So. Here I am. In the North. To be more precise, I’m in a small town in the North-East of England called Winnet Bay. Or does that sound ridiculous? OK then, what about Cackpool? No? Shingle? Poocastle? Doleford? Sullywell? Glumley? Grimsdale? Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘Why have a made-up name at all, you big faker? And why does it have to have such negative associations?’ Well, you make good points. You shit. Allow me to address them.
It has to have a fictional name because that’s the way things are around here. I’ve got a fictional name. Melanie’s got a fictional name. You’ve probably got a fictional name yourself. So why not Grimsdale? Besides which, I like fictional places. I like Coketown and Ulverton and Gotham City. I like Ambridge and Amity Island and Notting Hill, in the film, Notting Hill. I’d like to make one of them. And also, I don’t want any of you crazies coming after me. I know what you’re like.
As for the negative connotations, that’s all based on my one and only previous foray into the North, last April, when everything seemed sour and hypocritical. But maybe it was just me.
So, for now at least, I’m sticking with Grimsdale, but I reserve the right to change the name to Blissford or Idyllsex whenever I damn well feel like it. And I hope with all of my heart that I shall.
So. What the hell am I doing here? In the heart of Grimsdale. Well, I’ll tell you.
Last year, after a great many years of estrangement, my father and I became reacquainted. One of the many consequences of our reunion - one which was remarkable and completely unforeseen - was meeting my grandparents for the first time. As a child, I never knew them. They were never mentioned. As far as I was aware, they didn’t exist.
My awareness however, was skewed. Turns out they did exist. They were just hidden away, deep in the arse-crack of England. Sadly, the distance from Grimsdale to London meant that when I finally did get to meet them, I only got to enjoy a couple of brief visits before one of them went and died.
Alma and Ray Kingfisher were not, strictly speaking, my grandparents. Alma is my grandmother, but Ray was her second husband, so no blood relation – not that it matters. They met and married when they both in their sixties, a fact which fills me with utter joy. Imagine falling in love in your sixties! Life is amazing. Keep hope alive! It’s never too late! All that.
So they had sixteen years together, which is no small achievement.
In the end, Ray Kingfisher died from renal complications, but there was lots of stuff not right in his insides and he’d been ill for a couple of years.
To make matters much worse for Alma, the day after Ray’s funeral, she had to go into hospital to have an operation on her left foot. Apparently she had the equivalent of limescale on her bones so she had to be cut open and scraped. Human bodies are cruel. And when she returned home, she found herself quite suddenly all alone, shambling round her empty flat with no one to talk to. So, as there was no one else available to look after her, I volunteered. I asked Alma if she would like some company for a few months while she picks herself up and dusts herself off, and so on, and she said that she would.
Now before you toss yourself on the ground before me and start grovelling, insisting that you’re not fit to kiss my hairy hem, don’t do it. It wasn’t altruism which motivated me. Well, not chiefly. I also saw it as an opportunity to get out of London.
The house I lived in didn’t feel right. It was too sad. It was The House Where Things Went Wrong. It was haunted by memories of what might have been. Also, I’m skint and for the moment at least, can't afford London anymore. I haven’t worked for months. Rather I’ve been living off the modest advance I got for the book, the last half of which I spunked on rent for that damned house of broken dreams. And you know, it’s funny how the kitten never worked out. I got close a couple of times, but things never quite went according to plan. The garden never worked out either. Nothing about that place worked out in the end.
So I’ve come to Grimsdale, to spend some time with the grandmother I nearly never had, to properly explore this thing they call The North, to fight with the gargantuan incompetents at BT, and, very importantly, to write some stuff.
So. I'd better get on with it.