And that was the first Summer of that first year in Lancaster over. The next year went by quickly, as years increasingly did. It seemed a year of great volatility, politically, driven by a certain cautious euphoria on the left, there was a general election we almost won and we were sure that another that would bring us to victory, that would offer up national, institutional support for the local projects we were involved in was imminent.
The weekly meetings had drawn in more people, Nick Bascombe’s unflagging energy had linked us up with Labour party initiatives, got us national press. The project of improving the energy efficiency of the local council buildings was expanding to Morecambe and the coast and we had begun to look at storage facilities out on the industrial estate between Lancaster and Morecombe. Things were moving quickly and the momentum felt unstoppable. No matter how straightened our individual circumstances, things were coming together. Scale, scale, Nick used to say, his mantra, dizzy on the vistas he saw floating into view over time, extending out from our small efforts. It has to be scale-able. Local, regional, inter-regional, national, international, global.
I kept working intermittently at the language centre, hoping for something more permanent to come up, which it did in the January of 2017. We had the money to move out somewhere else I suppose but we were also cautious, work was “flexible” back then in a very different way to how we would understand that idea today. And so we thought we should save as much as we could, continued to live, the three of us, in the cramped terrace, number 28, Chris opting to bed down on the kitchen floor at nights in exchange for my not insisting he throw his treasures out to create more space. The floor in there was cold and he had a cold almost permanently, but this was the price he was prepared to pay to make the money from the Pub job he couldn't afford to leave stretch a little further. Often he was too under the weather or on an extra shift at the pub and so missed our regular Tuesday night meetings though after a few months Jay also started to attend as a member of the Laundry co-operative, sitting quietly off to one side. He had gone full time, been accepted by the other employerees. ‘A good little worker” it was reported back to me by Christine. Doesn't say much at meetings, though.
I remember standing at the downstairs window with a cup of coffee and watching him leave, set off up the road, stooped, head down, slow and stoical as the men I had seen filing out of the shipyard in my own youth, my father among them. I remember too when Jay came back with his first wage and sat at the kitchen table then offered it to me for back rent and the food he had eaten over the previous six weeks. I refused, he insisted again in his funny, piping little voice and I understood that I should take it, not because I needed it but because it was a question of dignity. I can pay my way, I can be on an equal footing. What are you going to do with the rest I asked and he shrugged, then next day he had a new bright blue Nike tracksuit top from one of the sports shops in the city centre. Very smart, we teased him and he smiled and laughed, twisted the left side of his body around, looked awkward and shy and almost tearful and so we stopped.
I visited my mother at Christmas and Easter and did my best not to be depressed and made doubtful by the fact that what she’d hoped, expected for me, wife, child, stability, a pension, a home seemed no nearer now than it had twenty five years ago when I should have begun claiming all those things as my own and I tried too, waiting with her at the bus stop in Barrow town centre on some grey afternoon, the shipyard and the great Trident sheds looming at my back, to reassure myself that I was still as bold and carefree as I had always believed myself to be and that sometimes and for some people success in life was better defined by what you had avoided than what you had attained.