On The Road Not Taken

By Paul Dodgson

A memoir that is a love story about the transformational power of music

Thursday, 23 February 2017

New Extract. It is June 1975 and I want to buy a record...


Here is a short extract from my work in progress memoir On The Road Not Taken.  I am 13 years old and have saved up enough money to by a record. It is a big event having this much money and so stands out as a memory.  Because there are two narratives in the book running concurrently, one from childhood and one set in the present, I am experimenting with writing the past story in the second person to distinguish the long ago from the contemporary. 

The video links you to a recording of Looking For Someone,  the song by Genesis I listen to in the piece.  

Let me know what you think.


You leave the Avenue and walk up the footpath to the village on this hot Saturday afternoon, when the air is thick with the sound of lawnmowers and the smell of cut grass. You step over nettles as the ground between the back garden fences is choked with weeds.  In the pocket of your jeans is a five-pound note, almost all the money you have in the world and enough to buy an LP.

Although it is easier to catch a bus to Folkestone where there is a record shop, you prefer to go by train, because the train feels like an adventure.   Walking up the Sandling Road past the entrance to the school, silent on a Saturday, the occasional car passes, but the road is mostly empty, as are the fields and the distant woods.   Almost nothing seems to be moving on this hot day apart from you.  At the station the metal on the footbridge is warm to the touch.  You get on the train, and that is empty too and nearly all the windows are open, so the clackety racket of the undercarriage is exaggerated, and wafts of scented air transform the smell of train into summer fields. 

You walk from Folkestone Central into town, sleepy on this sticky afternoon.  In the dimly lit record shop you are the only customer.  You search through the racks, fingers walking the sleeves, flicking though LP’s, occasionally lifting one out to examine the picture.  You already have a shortlist of two records, so this searching is just exquisite pleasure, prolonging the moment of decision.

The racks are arranged in alphabetical order and you give the G section a wide birth, saving it for the end.   Within the G’s, the band Genesis have their own sub-section.  You want to buy one of their albums, either Selling England by the Pound or Trespass.  The former you have heard at a friend’s house while the later you have only heard about.  You study the pictures on the cover and weigh up the known versus the unknown, then put both records back and leave the shop.

You walk to the Leas, the ribbon of gardens that run along the clifftop and stand, staring across the shimmering water to the silhouettes of cliffs on the French coast.  The air is full of squawking gulls and the breeze carries the smell of holidays and the feint sound of children playing in the waves below.   Your mind is a frenzy of indecision.  Selling England orTrespass…. known versus unknown… five pounds…  You think how it will play out on Monday when you go back to school and tell the story of the weekend.  You just cannot make up your mind, so you go back to the shop and go through the whole thing again.

Then at last you decide.  You will take the risk and go for the unknown. Trespass it is.  You pass over five pounds and walk back to the station. 

Sitting on the empty platform waiting for the train, you pull out the sheet of lyrics from the inner sleeve.  The words are shrouded in mystery but hint at something bigger than this hot afternoon in Folkestone, something more mysterious than the small town of Hythe and your parents mowing the lawn at home. 

Alone in your bedroom you remove the black disc from the sleeve, hold it at the very edges and place it, tenderly, on the turntable.  You lift the arm and lay the needle in the groove.  There is the anticipatory crackle that quiets as Peter Gabriel’s voice trickles from the single speaker, loaded with secrets and delicious wisdom. 

      Looking for someone, he sings, I guess I’m doing that.

You close the curtains so the neighbours can’t see, stand in front of the mirror and mouth along to the words.  You do not see yourself, thin, slope shouldered and adolescent as now you are looking though Peter Gabriel’s eyes into the crowd at a gig, where an ocean of upturned faces look up at you, mouths open in adoration, like nestfuls of hungry, baby birds.

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mike fitzgerald
 mike fitzgerald says:

Like the new extract, but not keen on the author standing outside of his youthful sense. It's your story, so tell it in the first person is my advice.

posted 23rd February 2017

mike fitzgerald
 mike fitzgerald says:

Youthful self!

posted 23rd February 2017

Paul Dodgson
 Paul Dodgson says:

Thanks Mike. That's helpful. I tend to prefer first person present tense. Just experimenting with the idea of standing outside my youthful self because I can!

posted 24th February 2017

Andrew Wain
 Andrew Wain says:

Not totally sold on the second person approach.It conveys a sense of alienation but not
necessarily distance.
But Trespass was the correct decision.....a much better album than Selling England.....

posted 25th February 2017

Wendy Breckon
 Wendy Breckon says:

I feel that the use of the second person is very effective. This encapsulates the fervour of a young lad with a £5 note in his pocket who can't wait to buy his favourite music. As a reader, l found myself included in the journey, the feet on the hot sticky pavement getting nearer and nearer. The exquisite pleasure of choosing which one to buy... was mine too.

posted 27th February 2017

Paul Dodgson
 Paul Dodgson says:

Thank you Andy and Wendy. Very useful feedback. I enjoyed writing this but think the second person might get wearisome across the whole book. And it would be strange for you, Andy, reading a sentence that said, 'and then you go to Andy's house.'

posted 27th February 2017

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