Disclaimer: I wrote this rather impulsively at about 2am last night. I have no idea why it all popped into my head but it did! It was cathartic to ramble though

My first love was Dogtanian. It wasn’t to be though. Not only was he a cartoon character but he was a dog. More importantly he was clearly far too young for me. Even at my tender age of something very young, I knew it was all about the older man/dog. It could never work.

There was a boy though. He wasn’t my first love. Even at that tender age of 10/11, I was cynical enough to know it wasn’t love. At that age it wasn’t even lust. It was mostly down to the fact that he owned all the current generation consoles and he gave me an escape route. Mostly the consoles though.

His name was Ryan Norden. I remember the surname clearly because at the time I loved watching It’ll be Alright on the Night, presented by Denis Norden (no relation).

He lived next door to my grandmother – my Mum’s mum – who was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer at the time. I didn’t like my grandmother one bit. This is a terrible thing to say I know but she wasn’t a nice woman.

With the experience of age, I know why. Her husband – my Mum’s dad – had died 8-9 years previously and she’d never gotten over it. Instead she drank. A lot. It wrecked her body causing diabetes and eventually pancreatic cancer. She was bitter and I don’t blame her really. I can entirely see why you’d turn like that after such bereavement. Also from things I’ve heard, she wasn’t the greatest of people beforehand unfortunately, but she was my Mum’s Mum and my Mum loved her, even if she didn’t always like her.

I hadn’t had much time with her before the cancer. She lived 200 miles away and we’d moved to Wales when I was 3. I didn’t really see her and have no memories of her before this. I remember she’d phone every Sunday morning and my Mum would sit huddled on the stairs (the phone was at the bottom of the stairs – it was an old fashioned, turn the dial phone so the concept of wireless was very far fetched). It never went well. So I guess even then my early memories of her were of hassle.

When she became ill, we visited a lot. As you do. I have some fond memories of it all, and some crap ones too. She had a dog. It was a huge Alsatian and deeply terrifying when you’re only a young child with no experience of dogs. It ruled the house and every time I entered the house, would leap at me. It took me years to get over that fear. I love dogs now fortunately.

My Mum’s sisters were there frequently too. My Mum had an older sister and a younger sister. I don’t really remember anything great about them. The older sister had three children, all older than me. I liked the youngest. She was really good to me. Then she met someone and got pregnant at the age of 15. They’re still together now and I miss having much contact with them admittedly. At the time though, I hated him. He stole my wonderful cousin after all. I remember chasing him around the garden with a tennis racket. They thought it was a game. I wanted to hit him. Very hard.

My Mum’s younger sister had two children. They were horrible kids. Only controlled in any way by my Mum who has some magical knack with awkward children. They were evil brats though. I remember me and the eldest (a few years younger than me) entering a local competition to win a cuddly Tony the Tiger. He won and treated it appallingly. In my book, you don’t treat cuddly toys badly.

I suppose it made sense that I was the middle child out of the grandchildren, much the same as my Mum was the middle child out of the children. I never felt like I fitted in. I’d sit quietly writing out BASIC code in a little notepad. I was making a football management game – one where you controlled a player rather than the whole team. My Great Uncle was (and is) a lovely man and would get involved and let me explain what was going on. I was an odd child.

I have four very clear memories of my Grandmother – none of them good sadly.

I remember her having a go at me because my parents were ‘canoodling’ in the kitchen and avoiding her. I had no idea what canoodling meant at the time.

I remember her using her commode while I was in the room not caring that at first I had no idea wtf she was doing.

I remember her giving me £20, me being polite and saying ‘No, that’s too much, you don’t have to’ and her saying ‘well fine then, you can have £10 instead’. She used to use money as a form of control. I always got money or items from her, never the love that I wanted.

The clearest however was when we were watching a news report. It was about the conflict in Bosnia and how Britain was taking in refuges to help them out, save them from death and persecution, all that stuff. I remember her loudly proclaiming how it was none of our business and we should just leave them to die. I saw red. Sure I was only 10 or 11 but I knew right from wrong. I had a fairly liberal mindset and a very keen interest in current affairs. I couldn’t believe this woman wanted to leave people to die, innocent women, children, families…I had a go at her. Shortly after that my Mum explained to me how sometimes it’s important to back away from people when they’re that narrow minded and beyond help.

