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The past is a foreign country...

I love history. Last weekend I went for a walk on the moors above Allendale in the north Pennines and I was fascinated by the industrial ruins up there. If I’d not been a teacher I would have been an archaeologist – I was a huge Time Team fan and I’ve done a couple of online archaeology courses. I’ve recently been immersed in more recent, and more personal, history. I’m currently working on a novel set partly during the miners’ strike and the village in it is quite closely based on the small mining town where I grew up. I haven’t been back since 2008 and there is a part of me that is resisting a ‘research visit’ because my memories and the reality will inevitably be dramatically different.

I took a ‘Google’ tour down the main street a few weeks ago and, even since I last visited, the place has changed. The number of fast food outlets has increased, there is now a charity shop and something that looks like a second-hand furniture warehouse/house clearance service. Kwik Save is now a smart-looking Sainsbury’s and the betting shop has moved. I zoomed in to my old school in a different part of the town. It’s gone! It’s been replaced by a modern building and is part of an academy chain.

But there are a lot of reminders of the place that I spent the first eighteen years of my life. A hairdressers run by the same person for as long as I can remember, the Victorian primary school, the pubs and working men’s clubs and the red-brick council estate where I grew up. It’s also strange what I can’t remember; where some of the alleys lead, how to get from one part of the town to another and exactly which bungalow my grandmother moved in to when she left her ‘pit house’.

I wonder, if I do go back, whether I’ll feel like an outsider. I’m convinced that people will give me funny looks on the street and nudge each other muttering ‘She’s not from round here.’ I worry that I’ll take a wrong turn on a familiar street and feel foolish for making such a mistake. Mostly, though, I’m worried that I won’t see the reality of the new town because my memories and experiences will be superimposed on the fabric of the place and I’ll be looking at everything through the lens of my past.

Will I go back? Should I go back? Watch this space……

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