Auld Lang Syne

I've been travelling around the country with my sister to renew acquaintance with old faces and places. We ended our travels feeling rather sad to have discovered the truth of that old homily: You cannot go backwards in life. We should have known, of course, but memory plays tricks on us all. Everything looks better from a distance.

Jean was over from America to see what she makes of the old country in the new millennium. She settled in Ohio as a GI bride nearly fifty years ago, but sadly lost her husband Jerry last year. In recent months she's been wondering whether to bid farewell to her wonderful American family and return to her native land.

First stop was 53 Mount Pleasant Lane in Hackney, where we grew up in the Thirties as part of an extraordinary family of waifs and strays brought together under the roof of Ma Wren. Her mission in life was to take in girls who "got into trouble," as they put it in those days before illegitimacy became the norm.

Alas, the large rambling Victorian slum where Ma Wren ruled with a large copper stick is no more. Its place has been taken up by neat Council maisonettes occupied by families from the ethnic community. No kids playing in the street. Cars parked bumper to bumper. In our day all you saw was the odd motor bike and sidecar.

Down the hill to our old playground on the banks of the River Lea. Latham's giant timber yard is the only reminder of the past still standing. Not for long, though. The developers have taken over. This is premium building land destined for inner city gentrification. Planks of wood can't compete with single bedroom flats starting at £150,000.

A yuppie estate bars our path to the bridge over the Lea where I fell in and nearly drowned a lifetime ago. Razor wire and security cameras now in place of junkyards and allotments. All the old magic has gone. No more hollering kids running wild nor dray horses towing barges. An ice rink where travelling fairs once plied their trade.

This is the spot where I instructed Ellen to scatter my ashes when my time comes. It's all different now. "Forget the Hackney Marshes," I tell her when we return home. "Leave me in the crematorium."

The more we delved into the past, the more obvious it became that world has gone forever. We arranged a reunion with one of Ma Wren's charges given up for adoption as a toddler. Life had been good to him, but now he wanted to know about the world denied him all those years ago. We couldn't help much. It seemed more appropriate to let sleeping dogs lie, to quote another homily.

Jean and daughter Joanne came and took great delight in meeting kith and kin across Britain, but returned home happy to be American and remain close to the people and places that fill their lives day by day. It is the world we live in today that matters, not the way it was in a bygone age.

'Bye now - see you back here soon

copyright© 2000 Derek Jameson / Retirement Matters Ltd. All rights reserved.