Funny way to begin, that. You weren’t very dear to me when I lived there. As you might recall, I couldn’t wait to get away. And I can’t even remember when it was I was last back. All I know is it felt like a bit of a joke: “My god! I actually used to live here!”
But writing this makes me feel guilty. Writing this makes me realise that, like so many of my friends from when I was growing up, I abandoned you. We all did. Because you were Blackpool: provincial, dirty, bleak, cold, smelly, violent, and utterly lacking in any future for us. And as a middle-class private-school kid with a vastly inflated sense of my own importance, I wasn’t going to hang around.
What’s happened to you in the past 20 years? I keep reading about how grim things are these days. But that was always the case, wasn’t it? Funny thing is, the other week I was reading yet another article in yet another magazine about this godforsaken place where I spent the formative years of my life, and something else started to shine through ever so slightly: hope. I might have abandoned you, but not everyone has. It sounds like there are more people now trying to work to make you better. People who still believe in you. I’m glad about that.
Because were you so bad as a place to grow up? I notice that I still carry with me my identity as a proud northerner; that I always have done, even having lived in Scotland – further north – for the entirety of my adult life. It’s a very artificial identity in some ways. I realise that I only created it once I’d left the north-west, and I do wonder whether it’s an identification with an ideal rather than with any place I actually remember. My north – my imaginary north? My idealised north? – is the place of Factory Records, Tony Wilson and situationist socialism; of great music and big ideas; of romanticism and pride and – yes – hope. But that doesn’t feel like Blackpool. That’s not the Blackpool that springs to mind when I think of hanging about the bus stop on Caunce Street, or drinking furtive pints of beer in a back-street old-man’s pub, or wandering about at 3am after a mate’s party, thinking: great, not long before I can leave this place for good.
But you can never leave completely, can you? And my idealised north must be rooted somewhere in reality – even if it’s a slight and stringy kind of root. Blackpool, despite everything, is still part of that north I hold dear; that north which, I dearly hope, will rise again. Yes, I’m going to be voting for independence for Scotland – but I hope our votes, regardless of the outcome, may yet galvanise the north of England too. (That word again: hope.)
It’s all too easy to write a place off; to turn your back on it and look for the future elsewhere. But that ideal – those values I have about community and mutualism; about not giving up; about how every underdog can still have its day – they came from a whole load of different sources: my parents, my friends, the music and art I loved, the place where I was. Those are the ideals of my north, and Blackpool will always be part of that. How can it be anything else?
I wish you well, Blackpool. I never felt I belonged when I lived there, but I suspect you shaped me in all sorts of ways.
Thank you. There’s something I never thought I’d say to you.
Reply from ‘Blackpool’
Like you said, funny way to begin. It’s not as if I actually remember you. You effed off in, what, 1993? And from what I can gather, you put as much distance between us as you possibly could: not just leaving town but leaving the country. Nice one. Good to feel appreciated.
It’s been a while since you wrote, and I know I’ve not replied sooner. In fairness, I’ve been busy. I’m sure you have too, but I reckon my hassles might be a little bit bigger than yours. You seem to recognise that. I notice you’re not doing very much to help — actually, you’re not doing anything to help — but that’s OK. I don’t need you. And I’m still here, you’ll notice. Even though you and your middle-class private-school friends with your vastly inflated sense of your own importance, too scared to come into the town centre on a Friday night in case you got into a tiny little fight — who did you think was going to bother with you anyway? — have pretty much all gone. One or two of you are still around, though. You should come back and visit: go down the Stanley Arms, if it’s still there. I don’t know, I can’t keep up myself these days. I look around and everything’s changed. Every year, every season, every bloody month. They can’t even work out where to put a mini-roundabout in my town centre. It doesn’t feel like there’s very much love left for me these days.
But I’m still here. I endure. And although your northern-ness happens from a distance — professional northern-ness? The worst kind, that — you’re bloody right: I did shape you. If I didn’t offer you a future, was that because you were never looking for one with me anyway? I think I was somewhere for you to escape from: that was always my role. I provided the backdrop by which you could forge your future somewhere else. I was the place you could say you left; the place against which you could define yourself; the place you could reject. I think you did that for a long time, not realising how hypocritical it was of you. So yes, if you’re starting to appreciate that now, that means something. I wonder what changed for you in order for that to happen?
I know you’re not coming back. I don’t even expect that visit. I heard a rumour you were around a few years ago, though you didn’t pop in: you went to Morecambe instead. Morecambe! But I bet when you stood there admiring the rebuilt art deco hotel and the rebuilt pier, you thought of me. I know you did.
And I know you still do. I know you’ll watch things like St Anthony <link: http://saint-anthony.co.uk/>, and you’ll feel a thousand and one different emotions, but it’ll keep bringing you back here. (Back home? I don’t know what you’d say to that.) Everything will in the end. Like you say, you can never leave completely, can you?
Good luck with it. I’d say don’t forget me, but I know you won’t.