It still rattles me when people say stuff like that but I’ve learnt to keep quiet and sigh to myself. I do it regularly with the other grandmother (there are some scary overlaps here – what did I do to deserve two rubbish grandmothers? C’est la vie).

I remember her dying too. She went into a coma. By the time we got there after a mad dash up the M4, she was dead. For years I thought it was my fault that my Mum missed seeing her alive. I mistakenly thought that she was conscious when we set off but we had to stop off at the library to return a book of mine. That guilt haunted me for ages, I never had the nerve to ask. Until one day, it all came out that she’d been in a coma for hours beforehand and it didn’t really matter when we got there as she wouldn’t have known.

I remember going into the house and seeing my Mum be told the news that she’d died shortly beforehand. The howl as my Mum screamed in frustration and upset as she thumped the wall with her arms. This was particularly scary as due to my Mum’s neck/arm injury, I knew this would have caused her considerable pain but she didn’t care at that moment.

With the knowledge I have now, I recognise that howl. It’s the howl she made as she tried to save my Dad. I was more quiet and calm. Not calm exactly, just numb. It’s a chilling howl to hear though. I hope I never hear it again.

Anyway, I was talking ages ago about Ryan Norden.

Ryan Norden lived next door. He didn’t really like girls. It was that awkward age where boys and girls don’t mix because the opposite sex smell and all that. His Mum was really nice though and knew what was going on next door. How it was difficult for everyone and how bored I was getting with the many trips. So she invited me round.

Ryan had a younger brother too, whose name I can’t remember. It might have been Adam but this might be complete nonsense. They had matching haircuts – both blonde with that ‘curtains’ fringe haircut. Kind of like a young David Beckham, except they were there first.

Their parents were rich. They had a Megadrive, SNES, Gameboy and Game Gear. I only had a Commodore 64 and a Gameboy. This was amazing.

My first experiences of Sonic, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Streetfighter 2, countless others which didn’t have as big an impact, this was something special. I loved going there. It was a fantastic escape route and no doubt helped my parents a great deal, knowing that at least I was happy.

Ryan’s family had a sodastream I remember which was amazing at the time. We drank Witch’s Brew regularly despite it tasting absolutely foul.

November 5th came around and we were at my Grandmother’s once more but I got to go next door and participate in their fireworks display. They even had Catherine Wheels. I’d never seen them before!

We left for a few days, then that phone call came and we rushed back up there. It was November 10th I think. A couple of days before my Mum’s birthday. It was chaos. Heart breaking chaos. Not that I knew it at the time.

As soon as Ryan and his brother were back from school, I went round there. I stayed there most of the night. They bought a KFC (actually it wasn’t KFC, it was something like it though) bucket for the family. The first time I’d ever eaten anything like it. I didn’t like the fact that I had to eat it off the bone though.

My memories get a little hazy now but either during that visit, or the one afterwards for the funeral, I went with Ryan’s family to watch him play football. I remember them handing out orange halves to everyone on the team. I remember cheering him on as much as I could. It was brilliant. I was taken away from all the stresses and horrors of the house and the house clearance.

Of course, my Grandmother dying meant we had no reason to go back there. Instead we had all the reason to never go back to that area again. The memories would have been too hard on my Mum after all. I remember saying goodbye to Ryan and his brilliant family (well, mostly his Mum. I remember his Dad being rather grumpy). We vowed to keep in touch. We exchanged a couple of letters but it wasn’t long until we stopped.

Every now and then I think of him. The impact it all had on my life. Funnily enough, with the small amount of inheritance my parents gained from my Grandmother, they bought a PC (which was absolutely amazing back then) and a Sega Megadrive for me. I remember going to Toys R Us, just to look and walking out with a Sega Megadrive 2 with Sonic 2 and Megagames 1 (it included Columns, World Cup Italia 90 and Super Hang On. I’ve still got it).

The gaming part of things formed a huge part of my life of course.

I suspect he shaped more than that though. I think at various points in my life, I’ve sought out people that I can bolt with. People that can take me away from whatever’s causing me so much grief and stress. I can certainly think of more examples. I haven’t done so with my Dad but I kinda had to deal with it face on. I didn’t have just myself to deal with in that case but my Mum also. Instead of escaping, I withdrew into myself and guarded her from whatever came our way.

That’s for another analytical ramble though I think.

My first love