Heckington, Grantham, Doncaster, Manchester…

Grantham

Four railway stations I’ll have visited between 10 o’clock and 5 o’clock today; each one bigger than the last. Tomorrow I’ll do the journey in reverse, together with daughter and family, coming for a few days visit – nice treat for me! Today I’ve been sat alone on trains, checking email and reading cheery documents about the likely impact of Universal Credit. Tomorrow I expect instead to be entertaining small grandchildren during the rigours of the journey. Only now do I remember that I meant to bring with me a new book called Maisie’s Train… Oh well.

The picture above is Grantham station, with the little train I get on at Heckington just pulling out on its way to Nottingham.

Last time I did this journey it was dark by the end of the afternoon. The year has moved on a little so today there’s light for me to see the Peak District between Sheffield and Manchester out of the train window; those smooth green hills stunning even under dark, lowering rainclouds. As at home, in that very different landscape, the green of the fields has a strange intensity as twilight falls.

Time passes and travel is such a strange thing: it seems only moments since I was looking out on those grassy, ancient slopes, but now it’s dark, I’m on the tram and Manchester is all shops and lights and rain.

Change at Cornbrook: a cold wind blowing as always, but worth it for the sunset over a city skyline.

Moonrise

Some of my best thinking has been done on trains in the past. Just now travel seems instead to interrupt thought and thus writing. I had another quick trip away last week, to London this time, for a mediation course. And as before, I came back with a jumbled mind and nothing to say.

For years I have felt that I needed travel to give me inspiration, ideas or stories; and have felt frustrated, angry, prevented from writing. Now ideas come at home; nothing earth-shattering perhaps, just the bits and pieces which end up on here, but so welcome. It’s such a relief to feel that openness and expansion from which thoughts bubble up, unforced, unanxious, surprising, like the best of good friends.

So perhaps, I think, it was space and light I was after, all these past years; space, light and this so-English landscape of field and hedgerow and water.

When the dogs and I came to the field yesterday afternoon, I mistook a smear of yellow light for the last of the sunset – even though, as we know, the sun sets behind the church, in the west and not the east. Then, a lovely thing, the moon appeared, a pale vast gold sphere, striped with cloud, hanging low over the fields. Found myself wondering if one can call the moon gold when traditionally she is silver; thought of Romeo and ‘yonder blessed moon… that tips with silver all these fruit tree tops.’

Today at twilight I was on my way to Grantham station. Driving due west, my way ahead was all black trees against a yellow sky fading to white; mile after mile into the dying of the light.

Collected partner off the train from happy jaunt to see Man United beat Fulham at Old Trafford. Home again in the dark, but all the way we had that moon again, huge and low and orange as a harvest moon; symbol of plenty in the depths of winter.

Monochrome

Last night when I went to bed the garden was white, under a blanket of snow as unreal as cake icing. I heard rain in the early hours and this morning, no more snow, just an ordinary garden, green again.

Some pictures I took on a walk with partner the other day have come out looking as if taken in black and white; reminders of that beautiful, bleak monochrome world that has disappeared.

If you tap or click on an image, they should come up as a gallery of larger pictures you can scroll through.

A sense of history

So far only a few people have posted comments on this blog. I’m hoping for more as time goes on, since I’m loving the ones that have arrived. I’ve enjoyed friends making connections with places I’ve mentioned in my posts on Heckington Windmill and Skegness.

But most of all I like all the comments on my post called this too shall pass about the sense of perspective or wonder or groundedness that comes from the presence of the past around us in landscape, buildings or objects. I loved history as a child, at school and later at university and I am still always prodded into musing and wonderment when I find myself in an old church or gazing at ancient hedgerows and fields. Most of all I find myself pondering on the ways in which people living, say 400 years or 800 years ago were like or unlike us living here today. Which, again, is part of my enduring interest in what makes us human and makes us like other humans, and in the connections and divisions between one part of humanity and another.

And I’m interested as well, reading the comments, on how for some of us it is landscape or buildings, the physical environment, that give us that sense of roots and history, whereas for others it may be found in ancient tools or household objects.

So if you’ve not looked at this too shall pass and the comments on it, go and have a look now. You can get to the individual posts with their comments via the links in the text above.

