Now That’s What I Call Nostalgia.


“GET DOWN. I think he’s seen us”

I dropped to the floor. Forcing my body down into the woodchip. One ear up listening for the clunky unlatching of the aluminium sliding doors. The hounds would be next. Tearing their way across the lawn, jaws gnashing and frothing.

Thankfully it stayed quiet. My heart paradoxically pumping too fast for me to move.

After a moment or two I lifted my head slightly and peered towards the house. No sign of any movement – I could just make out the dogs sleeping soundly on the living room floor. Two old Labradors, curled up tight.

And then as I turned my head I could see my friend standing behind the Hydrangea smiling inanely, like a back garden Where’s Wally.

I picked myself up and we jumped over the short fence that separated the gardens. We were in the clear now but for some reason I stayed hunched over just in case. He had me rattled. I brushed bits of damp chip off my clothes, and knew mum would immediately pick up on my earthy mushroomy aroma.

“You’re a Stinky PooHead”,  I told him.


The return journey through Mr Bakemans garden always held the jeopardy.

Our Estate had been built around an old orchard. The only access into the trees was down a gravel lane past the garage block with its multicoloured doors. This led to large wire gates always chained shut.  Chain link fence surrounded the plot, with two layers of barbed wire taught at the top.

Inside the grass was both long and non existent, where the old trees and low branches cast deep shade. Large patches of stinging nettles and bramble meant it did not look welcoming. But to two young boys it was an island of adventure.

We could get into the orchard without too much issue. There was a second access – known only to two young intrepid explorers. At the back of my garden, behind the bamboo we had created a created a staging.  Some old ceramic pots balanced upon a broken wheelbarrow that I had rescued from the skip.

Not the safest of working platforms and just high enough to pull yourself up. Once perched precariously on the top of the wooden fence you could dangle a leg either side with about 10cm separating you from the barbed wire.

Then if you swung both legs you could get enough momentum to pivot like an 80’s Russian athlete on the pommel, and with both legs together complete the dismount. The barbs were sharp. My first time I wore shorts and gave myself quite a graze, a tiny trickle of blood evidence that I needed to get higher and keep the legs closer together. Better shorts than my school trousers though – tried that once and near enough ripped them in half. Mum wasn’t happy.

But to get back home you had to go through the neighbours. Previous adventurers, or maybe a badger, had created a shallow gap under the fence, and by some quirk of 1960’s builders here a footballs width gap existed between the chainlink and the timber cladding of Mr Bakemans back boundary. We know it was exactly that width as our first foray had been to rescue a ball that had got perfectly trapped. We didn’t need a ball from that point on.

We had used rocks and logs to fill this gap to about half way creating an almost perfect staircase. Will was just a little taller and would go first, arching under the bottom of the chainlink before pulling himself up almost vertically. He would lift himself just enough to carefully peer over towards the house. Recon. And then without a word he would be gone. I was a bigger lad and it was a tight fit. I was always worried I would be stuck there, for days, until I slimmed off the Christmas weight.

“Michael to Recon”


“Michael to Recon. Over!”

Mild panic provided assistance and I scrambled up and over, not knowing if the area was clear.


I loved the orchard. Not the apples, which were nothing like the Golden Delicious sometimes found in the fruit bowl. But as a place of adventure, and the time spent with my friend.

He was much cooler than me. Better at sports, more social, better clothing. I wasn’t cool at all. I remember I had a suitcase for school. Black faux leather, with brass buckles. Stuffed full with all my books. He had a cool backpack slung over one shoulder and he laughed and skipped down the corridors. I had to drag my homework from class to class with two hands.

School wasn’t really for me. These wonder years filled with being peannuted, where your tie is pulled so tight you have to cut it off, lumpy mashed potato and parker pens. So the holidays and having someone to share with was lush.

I think the only reason we first became friends was that we lived so close together. Our school had students from all over, so a friend that you could BMX to, was valued. I had a playstation which would fill any rain delay, but most importantly I had the orchard.

During the long summer holidays, hours would be spent in there. We invented games. Apples were great balls. Trying to hit each other while the other moved like a robot saying “HIT ME”. We were both cricket fans so I would bring out the big turning leg breaks or the flipper. He was taller, and lean like a right arm fast and would pitch it outside off. Between the two of us English cricket wickets fell like apples from the tree.

Sometimes we would pick up rotten ones and throw them at a trunk and watch them explode. You had to watch out for wasps though.  Or worse.

One apple tree, that we had nicknamed “Chicken Balls” dropped its apples very early (its fruits were really sweet, but then came in with a sour kick). Once I picked one up from the floor, and as it turned in my hand, I could see that it had been hollowed out. Staring back at me was the mother of all wasps. 5 times the size, black eyes, bright yellow face and it looked annoyed.  I could see its lips move, and half expected its mouth to open and an inner jaw extend out towards me.

