I was in Kettering again yesterday. Sat under a tree in the park next to the art gallery for a while, chomping on a veggie baguette and thinking thoughts. But then a group of those kids in white baseball caps and cheap sports gear became a little too interested in me. You don't sit under trees in their world, you sit on walls. And you don't go anywhere by yourself either; you have to find a gang of people dressed like you.So anyway, I thought they were going to start hassling me, given how much they were looking in my direction and giggling (or is this paranoia?)(or guilt because I've abused them so comprehensively in my writing and in the County Court of my Buddhist mind?), so I got up and decided to go and do something else.
I went up to visit Southbank. Southbank was where I used to work, at the top of (what road is it?) on the way out of town, a big old residential care unit for people with learning difficulties tacked onto the end of a day centre and a respite care unit for the same client group, both of which went under the imaginative name of Elm Bank.I left in 2000 or 2001, I think, when social services began shutting down its old res units; I was transferred down the road to a place that looks out over another one of the parks. I probably shouldn't publish its name here because its name is just its address, no more (or it used to be) and I believe it now houses the old respite unit. Don't want every unscrupulous person knowing where to find a nice little stash of drugs and money now, do we?
Southbank was kind of an important place for me. I started working as a trade union representative there, and got involved in a couple of really interesting union disputes. I also became entangled in the scariest problem I've ever had to face at work: a black employee accused the management and the staff of racial discrimination against her and named me as one of the instigators. I don't need to tell you that I don't think I was guilty. I don't think the management were guilty either, as much as I wrangled with them over many other things. It went to tribunal (or "tribuneral" as half the staff insisted on pronouncing it); and ironically I wasn't allowed to testify in my own or the management's defence because (I believe) my over-analytical way of considering the situation would have played too much in the complainant's favour.
At Southbank I also met **** who became my partner for a few years about a year after we met; and at Elm Bank I made what could have been a fantastic friend in ***. But I blew it. I blew it as I blew almost everything in those days because I was still messed up from my mother's death, and half crazy trying to manage the descent into madness of the crazy relative I was living with, and--all other excuses aside--an immature twat to boot (yes I know I was in my thirties, but some people mature slower than others). At Elm Bank I also had a brief--spectacularly brief--romance with *****, who I thought at the time was the coolest woman I'd ever met, with her piercings and tattooes and her shambolic dress and general counter-culture attitude. We went out a couple of times but she found out I wasn't the bloke I seemed to be and lost interest almost immediately. Unfortunately she didn't tell me and dragged me around Northampton on that second date clearly hoping (I can see with hindsight--I was too drunk at the time) that I'd get the hump with how rude she was being and fuck off. Which I almost did, leaving her in a huff in the King Billy pub late that December night, but when I got outside I couldn't remember which way the bus station was, or the taxi rank, and I became, in my intoxicated state, really scared. So I went back in. I've always wished I'd just walked. Sober I realised that the King Billy was only a ten minute walk from the bus station.
(This woman reappeared in my life a little while ago. Turns out she's a friend of Sonia's. I wrote to her and we got into a brief correspondence over MySpace. She invited me over to dinner a few times but was never available to finalise a date. Then I made some crack about her getting boring in her old age because she was cutting down on the drugs and she went silent on me. This time, I just deleted her from my list. Anybody can piss on me once--I'm very piss-onable--but I'm too old and gnarly to let anybody do it twice.)
When I got up to this Southbank/ Elm Bank complex (remember, before I wandered off the point I was walking up there yesterday), I found it fenced off, all the windows boarded up, wild flowers growing out of the rooves, little jungles of grass three feet high in place of what were once (fairly) well-manicured lawns. Elm Bank, of course, (or at least I think so--memory has blurred the facts), moved downhill to the other home I spoke of, and the plan the last time I knew anything about it was to join the day centre up with one in Corby. That had obviously gone ahead, or something like it, because the only creatures that can get into the compound now without a crowbar or a strong pair of pliers either have four legs or two wings. But the plan to sell the land Soutbank and Elm Bank were on had obviously failed miserably. And it isn't going to get any better until the credit crunch is over.
It was strange, but salutary, standing outside this wreck of a formerly-thriving place watching trees rustle and birds croak and wood warp in the sun (okay I didn't see any wood warp). Everything changes, just like the Buddhists say. Southbank is gone. Elm Bank is gone. My girlfriend is gone. My friend is gone. The shot at even some sort of late-blooming mature friendship with Sonia's mate (which would have been nice) is gone. Everything goes. Which proves that in a weird way, nothing really matters. If you are patient and level-headed and don't let things upset your equilibrium, eventually every problem you're faced with (even being accused of racism--jesus!) will be part of the past. But you have to guard your friends carefully and treat them with the appreciation they deserve for giving part of their lives to you. If you don't they'll be hurt and one day you won't have them anymore.
But my karma or time or whatever other forces are at work here has given me enough health and security (so far) and a whole new set of friends to get it right with. As I walked back down the hill from Southbank I said a silent prayer of thanks for that and then headed to the benjo for a wee.