella Artois ones, anyway.)
Anyway, these kids were very young, probably no more than 5 or 6 years old, but with their football hooligan-in-training buzz-cuts and best menacing scowls on display, they already had the rough around the edges thing down. As the boldest one sided up to the car window for a better look at whoever was invading his territory, I looked up, and our eyes met just long enough for him to dismiss me with a swiftly delivered reverse V-sign hand gesture.
What? Had I really just been advised to fuck off , by a snot-nosed 6-year old kid right outside my old house? I mean, I wasn't expecting a parade or anything, but this was depressing.
Apparently, things had changed. I had changed too, of course. Specifically, I'd changed my mind about wanting to hang around my old house, and instead I quickly retired to my old local public house in order to console myself with a couple of pints of John Smith's bitter. As melodramatic as it sounds, I remember feeling a little like a door had truly closed on my past, and I felt like such an outsider. It was really an odd experience, and I've yet to return. I think I'm a little frightened of what I might find next time.
So, Come Back is one of the songs (there are others; you have been warned!) that sprang from some of the conflicting emotions that can rise to the surface when looking back at a fateful decision to leave the place where you were born. It seems like there's always a part of you that feels like you might still belong there, yet you've gone and made a home and a new life in another place entirely. With this, comes that vague, yet persistent feeling of rootlessness that you carry with you. And let's not forget the slow, guilt-ridden realisation that you once saw fit to ditch your family and turn your back on your heritage and all that, which is something that weighs more heavily on your mind as you watch your own child grow into adulthood (one of my biggest karmic fears is that my daughter will end up marrying an Englishman and move to the land of my birth!)
So, the world spins madly on; family members come and go; your old hometown changes, and you change too. Then, one day you wake up and realise that you've been gone for 28 years. It hardly seems possible, but I've now lived considerably longer in the US than I did in the UK. It's a strange feeling, I can tell you. Yeah, so much has changed, and still you have all these questions: Could I ever go back? Would they want me to come back? Did anyone actually notice that I left? Could I have another pint of bitter please?
I'd come back if only you'd let me in
I'd be there bearing roses
I'd endeavour to crawl upon hand and knee
While you all stare down your noses
I have changed like you
Rearranged and new
I'll show you proof
When I come back to you
I'd come back if only you'd change some things
I'd be there without warning
Bring back pennies, steam trains and Slade Alive!
I'd be there there by the morning
You have changed like me
Rearranged, I see
I'll tell the truth
When I come back to you
Places to go, love to take or to leave
Big consequences we never conceived
Time on the clock ticking over
So far away is much closer
Than we might believe
I'd come back if only you'd talk to me
I would answer your questions
Where did I go and why did I let you down?
Funny that you should mention...
We have changed, it's true
Edges frayed and unglued
We'll know the truth
When I come back to you
Come Back ©2011 Across The Water Music (BMI)
(Photograph by Dominic Romney)