Snodland...One Boy's Tale!
"You can go other places, all right - you can live on the other side of the world, but you can't ever leave home"
- Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair.
Home is where the heart is? ClichÃ© isn't it? Yes it is, but also quite accurate.
If you ask anyone about their childhood, the recollection will shine obvious in their eyes. They always remember. From experience, many people I know don't remember the finer details about certain events that would go on to shape them into the person they are today. Sure, they remember their first kiss, their first boy/girlfriend and the first time they had a beer but when you ask them for the story around these moments it tends to become a little blurry. The mind develops between the bookends that are childhood and adulthood and unfortunately, for some people, it takes their memory with it. The brain pushes the information out for more important details like taxes and how to cook the perfect omelette.
For me, that is not the case. Ask me about the first time I tasted a beer and I can tell you it was in The Freemasons Arms. I was eight. The June day was sunny, there was a playground in the beer garden and I accidentally kicked sand in a girls face. I remember not liking the beer much...how things would change in ten years. Regardless, the memory is still engrained in my brain, stored in a little lockbox called memories. If you could plug a printer into my head, the photograph would be vivid, colourful and nostalgic.
This is just one of many memories from my past. For me, childhood was a fantastic place. The shackles and responsibility of adulthood were an unseen juggernaut headed my way. I was discovering things on a daily basis (gobstoppers, video games, TV, Batman, girls) that amazed me for days on end. The reason I am writing this, however, is because for all the wonder that my childhood contained, there is one place in my heart that is dear to me. You see, as a child I was moved around regularly. This isn't a bad thing and I believe this was a major factor in creating the person writing this article. We (Dad, Mum, my two sisters and I) weren't nomads by any means but from recollection we had four different childhood homes. Each was different in their own way and I have a vivid recollection of them all equally but there aren't enough pages to write down everything. Despite this, there is one place I will truly remember as my childhood home.
For The Duration Of This Article, You Are In Snodland!
I always find it useful to know where a place is for descriptive purposes. It means when I explain a location you guys can kind of get an idea of what I am talking about.
To start, yes, Snodland IS a real place. To this day whenever I mention Snodland people look at me like I just broke wind. The name seems to elicit a reaction at the sheer mention of its name. I just wanted to clear that up. My fiancÃ©e is probably reading this thinking, "you still made it up". Trust me, she has been there and still cannot believe the name. I know she isn't the only one. Anyway, back to the article.
So first...a little history.
Snodland is a small town located in the county of Kent, England. It's one of a few towns that is placed along the bank of the River Medway. The local area has come to be known as The Medway Towns (although Snodland isn't actually represented in this group) because of their proximity to the aforementioned river. The population is roughly 12,000 people and counting. Growing up, I always thought Snodland was a village due to its size, a fact that amazed me when I discovered otherwise.
Snodland is famous for its lime working, chalk extraction and paper making. To this day the Townsend Hook Paper Mill (now known as Smurfit Kappa Townsend Hook) still stands and produces 250,000 tonnes of paper a year. Snodland is well known for its lakes (several areas that sever from the River Medway) which enable you to take walks through brush and trees with an excellent view of the river. Delve a little deeper and you can find the quarries in the higher hills of Snodland, hills that house some magnificent chalk pit views (just don't fall in) and nature trails.
Google Snodland and the above information is clear. There are many towns like it in England, and probably the world over. For me, I was nine when we moved to Snodland. I stayed there until I was sixteen. Yet, growing up, I only knew of the Paper Mill because it stood at the end of my street. I knew of the chalk pits because curiosity was my guide as a kid. I witnessed these first-hand. As a child, I didn't have money or a TV in my room or an iPhone. To entertain yourself you had to go out and explore...and that's exactly what I did.
A Childhood Of Discovery
There is one reason that Snodland was a major part of my life: Discovery. Sure, I had lived in other towns in the U.K, but Snodland is the first town that I deemed truly mine. Every child relishes the chance to be given their freedom, that moment when you are allowed out in public without your parents. When that moment finally arrives you make the most of it. I did.
Snodland became my playground. The high street (pictured above) was my HQ, my main port of call. My friends and I would normally convene here, to chat and hang out. We would then venture forth into Snodland and go about our adventures. Imagine Stand By Me (1986) without the dead kid and that was my childhood.
