My seven year-old son has just entered a new phase of self-awareness which has rather taken me aback. Suddenly, from nowhere, he wants to know not just who he is, but where he comes from and who he’s connected to, both present and past. He wants to know why he’s a Kendrick, and what it means to be one of our tribe.
I think this might be a side effect of what’s happening at school at the moment. Recently, it dedicated a week to Black History and my son came home one evening and asked: ‘Dad, what’s OUR history?’
He didn’t mean white history, but the origins of the Kendricks. The question that separates man from beast: Where do we come from?
Half-term was looming, creating a perfect window to have some of those questions answered, so I took him and his four year-old brother to Manchester to visit their granddad.
Like many estates, north, south, east or west, the estate where I grew up is deprived. Twelve miles to the east of Manchester, Hattersley lies beneath the brooding moors of the Peak District. It is most notorious as the place where the Moors Murderers killed their last victim, Edward Evans, but also famous as the home of boxer Ricky Hatton.
My mum and dad moved here with me and my brothers 42 years ago when I was five years old following the slum clearances of Manchester. Two brothers have never left; the third lives two miles away. I live 200 miles away, in London.
When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave. The comprehensive school I went to was one of the roughest in Manchester, and though I was never bullied, you had to be pretty tasty with your fists to thrive. The Kendricks had that tastiness. My grandfather was a heavyweight boxing champion; my dad was as tough as old boots (I once saw him take on four blokes on his own after one of them kicked our dog). And my younger brothers all inherited the Tasty Gene.
At 16 years old, it was time to escape for a less tasty existence, so I left home and never looked back.
Until our visit. Because now, my son wants to know what shaped the man who made him. He’s fascinated by his straight-talking-but-sentimental grandfather; in awe of his swaggering, almost menacing uncles. And during our half-term visit, some of that longing for reconnection with our past had started to rub off on me.
Everything seems more straightforward up there. There’s no cut-throat corporate ambition; everyone’s just getting through the day as best you can and living in the moment. And everything is cheaper, from a pint of beer at £1.80 (£3.70 in London) to a 12-pack of Skips for £1.29 to the Pound Shops which make you question why you would ever buy kitchen cleaner or bin bags from a supermarket ever again to the newly-opened PoundBakery, where you can get two sausages rolls for, er, £1 (although Gregg’s has hit back with a ‘99p for 2’ offer!) I did my weekly shop at Aldi for £44, compared to £110 in London.
There’s also space. Lots and lots of space. For my London-born kids to ride their bikes and scooters, kick a ball around, stick some stumps in the ground for a game of cricket. In London, they can’t even go to the local park without one of us accompanying them.
But best of all, my sons’ heritage is there. Their grandfather, their uncles, their great uncle, their cousins. Two hundred miles may separate them, but the blood flowing through their veins is the same.
Then over a beer one evening, after his grandsons were in bed, my dad said to me: ‘Why don’t you move back?’
The logic was sound. At 74, he’s not getting any younger – or healthier. He has a gammy knee which is severely restricting how far he can walk and it won’t be too long before he can’t get up and down the stairs of his home. I could sell our flat, worth a few hundred grand, and buy his place outright for just £60k. We’d be quids-in in an instant, using the profit from the sale of our place as an income, which would go a million miles further up there than down here.
My dad would have his family around him; his grandsons would get to know their roots.
OK, I’d have to persuade the missus to give up her job, but with less financial pressure, I could find work without the necessity for it to pay as much as I earned from my last job before I was made redundant. Even more of a reason to decamp is that my stepdaughter’s dad has to move to Manchester for his work next year. And, yes, there would be issues with my kids’ accents (‘Why does he talk like a ponce?’ one bloke said of my seven year-old son. ‘Because he’s from London,’ I replied) but nothing that couldn’t be overcome.
A no-brainer, surely?
I was stewing on this as we watched a gazillion shows on TV thanks to my dad’s over-fondness for flicking channels when I heard a huge bang outside.
‘What the hell was that?’ I said to my dad.
‘Oh, it’s just the scumbags. They’re there every night.’
He explained that the wasteground across the way from him had become a magnet for teenagers in the evenings – a picture mirrored across the country every night of the week. They’d sit around on a fly-tipped three-piece suite, drinking cider and smoking cannabis. They’d hang around long into the night, smashing bottles and – tonight – letting off fireworks.
‘What do you do about them?’ I asked Dad.
‘I’ve been out to them a few times. They just call me an old c**t and tell me to get back inside or they’ll brick my windows.’
An old c**t! When he was younger, no-one would have dared to call my dad an old c**t. But he’s an old man now. Times have changed. He’s not Mr Tasty any more.
I saw red and went outside. I walked over to the group of six youths. The oldest was about 15; the youngest probably ten. I had my Very Mature Mr Reasonable Head on.
‘Sorry about this, lads,’ I said. ‘But any chance you could stop letting off fireworks. I’ve got two little ‘uns in bed.’
‘F**k off or I’ll stick this firework up you’re a**e,’ said the youngest.
Yes, the youngest. Ten years old.
And do you know what I did? I f**ked right off, as instructed. My two beautiful, soft, sensitive little boys were sleeping upstairs. I wasn’t about to get a knife in the stomach to show how tasty I’d become.
When I went back inside, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. But Dad wasn’t bothered.
‘Leave them alone and they leave me alone,’ he said, matter-of-factly. ‘They’re not bad kids. They just don’t have anything to do around here. Besides, you get used to it after a while.’
You get used to it!
In that one sentence, the decision was made. There will be no going back, no reconnecting with roots, no generational squaring of the circle.
My boys are too soft and cossetted to hang out smoking dope and letting off fireworks and calling OAPs c**ts because they dare to challenge you. If we moved back to Hattersley – or to any other deprived estate in the country – they’d be eaten alive in a heartbeat.
Nostalgia is all well and good, and my boys haven’t stopped talking about their granddad since we got back, but my experience with those young scumbags reminded me why I left home in the first place.
I never got used to it and my boys never could. And will never have to. We’re soft, middle class ponces now. But it won’t stop us visiting their granddad as often as we can.