Family heritage is important, but should you ever return to your roots?

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.

16 Comments

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16 Responses to Family heritage is important, but should you ever return to your roots?

  1. Oddgit

    Coming from Hattersley myself, at about the same time you were there, I do understand. There were a lot of good people and good times there but I can honestly say that from the day I left to this instant, I’ve never once felt homesick for the place.

    I miss people. I miss my friends and family. That’s my heritage though. The people. Certainly not that manufactured craphole of a place.

    My brother is still there. One of the smartest guys I’ve ever known, far smarter than me, (and I’ve headed up software divisions with dozens of ‘doctors’ working under me). I’ve been round the world, created software you’ve probably used ten times already today. He’s been unemployed for years, sitting in a flat, rotting away, just one sad story of waste and neglect among countless others.

    I agree with a lot of the positives you said about Hattersley. There are some amazing people there who I desperately hope will do as we did and escape the violence and boredom and fear.

    Give me a match though and I’d burn the place to the ground.

  2. Oddgit

    Oh incidentally, it’s important to realize that Hattersley has very few consonants in it if properly said – it should be ‘A’e’zli’ rather than the outsiders ‘hat-ter-slee’. Just fair warning, if you pronounce the double t in Hattersley while in one of the pubs there, you’re unlikely to retain the dental equipment needed to repeat your offence. :)

  3. Hard to fathom how a place set in such stunning countryside can be so depressed and depraved.

    • keithkendrick

      Isn’t it? It’s an overspill estate from the Manchester slum clearances in the late 60s. The people in the village objected massively to the estate being built at all.

  4. Mel

    This captures so well the internal conflict that I think many of us who move away from home feel. Whether violence or small-mindedness or other forces pushed us away, going back can look different on the surface. Appealing, even. It’s not until you scratch at it that you remember why you left.

    • keithkendrick

      That’s it in a nutshell. Great to visit, but linger too long and the dark side overwhelms. Very easy to be nostalgic, romantic, even, about one’s past.

  5. What a really beautifully written piece. It’s always difficult to go back after a long absence, even to easier places than Hattersley, because you can end up trying to recreate a memory and memories are often fickle.

  6. What a grounding experience, in more ways than one. To rediscovered your roots and your childhood playground is important, but don’t forget the past is another country!

    I come from a soft, middle-class town (although I still consider myself working class) and moved to Reading for three years when I graduated from Uni. Mr. TheBoyandMe moved back and have lived in my home-town now for seven years. I found it odd coming back; I’m working in my own primary school and live in a street that I wouldn’t have touched with a barge-pole before leaving here. But needs must, and a mortgage needs paying. A new member (and new resident) to my toddler group recently asked me why I had such a problem with the street. Someone interjected for me and explained that we grew up with the reputation that it has since shod. But God, it’s hard to remember that!

    Great post!

  7. My roots are in Bolton but I’d never dream of moving back, I moved to Northumberland 10 years ago and have never looked back. To be fair, I grew up in a town and was a townie through and through so was used to the scenes you describe here. But since living in remote countryside miles away from the nearest shop, I’m in my element. I’m a country bumpkin and adore the peace and tranquility of the beautiful scenery. I get claustrophobic whenever I visit my mum who still lives near Bolton. I can only manage a couple days there before I need to get home. I’ll never forget my roots but equally, my true home is up north near the Scottish Borders and always will be. I totally understand where you’re coming from and agree with everything you say. Our kids and us adapt to new environments and a progressive world, not always for the better, but it would be selfish and unfair if we were to expect them to be someone they’re not just so we can go back to our roots.

    Great post.
    CJ xx

  8. I just love your writing Keith. It’s like I’m there with you, experiencing things as you are.
    Having left Newcastle at 18, I know what it is to get nostalgic about where you come from, although I’ve pretty much stayed in the north so I’m never far away if I want to visit. London is just so….. big. Not sure I could live there.
    I am fascinated by people who stay in the same place all their lives. Are they content – or just unadventurous?
    Me and the hubby have been doing our family tree, and we hope the boys will one day be interested in where they come from.
    Really enjoyed reading your story. Always thought you were a bit tasty 😉

  9. I think I’m the antithesis of you, Keith. I live within 2 miles of where I grew up and don’t really see that changing. I think I’ve reached the age where change becomes less and less likely.
    Eschewing “shoe box in t’middle o’ t’road” jokes for a moment, I went from council flat to owning my own home, and where I live isn’t salubrious but it isn’t sackcloth-and-ashes either.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, social mobility is possible without a great deal of geographic mobility. What is really worrying is that this generation may be the first which can’t hope to “do better” than their parents. Scary thought.
    I really enjoyed reading about your journey. Your dad sounds diamond.

    HUN

  10. We came home. After 13 years in Berkshire, Maxi was born. I was all set to go back to work full time, even having paid the deposit on a Forrest nursery, then he went and got seriously ill. After being in itu and transferred to Great Ormond Street, we made the decision to extend my mat leave. Maxi had a rElapse the following month and whilst in hospital I found out that I was expecting Mini. Returning home was a no brainier, I couldn’t go back to work, so financially a return to our native north east was what we decided to do. MadDad is a farmers son, so in order for the boys to see their grandparents we had to be close to them and then my mum was unwell.

    It is something of a double edges sword. Whist mum was alive it was perfect. She was the best grandma, the boys adored her and she was my best friend. When she died unexpectedly it left be all at sea. She was only 67, I thought we had years together left.

    Although I live in one of the most deprived areas of the uk, you would never guess. We live in an affluent area and behaviour like you talk about just isn’t accepted. Last night proved that we live in a great area. Everyone was trick or treating. Everyone dressed up, parent, children, babies and teens. We didn’t have one knock after 7.30 and the estate was buzzing.

    Will be stay, proberly not. MadDads work is taking him further North, so we may follow. But I will not move back to Berkshire as it is too far away from my brother and his family. Family is everything, my family starts with the four of us and ultimately as long as we remain together, all will be well.

  11. Well I am an adopted northerner, I live in Bury so not a million miles from Hattersley.

    We have the same “scumbag” factor on our estate, but you do coexist and get on with it, and its not that bad.

    I love London but I wouldn’t want to live there.

  12. How sad. Makes me realise how lucky I am to be able to return to my roots and give my kids a better class of life at the same time. Fabulous post. x

  13. I really enjoyed reading this post .
    I think many of us can have an idealistic view of “home” and this can also apply to long friendships. Sometimes things just move on and you change but not everything chnages with you – the trick is to recognise this and not mourn what you have left behind/lost.
    Your post sums this up perfectly and you are giving your sons the best of both worlds.