Let's get one thing out of the way. There are people who will read this and think "so what?". I guarantee some people will read this and think 'Snodland isn't that big a deal' whilst sitting on their sofas at home. A minority might also think I am embellishing a little here. I am not. Snodland, for me, was a place of wonder because it wasn't restricted by the Internet and Facebook and modern technology as we know it. If you wanted to find something, Google wasn't around to help out. I couldn't text a friend about our plans for the evening. Meeting up with friends involved either blind luck or planning in advance. Mobile phones were a futuristic plot device from the movies. We didn't even HAVE the Internet back then (think about that for one moment). If you wanted to discover something you had to actually go out and discover it. This has to be taken into account for this article. The reason this is so dear to me is because I lived every minute of it.
Anyway where was I...oh yes...our adventures would vary from one day to the next. Once such escapade began with exploring the lakes. I lived in a road called Church Field, a strip of homes that started with a Church (see above) and ended with a dirt path. In modern times, this dirt path no longer exists. Housing need has required homes to be built on it. However, I remember this path led to the lakes. To explain, the lakes was an offshoot of water, very minuscule, that severed off from the River Medway. It was found amongst some trees and high grass. I later discovered that this area used to be home to a cement factory and all that remained was some empty shells (formerly buildings) and the foliage. The concrete underneath had become overgrown with disuse and neglect. It was tragic yet amazing to a kid like me.
On my travels, I also discovered three World War II bunkers etched into the scenery. The land along the river was sloped so when I discovered these bunkers I had to find out what hid within. They were nothing but concrete arches buried into the ground, the entrances blocked by concrete bricks. One fateful day, after many trips to this amazing place, I found that three of the bricks had been pulled out. Now, these weren't normal bricks, they were more like breeze blocks. So the hole they left behind was big enough for a kid like me to climb through. In hindsight this was a bad idea...the experience of walking through the entrance and finding a dark cavern of waterlogged tunnels has haunted me since. I had a torch with me but it couldn't pierce the darkness within. I turned two corners before stopping and coming back. The thought of finding a body or a skeleton or even worse, something alive, put a quick end to that adventure.
Once I had a grasp on what Snodland had to offer I explored further. For me, Snodland was divided into sections. There was home (which started at Church Field and ended at the High Street. This also included the lakes and anything along the River Medway). Later on there would be several other sections, but for now I had discovered Snodland Rec. This would later become part of the section called Saltings (so named after the road parallel to the Rec itself, which was on Malling Road). The Rec was a park which housed a playground area for kids, a vast landscape of grass and trees with homes beyond. In the centre of this was a patch of mud and two goal frames. This was the football pitch. For us anyway. What started here soon become two of the best summers I can recall. When I started playing here I gradually developed friendships with a number of people (Boysy, Dennis, Trev, Dave, Andy, Richie, Pocock et al). These guys were legendary and although we had our differences back then (like all kids do at that age) we had some of the best amateur football matches known to man...or boy. We played anyone and everyone. Once done, we would sit down - exhausted - and just hang out. Everyone remembers Kambo's shop opposite if you needed to fuel up or get a surprisingly decent fresh cream cake. Sometimes I wish I could go back and play one more game...
Those summers were some of the greatest times of my life. When I started to read Stephen King books, I connected with them because the setting was usually his hometown of Maine. I now know why. With such fond memories comes inspiration and King clearly does this in his books. IT and Stand By Me resonate because they detail a group of kids, much like us, going about their adventures. As mentioned, take away the dead kid in Stand By Me (and the clown in IT) and it could have been any one of my adventures as a child.
Unfortunately there had to be a time when we all started to grow up. That time was imminent.
The Tracks To Adulthood
A few months later I would discover other vices. At this point, my life changed. I don't believe I'm the first person who altered their outlook on life when girls appeared on their radar. Or discovered the benefits of having facial hair and being able to buy cigarettes or booze (not that I did but it was a nice turn of events, a rare power for someone so young). You see, Snodland has much relevance but it also has the distinction of being the town that ushered in a wave of firsts for me. Trying or experiencing something for the first time will stay with you for your entire life. For me, Snodland was the setting for many of these and it had a various impact on my life. Without them, I don't think I would be the person I am today
I smoked my first cigarette aged fourteen. I'm not proud of it, I blame peer pressure. For me it was a defining moment though. I can't understand (to this day) why people insist on doing it. It didn't taste great, it makes your clothes stink and it certainly isn't cool. I sound so grown up right now. My observation is that people did it to 'look cool'. I know people who certainly did it to impress their peers and I never understood why. All at age fourteen. Mature for my age? Maybe.
