I AM IN THE BACK GARDEN of the house I grew up in—number 259 Slade Green Road, Erith. I levitate over the back wall and see lots of colourful wild flowers in my neighbour’s garden. I land in their garden and walk up the path to my neighbour’s house. I knock on their back door and a man answers. I tell him I used to live in the house behind his with my parents and that I have just moved back in. He remembers me as a child and reminds me he once gave me his tortoise. I ask after the lady who lived next door to me and he says she died.
I ask the man if I can walk through his gate to Alderney Road. I explain I want to get my car and bring it to the front of my house on Slade Green Road so I can wash it. He asks his wife. She’s not happy but reluctantly agrees I can use their gate. I tell the couple I wasn’t sure if there was access to Alderney Road still. The man says the side road could be flooded again. We walk through the gate together and sure enough, Grange Road is flooded. I thank the man and get on my way.
I am now riding my bicycle. My mum is cycling beside me. Erith morphs into Spalding, another of my childhood towns. I reach the front gates of my infant school on Westlode Street but it looks different to how I remember it. There are children leaving. I see their faces. My mum and I ride through some narrow alleyways and reach a brick wall. It’s a dead end. We back up and I see a black door covered in cobwebs. I try the handle and find it’s open. It leads into the school staff room. I am just about to go through the door when my mum calls to me to stop. A dinner lady has appeared and opened a side gate for us. We exit through the gate, still on our bicycles.
As we ride along the road it morphs into Babworth Road in Retford, the town I lived in as a teenager, but it still feels like we are in Spalding. We pass a white building. I ask my mum what it is. She says it’s the Ford Metal Plating Company. We pass a petrol station and I remember my dad used to buy sweets there after Thursday night meetings at the Kingdom Hall. Then we ride past a large hotel with flags flying outside. I suggest to my mum that she could visit her brother, my uncle David. He is very old but still lives in Spalding.
We come to a roundabout and exit onto Hallcroft Road. As we ride along, it morphs back into Slade Green Road.
“I think I left the house door open,” I say to my mum.
My mum is worried someone will have broken in.
“We’re insured though, right?” I ask, “And you left Ziggy (my dog) in the house? And the side gate is locked?”
Mum rides ahead and leaves me on my own. I have a bag of yellow sherbet in my right hand. I am rubbing it on the road as I pedal along. Finally, it splits open and I have to eat the sherbet so as not to lose it all.
I hear my mum at a distance. “Oh no!” she cries, “They’ve broken in and taken all our food!”
Just then I see a getaway car speeding away. It shoots down a side street. The side and back windows of the car are broken. I suspect my mum threw stones at it. I can read the number plate clearly: IAA1 343DRG.
I continue pedaling my bicycle up Slade Green Road towards my childhood house. My mobile phone rings. A woman asks for Mark. I tell her she has the wrong number but we chat anyway. I explain I am a web developer and I have just moved back to Erith. She asks me how long I have been back.
“Three hours,” I say, “If you want any web work done just let me know.”
There is a washing line stretched across the road with clothes on it. I ride into a pair of blue pyjamas and they fall off the line. I catch them just before they land on the road. I circle back to a small shop on the edge of the road. The shopkeeper, comes out. I hand the pyjamas to her and tell her they didn’t touch the ground.
“I’ve just moved back to Slade Green Road,” I say.
“What number?” she asks. She seems friendly enough.
“259,” I reply.
“Would you like to buy a raffle ticket?” she asks/
“No,” I reply. “But I do the lottery each week. Maybe I could buy a lottery ticket?”
The woman’s demeanour changes. She seems annoyed at me now.
“No,” she says, “Bert won’t be interested in you!” and walks off in a huff.
I continue riding up the road. There is now a forest on the right-hand side that wasn’t there when I was a child. As I approach number 259 I see the road has been widened. The pavement now runs through the front gardens of the houses on the left side of the street. I reach number 259 and see the front door is orange, just as it was when I was seven years old.