Black Hounds, Sheffield, and the Ghosts of Dark Memories Return

Depression is likened to a mythical black hound, a creature of tenacious loyalty. I sense that in this pack of ghostly creatures exists too a hound that chases and harries and unearths memories, rotting fragments of childhood trauma. The hounds bay when we approach their territory, nails scraping concrete, teeth bared, salivating, eyes reddened.

33 years ago. I remember it now, a memory once forgotten ,returned in its original packaging, pristine and fresh. Names, faces, grainy images in monochrome, feelings of unexpressed, unprocessed fear . I was 15, perhaps 16 at a push. I was in Sheffield, staying with my mother in a hotel. I remember it all as I returned to the city this afternoon walking the much changed streets. I saw the ruins of the derelict hotel. Proustian indeed is the search for lost times, but actually I was not searching this time. This time the memories came for me, hunting me down, those strange black hounds, determined beasts of dark emotion. For a brief, irrational moment it was a haunting which I experienced.

I remember a hotel room in Sheffield, in October 1983. I am pretty sure it was the Grosvenor, as I recognised its shell on this trip, once posh now dead. That autumn afternoon, as I relaxed with my mother the news relayed a horrific triple murder of a Sheffield family, in their own home, on the day of their daughter’s wedding. I felt frightened. Perhaps the killer, dubbed the ‘Fox’ was near. But people seldom understand how teenage boys might absorb such events. I took a sudden and intense interest in the story. In fact I surprised my partner today by naming the family and their killer, such was the impression, after 33 years. The crime seemed so cruel. Childish minds cannot absorb random cruelty well. Childish minds believe the same horror will befall them. Childish minds over-empathise. Horror needs a reason. And there was no reason for this. I still recall the police tape and the wedding marquee in the garden. Eerily I remember the layout of the hotel room we were in that day, a small table where I could draw, a room on a low floor. A room where my mother was.

It was also in that room, on the same day as the murders that I came across a new epidemic called AIDS. I read about it in Newsweek, feeling a sense of toxic shame lest the disease see my latent homosexuality and kill me. Such is the mind of a confused teenage boy. And in the perverse manner of memories unwrapped I can visualise a small metal teapot, and white cups. Unlike Proust there were no featherlite madeleines, there was shortbread.

I walked around the ruined hotel again tonight. Its windows are boarded up now, and there is no more tea to be drunk in its rooms, and where once I sat with my mother rats and pigeons dwell, quiet rustlings in a concrete and haunted shell.




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