Tyres were kicked and fires lit as the dig daddy started its engines. This was not the annoying buzz of a wasp, but the terrifying roar of a fighter jet and it was on attack mode, like having a MiG on your tail about the get lock on. I turned to run, but the long grass pulled at my legs. A bramble stem grabbed at my shoe and I fell to the ground. I covered my head and waited for fire to reign down.

Somehow, this slamming of the brakes confused my attacker, and it flew right on by. “Crikey that was scary”. I still wasn’t much of a swearer.

All the trees had names. ‘Ghost’ had elongated cylindrical shaped apples with a funny knobbly bit by the stem, like a bed sheet draped over your head on Halloween night. The colour a haunting photoluminescent whiteish yellow hue. ‘Beet’ had fruits that looked like beetroots, squashed and dark red. ‘Chicken Balls’ was renamed after this to ‘Jurgen’ in reference the supposed dive Will witnessed. Arms out, a shriek, like I had just been Martin Keowned in the penalty box.

One of our favourite activities, was just plain old tree climbing. Some of the trees had fallen over, but some were massive.  ‘Tower’ was huge. If you could get to the top, you could see over the houses, to the rolling countryside behind. You could see the park, where the silly kids played, and the new housing estate being built. You could see the village pub, and make out the corner shop. You could see the sun slowly start to set, and realise it was tea time, and by the end of the summer holidays, you could feel the drag of school coming for you.

I always found the climb down much harder.

One time I must have shaken a branch and a load of apples fell to the floor. Into a wasps nest. And within seconds a hoard of wasps was patrolling the bottom of the tree. “Oh Barnacles!” This was trouble. If they decided to come for me I was stuck. I broke off a bit of ivy as something to waft around, and started to climb back up.

I considered jumping but that was crazy. My supposed friend was no-where to be seen. Then he suddenly reappeared, running towards danger, holding what looked like Mr Bakemans garden water sprayer. And as he misted the wasps they settled, and the numbers reduced.

Eventually, I was able to climb down to safety. What a wingman.

But, in all truth my favourite activity was lunch. There was safety at lunch. Will’s backpack would come with us. And his dad owned the village Deli. There would be bread, and cheese, and some chocolatey treats. A carton of juice to share. We would carefully select an apple from the thousands that surrounded us. If you ate your apples you could be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley.

And we would just talk. Best starting eleven, who the nice girls were, what we were going study at College and what we wanted to be when we grew up. We loved films, and would quote movie scripts, and sing songs. We would argue, but that inconsequential friendly back and forth. I was more grunge and he was more Britpop. I still rocked the long curtains with undercut. He was short back and sides. He was rocknroll star, I was all apologies.

And to fill every cliché, one time he pulled out a bottle of White Lightening. Just the once. It really was terrible.

I worked at the Deli twice a month.  I probably got, and definitely only kept the job, because I was Wills friend.

No shops were open back then, so Sunday was the time to clean and restock. 9am to 12. Home for Sunday lunch with a few pounds in my pocket. The shop was quite long but narrow. Counter on the left as you entered, opposite dark brown shelves floor to ceiling that stocked every deli item you could think of, and one of those bells above the door that chimed when I arrived and left.

There was uproar around the new supermarket being built close by, but for now the village had the staples. The corner shop was for magazines, and sweets/chocolates. 1/4lb of lemon sherbets were my go-to. Then the butchers, the bakers, the fishmongers, a flower shop, a photography place, and the deli. Everything you needed, but across 7 small independents. While the village worked themselves up into a stupor about progress, I couldn’t see the harm. Somewhat naively I thought both the supermarkets and the independents could do well. 

Will’s dad was a true turophile. A cheese connoisseur, a fromage fancier. He loved cheese, and was extremely passionate and knowledgeable about his subject. Often I could stop work while he told me incredible stories. Like the caves in Roquefort. 6 small businesses with just a cave each, walls glistening with moisture, the temperature that never changed, and the tiny cracks through the rock that provided just enough air flow.

Or the cows of Parmigiamo Reggiano, grazing on the lush riverside valleys in North Italy, their feed a mixture of grass and wildflowers, and the cheese soaked in sea salt and then aged for years.

He was so effusive and cognoscent that for a while I thought I would become one of these affineurs – the masters in charge of aging the cheese. Checking on the truckles, brushing them, turning them. Some of the blocks weighing up to 125kgs. Nearly 2 Mikes!

I could delay stacking the shelves with a query or two. Can you really taste the difference between grass and barn fed. Absolutely. In a blind taste 100 percent could pick out the grass fed. Whats the biggest ever cheese. A 20 Tonne Cheddar taken round the country on a Cheesemobile (only in America!). But, If I pushed my luck and asked him too many questions, or what that cheese tasted like, he smiled and told me to get back to work.

