We've finally secured a reasonably good internet connection, so before I'm inevitably thrown back to the dial-up ages I've been making the most of those advanced, high-bandwidth services that you lucky people in the developed world take for granted, like YouTube videos above 144p, non-HTML Gmail and Google Street View, which enables less fortunate people to imagine they're wandering the real streets of wealthier countries in 2009.
I've thought for a while that when I finally make it back to the UK and visit the family, I might also take a tour of my childhood homes and haunts in search of overwhelming primal nostalgia or crushing existential despair about the transience of our brief lives. Any emotion would be fine really.
But since we just built a house, and that rules out travel for this year at least, I settled for a synthetic virtual substitute and spent an hour or so clicking along familiar routes to schools, playgrounds and newsagents where the latest issue of Dinosaurs! magazine with another free bit of glow-in-the-dark Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton isn't waiting for me any more. I didn't feel much of anything.
If you're ever in South Cheshire, Lancaster or Edinburgh and you feel like paying tribute to my life, here's where to light those candles.
5 Chatham Way (1985-88)
We moved to a slightly larger house every time another child joined our ranks (what were they trying to improve on?), and that's at least useful for accurately dating my early memories.
I have lots of memories of this bungalow and garden, not that I recognise it from this angle. But get me closer and, as long as there are still stepping stones to the shed, Thomas all over the bedroom and Fun House on the telly, I'd recognise it anywhere.
50 Repton Drive (1988-91)
Was it 50 or 51? One of those at the top of the hill anyway. It had a black garage door 25 years ago, but someone's painted it since. I'm not sure of the dating on this one, apart from it being the base of operations throughout my reception year at Haslington C. P. School (1990-91) and probably also pre-school at Gutterscroft Playgroup, since that was in the area.
My memories of the interior are oddly less clear than for Chatham Way, but the garden was nice, apart from that time I got stung by a bee in the flower bed and the time Mitzi was squashed by a log (which I fortunately didn't witness, unless I've buried it somewhere). The spoiled corporate child double-whammy of a Batman birthday followed by a Ghostbusters Christmas happened here. The Turtles crossed over.
32 Ashley Meadow (1991-95)
The lazy street view camera didn't bother going to the end of that drive and intruding on the occupants' privacy, which is a shame as this was my definitive childhood home and the one I'd most like to revisit and be devastated by. The garden was full of swings and roundabouts and my wardrobe was full of jigsaws.
Even if the latter divorce-pending days were gloomy, this is where most of my childhood memories happened, including the arrival of my youngest brother, heralded by me leaping for my life out of a bath that had suddenly filled with blood. Don't worry, mother and baby were fine. This is where I wrote Doctor Disguise and a million other things before being distracted by the bright pixels of the Amiga 1200 which ruined me forever.
16 Spring Gardens (1985-2003)
Nana and Grandad's house for all the time I knew them and a lot longer before that, my second home offered the consistency my various first homes lacked.
I wandered over there one time, a year or so after they were gone, and it was as unpleasant an experience as I expected, seeing the plants neglected and the driveway cracked by weeds. It's looking much better these days - look, there's even a satellite dish.
It would be unfair to compare this budget single-parent renter to the lavish Haslington matrimonial mortgager it followed, so hopefully I didn't do that too often.
My memories are still mostly happy though, and even if a disappointing majority of that happiness centred around the latest exciting issue of Sonic the Comic, I at least got outside a lot thanks to nearby playing fields and a clingy friend who seemed like the human version of a stray cat. I hope everything was alright there.
Dad's house (where he's just informed me he still lives, so I've removed the number in case a mental ever reads this) is what I feel my house would have been like if my wife hadn't been happy to take care of all the designing and furnishing that I could never be bothered to do properly. What can I say? It's walking distance from the town centre and transport links.
36 Newfield Street (1997-2001)
My Mum didn't want to live in Sandbach, and I don't blame her. But it was the only way to get me into the capture area of the "good" secondary school, rather than a rougher Crewe school where I might get beaten up but might also get to talk to a girl before the age of 19.
