I am officially middle-aged. Whilst looking around Whitby Abbey early this morning I decided it would be a good idea to become a member of English Heritage
. You know so I could spend my weekends pottering around old ruins and castles for free. It seemed to make sense. I am finally acting my age.
I also joined my girlfriend up without asking her if she'd like that. She is still a young woman and when I told her the good news she was a little confused as to why I would do such a thing. But pretended to be pleased when I told her that we could go on trips together and see smashed up buildings. Ah well if I am going to be all middle-aged then she will have to be too. Who needs night clubs and recreational drugs when you could be looking round St Augustine's Abbey and Conduit House? For FREE. Once you'd paid Â£77 for the year. She'll come round.
It was still early, about 9.30 once I had got to the Abbey, but I'd already been for a run up the hilly road near my hotel. I had listened to Nick Doody interviewing Bill Hicks
in the Doubling Up podcast. It's a fascinating chat done when Nick was a green young student and Bill Hicks was still alive. You should listen to it if you get the chance. Not only do you hear some great stuff from Bill, but it's almost like a little play. Nick, the aspiring comedian, with little to no experience, talking to a tired and slightly depressed and lonely sounding legend. Sometimes the young Nick is too keen to talk about the comedy and misses the subtext when it sounds like Hicks is about to open up, but Nick can't be blamed for that. He was young and excited and interested in comedy, not hearing about the existential dread that his chosen profession would lead to.
Bill Hicks (who laughs spookily like Stewart Lee) is impressed with this young student's questions (and that's something again that I can identify with - he would have spoken to legions of journalists who knew nothing about him and then speaks to a fan who asks pertinent questions, does comedy himself and at least knows a bit about Bill's work) and asks him if he'd like to come on and do 15 minutes at the start of the gig that he's coming to do in Oxford. Hilariously, presented with this opportunity, the young Doody is non-committal about this slightly insane proposition. But what a nice man Hicks proved himself to be. You've got to listen to this little radio play if you haven't already. It's funny and sad and slightly wonderful.
There was more nostalgia to come today, as my drive from Whitby to Darlington took me past Middlesbrough, where my grandparents had lived. There were signs to Captain Cook's Birthplace Museum, which was where my grandad used to work when I was a small boy. I thought I would pop back and have a look for old time's sake. I had some time to kill.
The museum was in the middle of a big park and as I walked there from the car park I passed by some enclosures with animals and birds in them. Nothing fancy, just goats and chickens and stuff. But to the folk of Middlesbrough even regular animals are fantastical and unfamiliar. But I remembered 35 or so years ago my grandad had shown me around the animals. He had asked me "Have you ever seen a pig with one eye?" and when I said, "No." He put his hand over one of his eyes and said, "You do this."
I laughed. But at the time I didn't actually get it. I thought he was saying that he was the pig with one eye, but only many years later did I understand the joke (he was looking with one eye- geddit?).
But aside from that not much was familiar about the park. But then nearly four decades have passed since I was last there, so it's not surprising things have changed.
Afterwards I decided to put the addresses of both sets of my grandparents into my sat nav and revisit those houses that I came to so often as a child, but hadn't been to in many years. In the case of my mother's parents I had been down to their house in the last ten years, but it's been a good while since since I'd been down to my dad's parents house. Maybe fifteen years.
Weirdly, even though I had been to both houses as an adult, now I returned both the roads were much, much shorter than I remembered. I'd wondered if I would get emotional returning to these places, but they only seemed like the ghosts of places I had been. They were now the homes of someone else and it was hard to connect them with the buildings that I had spent so much time in and had so many memories about. It was familiar and yet strange and alien. I was glad I had gone back, but there was nothing for me here any more. I had my memories of my grandparents and they were weirdly more solid than the bricks and mortar that they had happened in.
I drove away from my dad's parents' house. The other times I did this my Grandad and Nannan would be standing outside their house, my Grandad waving a white handkerchief as we went. I didn't check the rear view mirror for ghosts.