Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections – Paul Scraton

Paul Scraton | 30th November 2012

Illustration by Julia Stone

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:

I was in a reflective mood for much of this year. In January it was ten years since I moved from Leeds to Berlin, with the idea of spending six months in the German capital before deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Turns out I already knew. I could chase those dreams as well here as I could anywhere else. With starting the Under a Grey Sky website back in the dead time between Christmas and New Year, I also spent a lot of time writing about Berlin, and reflecting on how much it has changed in the decade I have lived here. Observing the city almost every day, the changes seem small and inconsequential until you take a step back and try to picture a certain street, corner or neighbourhood, as it was back in 2002 or 2003. No doubt my equivalent thought the same back then, ten years ago, as he or she stood at Potsdamer Platz or Hackescher Markt and cast their mind back to the early nineties, and so on and so on. Such is the life of a city.

And if writing about my surroundings caused me to look again at what it was that I was seeing, lifting my eyes – perhaps – from the pavement to the wider scene, then travels in 2012 were altered because our six year old daughter was no longer simply along for the ride but was experiencing and articulating those experiences herself. In February I finally made it to Paris, a city that haughtily confounded my cynical expectations, and on crisp, sunny, winter days I wandered the streets joyfully – a joy heightened by sharing it with Lotte. When Paris was experienced through her eyes, there was wonder around every corner.

This sense of shared experiences continued, on a weekend at the Baltic Sea, a place that my partner has been returning to since childhood – the windswept dunes, wide-open beaches and secretive lagoons have captured an important part of her soul. I admit that I found the landscape flat and not a little bleak when she first took me there, comparing it un-favourably to the soaring mountains and dramatic, rocky headlands of North Wales where I spent my own childhood holidays. But over the course of a decade tastes broaden, and there is enough space in the heart to go around. It turns out that Berlin is not the only thing that has changed in the past ten years.

Our travels continued, to Sweden, then in the autumn to Belfast, and all the while it was not only great to watch Lotte find so much inspiration in what was out there to be discovered, but watching her caused me to reflect time and again on those holidays of my own childhood, those long summer weeks on Anglesey with Snowdonia rising above the island on the horizon. There we created our own worlds on the headland and told our own stories, tucked away from parents and the outside world, in those secret, sandy coves.

If I think of a shadow in 2012, it is one that comes to the forefront of my mind every April 15th, as I am taken back to being a nine year old in West Lancashire, somehow aware that what I witnessed happening on our television screens was tragically wrong. And then my dad attempting to explain it to us when it became clear how many people had died on a sunny afternoon in Sheffield – 96 men, women and children at a football match. Through Dad’s work we lived with Hillsborough over the past 23 years, and many of those families became friends of ours during their long and often lonely fight for justice.

So it was something of a shadow lifting then, when on 12 September when Dad delivered the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, of which he was a member, to the

Hillsborough families in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. Within minutes the Prime Minister made a double apology from the floor of the House of Commons – for the disaster and for the injustices that followed. The fans were finally exonerated from any blame, the failings of the agencies that should have kept them safe were exposed and the cover-ups that followed were laid bare.

And there was reflection too, as I thought about all those years of perpetuated myths, of snide comments and how Liverpool – close to my home – had been dismissed as “self-pity city”, and of well-meaning but ultimately insulting advice to the bereaved and survivors to “let it go”. We did not lose anyone on the 15th April 1989, but still it is unimaginable how anyone can “let it go” when their loved ones have been denied, time and again by the very institutions that are supposed to protect and act in their interest. Thankfully, they did not let it go and did not give up, and though a long time coming, justice is finally being done.

There is of course plenty more of 2012 to reflect on, but these are the things that came first to mind when I sat down to write this piece. It has been a pretty good year…

The 395 page Report of the Hillsborough Independent is available on line, here.