View from the dog field

imageLike it says: this is the view at present from the field where we most often take our two lurchers, only a short walk from the house. The older of the two is pretty old and pretty doddery sometimes, but both of them are frisky in the snow. Another photo cadged from partner’s camera – thank you, partner.

Originally this picture came up larger – no time to fix it now – but if you tap or click on the photo, you can see it full size, which is better!

Vegetable stories

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A vegetable box arrived bright and early this morning from Woodlands Organic Farm at Kirton, in the fens near Boston. When still back in Manchester, I asked famous Unicorn Grocery about their Lincolnshire suppliers (of whom there are quite a few, this being the vegetable basket of England). They put me on to friendly Pam, from Strawberry Fields farm and she told me about Woodlands.

I’ve never done the veg box thing because in the years that box schemes have really taken off, we (or rather partner) have been growing our own. The vegetables look very nice (especially the fine cauliflower), but I’ve been eating off an allotment, very seasonally and very locally, for so long that I am disconcerted by red pepper and courgettes in January.

I have a strange urge to hide them; so into a soup they go. Also in the pot are onions, a red chilli and squash, all grown on our old plot at Southern Allotments. The squash (pictured above) is a beautiful Crown Prince, grown from seeds given us by a kind friend who also has an allotment.

Crown Prince, with its lovely grey-green, ridged skin, reminds me of a pale green teapot I bought many years ago – contemporary English pottery but with a celadon glaze and very Chinese look about it. I wonder if it is only coincidence that the squash looks like my teapot, or if perhaps some long-ago Chinese potter was inspired by a squash.

Also into the soup I put a couple of bay leaves from a tree which came with me from my Brixton garden nearly 23 years ago. So absurdly pleasing that it has flourished in its pot through all the Manchester years and is here with me in this new place: my continuity girl.

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It’s cold outside

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The cold weather is frustrating in some ways as we would love to be getting stuck into the garden. There are leylandii hedges to be cut down – before birds start nesting in them – and much planning to be done, measuring of space for chicken run, costing of fantasy greenhouse and so on.

But the garden is very beautiful in the snow and ice. Everything is outlined in haw frost: great trees and small, the washing line, each twig or tiny leaf fallen on the ground become something distinct and extraordinary.

And the landscape from the train window yesterday (when on my weekly trip to Doncaster) was like a Christmas card: field after ploughed field striped with snow. The morning started badly, with train from Skegness nearly half hour late. Our picturesque local station is much too small for waiting room or coffee or anything warming like that. But I haven’t fallen out of love – still seems a miracle to be able to walk ten minutes down a village street and get on a train at all.

I think that if you tap on these images you can see them full size, which looks much nicer.

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This too shall pass

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I’ve had an unsettled week. After Doncaster on Wednesday, I went on to Manchester for the night and a tasty Chinese meal. Thursday began with an early walk with friend and her dog; then most of the day was spent with daughter and grandchildren. It was very odd to be back so soon when I don’t live there any more. I’ve been walking with dogs in that park for nearly twenty years and know the house where I stayed overnight almost as well as if it were my own. Everything felt overwhelmingly familiar; I felt like some sort of imposter and everyone was kind and lovely.

To London on Saturday for mum’s birthday party. It was good to catch up with family, my friends, my mum’s friends – much warmth and good conversation – but I come back feeling disconnected. A slight panic sets in that I will not recapture that sense of being home that I have had so strongly since we moved. Monday afternoon I manage, in my distraction, to give myself twice the insulin I needed, a massive dose; and the afternoon is lost in prolonged and disorientating hypoglycaemia.

Something warmer, more alive stirs in my chest when I walk through the churchyard and again, coming home with the dog, across a snowy field, with the church tower black against a sunset sky and a crescent moon hanging above.

I love these medieval buildings being part of the everyday landscape here, as they were in the landscape of my childhood. The presence of the distant past gives me a crazy sense of hope, wrests power from despair. I think that people have not changed that much; I think of how we are connected more than divided. There is peace too, a letting go, an expansiveness to be had from these reminders that life and other people were here before us and will be after, that we are neither the beginning nor the end.