I probably should have got the sack. One time I was unwrapping a pallet, and as I used a knife to cut through the shrink wrap I noticed a pool of liquid start to form on the floor. Without realising I had samurai-ed a tiny slit into all the cartons on the outside. Unbelievably careless and egregious. I desperately looked round for something to blame, or a way out, but it was clear what had happened.

When I told him, I could see his face drain. Probably a day, or mores takings, slowly weeping onto the concrete. I waited for the anger, the swearing, the telling off, but nothing came. I was devastated I had let him down.

“Whoopsy” he managed.

When he gave me the money at the end of the shift I made sure I left it on the counter.

As it turned out that was one of the last times I worked at the deli. I was too chicken to go back the subsequent Sunday, and when I did go I felt it really hard to repair the damage I had done. A month or two later I told him that I was going to have to concentrate on my studies as the exams were looming, and as always he was lovely and supportive.

“If that’s the case then its time to try some of these cheeses you keep asking me about”.

Despite all the conversations and working around it every week we had never once sat down and tried the cheese together. He carefully curated a hefty cheese board and sat down next to me. For the first time he didn’t act as my boss or my friends father, but opened up about his own fears.

With a Nostradamus style prescience he forsaw the loss of the village shops, the crushing power of the supermarkets and the industrialisation of food. Despite their illusion, these big, rapacious, multinational companies weren’t there to support small communities, with tiny local producers brushed aside up as incidental debris after a storm. Like Bull Pullman in Independence Day he forsaw that the supermarkets did not want to peacefully co-exist. Even with this cool film vignette it was all a bit too heavy for a mid teen about to sit his GCSE’s. I do remember the message though.  What is not valued is lost.

He told me about one of his smallest producers, who made an amazing goats milk cheese. How troublesome goats could be, and that he had given them all names.

“Like Michael”, I offered in complete innocence.

I had never heard him laugh out loud before. An out of nowhere paroxysmic howl of a laugh like I had just told the worlds best joke. When he pulled himself together he explained my stupidity.

“Boy Goats aren’t very good for milking”, he explained as he started cutting.

To be honest some of the cheese looked, and smelt awful. In the orchard Will normally just brought a big chunk of cheddar and we gobbled it down without thinking. But this was a tasting.

“This is supermarket cheddar”, he explained as he cut open the plastic. These cows have a different lifestyle and diet to small farmhouse operators, the milk may travel vast distances, the making is often automated, and its made to recipe.

“This is farmhouse cheddar”. I was blown away by the differences.  Made by artisans, wrapped in cloths and aged carefully.

At 16 I still had the palette of a young boy with meals either Coco-Pops or Fish fingers, so this was my first foray into flavour. Then he cut off a small piece of washed rind. It smelt like old socks, and it wasn’t for me. Enough of that in a young lads bedroom.  Next was the moudly one, and I loved it. What was this creamy salty phenomenon!

When I was growing up my parents both worked hard, and so food was treated as fuel.  There was no spices, no seasonings, the flavour profile we searched for was ‘filling’. While Will and his family were fully immersed into flavours and textures I preferred to watch my milk turn chocolately. But this was eye opening. What had I been missing. Food was not just fuel. It could be nourishment.

“Wait until you are old enough to try this with some cider!”

And then with an unnverving and knowing smile he added “….real Cider”.


Soon after I went off to College, and so it was Christmas before I returned to the village. A few of the village shops were now empty, with glass painted white, and for let signs affixed to the fascias.  Thankfully the deli was still there, now serving coffees, but the inside as I remember.

Lots of questions from the parents at dinner. A few little white lies about how much work I was getting done. Before dad dropped the bombshell – Planning for 8 new homes in land at the back.

“Where the garages are?” I asked.

“And that bit where the trees were. ”

“The orchard?”

“Yeah, they came in a few weeks ago and bulldozed it through. Before they even had planning. I mean its not that anyone used the space, but still”

“No bloomin way!”. The words sort of shrieked out as a half mumbled profanity. My parents both looked shocked. “OH whatever. I don’t care about it”.

Except that I did. Truly. That sick empty pit of your stomach pain.

I picked up my plate and cleared it in the kitchen, before heading straight out into the back garden. I knew it was rude just to get up and leave the dinner table. “Sorry” I mumbled. The wheelbarrow was rusty but still there, the pots on the floor in pieces, and the fence strips had started to fall apart.

It was a true Sarah Connor experience as I stared through the chainlink fence at complete devastation.

Holes where tree roots had been ripped out from the ground. The large piles of prunings that had formed huge Hugel mounds in the back corner, and were evidence that in the past somebody had cared for it, had been dragged to the centre. The frogs, the snakes, the hedgehogs that we knew lived there were certainly dead. At the centre was the charred remains of a large bonfire. I think I recognised Tower, chainsawed at knee height, but its huge trunk still standing.

My Nokia beeped. A text message.

“I ASSUME U KNOW? Will”. We hadn’t spoken for months but like the best friend he was he must have just sensed and reached out.

“FUCKING DEVASTATED”. Excuse the language.