John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Sunday 17 June 2012) New Town farewell

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Sunday 17 June 2012) New Town farewell

Roy’s father, Don Paine, had been a building site manager in Lambeth, working his way up from bricklaying. Men such as he, with their get-things-done know-how and self-improved pedigree, were what post-war Crawley had been looking for. Motoring pensively down the M23, Roy saw himself for the first time as following a trail Don and his mother Gwen had helped to blaze towards a fresher, cleaner life away from London – a new frontier of bold ideals.

He’d left home at noon, hoping that when he arrived at the old house – the old house that had been so new and super-modern in its time – Don and Gwen’s long-time neighbours would be out, sparing him the torment of chirpy, nosey conversation and the need to invent a practical cover story for an excursion whose purpose was ethereal.

Arriving just after one, Roy pulled up to the garage door and, getting out, found himself looking nervously around as though Neighbourhood Watch had already judged him guilty and the forces of law and order were on their way. He let himself in using a set of keys he’d had cut surreptitiously, the little brother in him not wanting his big brother Brian to know that he could come and go as he pleased.

The sound of the front door closing echoed down the now barren hall where until lately there had been framed pictures, a mirror, a shoe rack, an umbrella stand, a furry rug, a vase of artificial flowers on a Romanesque plastic stand and an offer of unquestioning welcome that Roy had accepted throughout his adult life, snoozing on the sofa or watching the football, the cricket, the golf with Don while the women amused the children and washed up after the Sunday roast.

Only his younger daughter Lucy, on the increasingly infrequent occasions she’d been there, had ever reproached him and his father for their sloth, and then only as sharply as was acceptable to Gwen, who preferred the men to be drugged by food and sport because it meant they wouldn’t get in the way.

Roy stepped into the all-through living room, so similar to his own, treading carefully to minimise the sound of his own footsteps as though the floorboards were mined with ghosts. The walls had been stripped of decorations and then repainted in neutral cream, just as big brother Brian had advised.

All that remained were the familiar teak dining table surrounded by its matching chairs and an imposter three-piece suite in nearly new condition with which Brian had replaced the old one, dispatching it without pity to the tip. Its replacement, marooned in a domestic space cleansed of its human history, arranged to face a TV set that wasn’t there, struck Roy as both ludicrous and vaguely hostile, but he knelt behind the sofa anyway and re-lived that Mary Rand moment once more.

A tiptoe tour of the rest of the vacuum of a building followed. In each empty room Roy stood in reflection, drawing into himself all of the past he could recall, pausing to photograph doorknobs and tiled surfaces he couldn’t take away and that he hoped might survive the coming of new occupants. He didn’t go into the garden but gazed down it from behind glass before locking up and leaving the old house for good.

He was home in Purley again by five and spent the long, light evening semi-detached from Germany beating Denmark two-one and Portugal completing Holland’s misery by the same score. The “Roy” envelope historic photos were still spread around, awaiting his further attention. An email arrived from Leila: “Happy Father’s Day!” it said.

All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.

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Categories: Culture, Roy's Summer of Sport

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