In Search of Nina McKliggan

You know Chingford? The main road, King’s Head Hill? That’s where I spent my childhood, not far up from the traffic lights at the bottom. You know the traffic lights? Well, go in your mind to the bottom of King’s Head Hill and turn left. There were shops there then. Still are, perhaps. I knew that as a child. Go to the bottom of the hill and turn left – shops.

Now, go to the bottom of the hill and turn right. Keep going long enough, and you’ll reach my then school, Yardley Lane Primary. In the same area was my friend, Colin. I knew that as a child. Go to the bottom of the hill and turn right – school and Colin.

Now go back up the hill, all the way to the top. Cut left past the church and the green, and you get to the library. I knew that as a child. Go to the top of the hill – library.

Ah, but now… go to the bottom of the hill and carry straight on. You’ll pass the reservoirs, of course; I could see them loom mysterious at the roadside like great flat-topped earthworks. Between them like a cut, a long, straight road leading… where? I could see so far down it, but it told me nothing. Bordered by regularly spaced trees, behind them fencing, behind the fencing grass banks up to the reservoirs, themselves unknown and unapproachable, it was a road unlike any other road I knew. It served no purpose. It simply went.

Somewhere.

Somewhere else.

No Victorian explorer dreamed on uncharted continents as I dreamed on that road as a child of five. I’d heard of strange foreign lands such as the two Germanies, one peopled by a race of devils, the other by tourists who seemed quite normal but sounded funny when they spoke. They were down that road. When astronauts went into space they started out by travelling that road. The singing, ringing tree was down that road, and somewhere down that road lay the end of the rainbow. I knew what was up, what was left, what was right; everything else was ahead, down that road.

There was nowhere else for it to be.

Down that road, as now I know, lived Nina McKliggan; but by the time I got to go down it, she’d gone.


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