Friday, 17 February 2012

Being A 'Roofer' by James Apps



I suppose now that the project, A Roof Over Their Heads, is well under way; the stories finished and the post production process started we who could be termed as “Roofers” need to look at what is next.  For me the project has opened up new ways of expressing myself, offered a clearer focus for stories about the place I live.

I remember some years back as a mature student at Auckland University being asked to write a short piece about my home projected from today back through memories of my childhood. It was a strange experience to suddenly recall a story that popped out of my memory complete with the images that impinged on my mind of the time.  There was a girl, a popular and pretty girl the local lads swarmed around who, as far as I can remember worked at the local Co-op shop and taught at Sunday school.  She was part of a local cycling club and was one of those girls whose personality and presence in the village turned heads; young men admired her, parents thought much of her and she was one who all, in their way loved. She was always a happy, friendly face behind the counter when we went to spend our pocket money and always seemed patient and kind to us scruffy herberts.  Marie was a much loved personality. 

The day that all ended as far as I remember when my Mother and I were coming home on the bus from Chatham to Walderslade, our village.  We had to stop at the top of Brakes Hill and move slowly past a stopped car and cyclists standing around with another of their number laying, pale and still on the road.  I cannot remember what age I was but I was very young but I knew who it was and I remember the shock of seeing her so still and knew I would never see her again.  I think I was about six, a little while before we trudged off to Canada. 

I was right, we did not see her again and I remember how shocked and grieved was the whole village at Marie's loss.  No more would her pleasant smile grace the shop counter, adding to the magic of the gas heaters and the smell of foods and spices, the rattle of the sweet jars, the sawdust on the wooden floor and the mystery of the ration book coupons.

Writing as a “Roofer” has unlocked the memory of the University exercise taken during a demanding Creative Writing course and shown me a different way of presenting those memories.  In that little tale I had to put myself in the scene and although I was tempted to fictionalise the tale I kept to what I truly felt of the time.  In all such stories the mind has time to sort out the chronological sequence and although it is a vignette of what may have been written it does have a beginning, an end and a middle although it is circular.   In effect it is a mind and memory re-visited. Which, I believe is what we have done in the Roof Over Their Heads project, excepting that we have taken historical memories and created stories around them.

Also, as part of the same exercise we were asked to write about the same place re-visited as an adult.  I had made a journey back to the UK to visit my father and family and had a chance to use the bus from Chatham to Walderslade and then to walk up to Lordswood where my Sister and my Father lived.  The village had changed; the dreaded steep hill, the first section of Robin Hood Lane, was no longer the killer slope it used to be for the modern vehicle.  The memory of the baker's van, a three wheeled Trojan that had to zig-zag to reach the cottages above our house, or the cars that could only manage halfway came back to me as I watched vehicles drive up and down easily.  The wide turning space the busses used when I was a child was gone, and the house that used to be there was now a pub all plastic and anonymous d├ęcor, and the village was a small shopping centre.  The old church hall was gone, the post office and store with its fine Silver Birches was no more yet some of the older houses remained. I saw the house where the man I will call Colin lived with his Aunt; the man who at forty or more was still a child.  In those days when I was a child he would direct the traffic and nobody minded. He used to guide the busses as they turned although most drivers didn't need his help. In a less politically correct time we would describe him as “retarded” but I never knew what it was that was wrong with him, we just accepted him.

Now, I have two short tales; one about Marie and the other about Colin.  

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