As one of my teenage homes, it's invariably tainted by that fact. But I watched a lot of good TV, played a bit of PlayStation, and there was a nice garden with a water feature which provided an occasional home for hoppy frogs that our new cat just loved decapitating.
16 Latham Road (2001-04)
I don't have particularly positive associations with this one, but that could be more about me and the age(s) I was. But also the awful, noisy neighbours who at least prepared me for life in the Philippines.
Bowland Hall Block 1 (2004-05)
Image: Studentcrowd.com. I guess they didn't let Google in.
I was finally free and independent in my own pad, even if I would come to regret splashing out on a room with a la-de-da en-suite and cleaning service I never used rather than roughing it in the prison cells of County College. Never mind, you can always supplement your student loan by selling illegal Chinese import DVDs on eBay.
Cityblock 1 (2005-06)
The most happenin' place in town! (For Lancaster, that might not be an exaggeration). If this slightly showy and social-seeming student pad doesn't exactly seem me, that'll be because I signed the lease ridiculously early in one of the first weeks of the previous year, when the guys I'd been hanging out with in Bowland Hall decided it would be brilliant and I hadn't yet realised I might find better friends by daring to be picky about things like interests and personality.
Never mind, if you don't feel like hanging out with the drunk racists you can just stay in your bedroom and listen to the violent conversations as various locals stagger home in the early hours directly below your window.
23 Ambleside Road (2006-07)
Third time's the charm as I enjoyed the authentic student house experience in my final year, drug-dealing housemate and all. Cheap, uncomfortably cold and damp, this is the first place I felt at home since fleeing the nest. It wasn't even spoiled by the armed robbery when the dealer's lifestyle choices caught up with him and anyone in the vicinity. They reckon it was a fake gun anyway.
That daily walk along the canal to the bus stop, watching the ducklings appear in the spring and grow up as I approached graduation, is a textbook case of not appreciating what you've got until it's gone. Did I think that was a normal thing I could find just anywhere?
23 Loaning Crescent (2007-09)
(Google's spy cameras temporarily catch up with my life at this point, so I might have been behind one of the windows in this or the next picture, but I was probably at work).
At £250 per month, this was the cheapest Edinburgh rent I could find as an unemployed fresh graduate who'd almost maxed out his free student overdraft that was soon going to start closing in. So what if I had a colourful child's room and the landlord slipped unprompted casual racism into every conversation? I wouldn't have stayed for over two years if it was too bad.
Living here was instrumental in stretching my definition of "walking distance," since the city centre was a good 45 minutes away at a brisk pace, but I never got tired of that walk. Friends who offered lifts just couldn't understand.
15 West Pilton Bank (2009, 2010)
Catching up with a friend from my old job, I learned that he had a spare room and I was looking for a change. It seemed like a perfect fit before it immediately went Odd Couple, but a version where the fussy character gives up trying after a few weeks and just doesn't buy any fridge food he doesn't want to get eaten before he has a chance to get at it himself, and refuses to clear more than an emergency shower circle when he wakes up one morning to find the bath caked in dirt that would then remain forever.
It's not like I wasn't given adequate warning when I stepped off the bus on day one to be greeted by a car on fire. I left after a few months to live with other friends, but came crawling back the following year when I needed flexible month-to-month lodging before leaving the country for good.
161 Great Junction Street (2009-10)
I only stayed here for the bare minimum six-month lease that my flatmate desperately haggled when we learned too late how criminally awful the Grant Management letting agency is. Despite all the problems, it was very convenient for the office job, and I liked the cats.
~ Fin ~
After her children had all left, Dave's Mum bought a dilapidated house in the country where she delights in spending all her free time on home improvement.
His Dad's activities aren't too difficult to follow when you know the slightly rude username he uses for everything.
His middle brother ended up in Dundee, where he is mercilessly developing the very artificial intelligence that will destroy our civilisation because he clearly despises humanity.
His youngest brother has not caused any more terrified children to leap out of baths at the sight of uterine bleeding, to our knowledge.
After many subsequent years of weak excuses followed by silent resignation, Dave never returned home.