It was a sad occasion which brought us to St Albans a week or so ago, the place where I grew up. We were early so we took the opportunity to visit Verulamium, a park which holds many memories for me. Leaving the car beside St Michael’s Church, where I learnt to ring church bells at 11 yrs, we had a bite to eat in the Inn on the Park then walked on to the lake, where I strolled with my parents almost once a week for thirteen years.
First we passed the childrens’ paddling pool, covered for the season. I remember several of us as teenagers paddling in there after dark and then walking bare foot to the Fighting Cocks, an ancient public house on the far side of the lake. It was busy that night so we ordered our drinks – Coca Cola I believe (we were under-age for
alcohol!) – and then sat on the floor, stretching our feet out to dry. Within a few minutes someone among the posh clientele must have complained because the manager came and asked us to leave, which was the one and only occasion I have been thrown out of a public house. I still smile as I pass it by!
Then hubby and I walked up to St Alban’s Cathedral, a mismatch of architecture through the ages which all adds to quite a magnificent building. I was confirmed there and later went out with a boy who used to go the the school next to the Abbey. He was my first ever boyfriend and fellow campanologist. The entrance to the sixth form, I recall, was under the auspicious Abbey Gateway. Not that I ever went inside. Of course not.
Up in the town The clocktower reminds me of a bakers shop nearby which sold mini loaves about the size of a medium tomato, and Smiths the bookshop which I used to visit frequently, a place with low wooden beams and nooks and corners to hide in and read. The town does not appear to have changed much and certainly, walking back down to St Michael’s Street to the museum you’d think time had stood still. The Six Bells is still there. (There are eight bells up in the tower but the name of the pub has never been updated) I was bought my first alcoholic drink there, a cider I believe, enjoyed after practice night – bell-ringing that is. I notice that the tiny school where my mother taught for years is also still used for purpose, where she used to enjoy taking the children out for nature walks around the lake. Those were simple days.
The old museum building is still opposite, but in addition is a building behind with a new Roman-like facade of a temple. This marks the rich Roman heritage, the significance of which greatly coloured my history lessons at school, bringing that period to life. Even the story frequently told of Alban himself, and the sacrifice he made for his faith, has lived with me into my adult life.
I was privileged to grow up in such a city and was sad when we moved, myself at the age of eighteen years. In fact, it was that summer I went to Norwich to teacher training college and in some ways I never went ‘home’ again. This must have shaped my psyche because deep down there is still a longing to truly belong and I still love to visit St Albans and especially the park.
Which places evoke happy memories for you and do they influence your writing?