I had my first full alcoholic drink (Hooch, quite embarrassing) at age fifteen. I have to stress, this was not purchased by a knowing parent or adult so they are not to blame for this. I simply swiped a bottle from a table in the local Working Men's club and hid in the alley outside. It tasted good at the time but I have since come to learn that there are better qualities and varieties of alcohol. I never drank Hooch again.
I had my first crush aged thirteen. I have since confessed this to the girl (now woman) in question (and she found it amusing) but I never had the balls to tell her at the time. I think she knew anyway but I remember toying with the idea of telling her for years. It never came to fruition. I also had my first kiss aged twelve. Again, this woman probably knows who she is. I remember thinking it was weird at the time. This didn't actually take place IN Snodland but in Larkfield, the next town over. My family now resides there so coming home to them is always a trip down memory lane. Years later, I would also have my first girlfriend in Snodland...my first real relationship and my first breakup. Ups and downs galore.
There are other firsts like my first unsupervised haircut, purchasing my first CD, injuring myself for the first time (which involved a steel dog leash being thrown twenty feet in the air and coming down on my skull, clip first. My Blackburn Rovers shirt never recovered from the lashings of blood). I also had my first job which launched me into the employment world. At this point, my childhood started to take a back-seat to the trials and retributions of being an adult.
Probably the most important first I encountered in Snodland was my first realisation that life, for all its wonder and amazement, can deal you a bad hand on occasion. Shortly after locating to Snodland, my parents separated and got divorced. I remember thinking this was a sick joke. Parents don't break up (back then it was very rare) and it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't really know much about anything. This epiphany came to me aged eleven. It made me a little cynical (which is the case to this day). Since that moment, one that shattered me as a child and effectively started me on the track to adulthood, possibly quicker then I was prepared to, I have had a very black and white approach to relationships. Now, I can look on this as the right thing for all involved. My parents did what was right for all involved. I see families today that are miserable because they stay together for the sake of the children when in reality, being honest about it can benefit everyone. Maybe children should learn early about this topic, especially in a society that seems rife with it. It certainly didn't do me any harm.
Recollections In The Rearview Mirror May Be Closer Then They Appear!
When I set out to write this article, I was challenged to write it as a quest. At first I laughed at the idea, writing about my current hometown (Ipswich, U.K) wouldn't be easy. I've only been here for two years, but I haven't really gone out and explored. I have a job which gets me out of the home, but in my thirties the appeal of staying in for a cosy night on the sofa has much more appeal. I suppose I don't really have an expert view of Ipswich and certainly don't have enough knowledge of the place to bring you an entire article. I picked Snodland because it was a big part of my life, a difficult part of my life, for several years. I was sorry to leave it when I was sixteen. I don't miss it any more because it's in the past and the place isn't what it was. Sure, I remember it fondly, but Snodland has grown over the past fifteen years. There are new buildings that hide the adventures I once had. My memories can only exist in my head and on these pages, which is enough really.
That doesn't mean I will forget the times I had, though. I am still in touch with many people from Snodland, some of whom I mentioned in these pages (whether namedropped or not) and my sister currently resides there, not ten feet from the picture of the High Street I showed you earlier. She recently welcomed her first baby to the world and in ten years, maybe he will be living the same adventures as me, albeit it a little more modern and, hopefully, safer.
I have been to Snodland on several occasions in the past few years. I keep in touch with the town that welcomed in my youth. I certainly don't look it up on Google to reminisce. The Medway Bakery, which for years provided the best sausage rolls known to man, no longer exists. It has since been taken over and the sausage rolls, where still good, aren't a patch on the previous. A&D Fisheries Chip Shop, my first regular chip shop, still provides the best chips in Kent. The last time I checked The Savoy Snooker and Social Club is still going strong. Going through Snodland and not seeing The Bull would just be weird. These parts of Snodland are memorable because I passed them everyday, visited them regularly, popped in after school once the bus had dropped me off. They will always be a part of me, whether in the past or slightly modified present.
So to my original question. Home is where the heart is? The heart is wherever it wants to be but you are in control of that decision. Home is where you are most comfortable. Be that in your past or in your future, only you can decide. For me, Snodland is no longer my home...but it will always be home to me.
Snodland on Amazon
Snodland had a lot of history before I come along.
Another look at Snodland, focusing on the relevance of the town in the 19th and 20th Century.
A history of Townsend Hook Paper Mill.
Snodland's own Judge Dread. His best of album contains adult humour.
A Snodland native, this album contains a song about Snodland, his own recollection of the town.