Hooray! The light returns.

Winter light - Alison

The winter solstice happened just under an hour ago as I write this. Henceforth (until June) it all gets better, the days get longer.

This beautiful photo, taken by my cousin Alison, conjures up for me the thrill of light emerging from the dark and seems just right for this moment of the year.

It’s a wild and windy night outside, with nothing about it of summer days to come. But as I raced back from a North Manchester park on darkening streets with my granddaughter, I suddenly remembered that the solstice was about to happen and was so excited. I don’t know why it takes me this way, like a child about Christmas, but it does. I am tired and feel I have a cold coming on, but am nevertheless absurdly happy just in this moment. I think for me the lengthening days and returning light are a promise that life goes on, a reminder of all that it means to me: all that light and warmth and love.

This is what I wrote on this day last year, in more solemn mood.

And now I must go and cook some sausages and peel some potatoes. Life goes on…

One year; two dogs

Doris

This time a year ago we moved and I wrote this post as we were about to leave Manchester.

Some hours later, about the time of day that I am writing this, the removal men were unpacking the van and I was walking two very fed-up lurchers round a strange village in the dark. They were not impressed by the trip over the Pennines in an over-stuffed campervan or by a late walk on the lead.

The new garden in the morning, with neighbouring cats to chase off, was better. But that first evening I felt like a very poor dog owner.

A year later both dogs are gone and we are bereft. Bob, everybody’s friend, the plucky three-legged character, died in the summer at nearly fifteen years old. Doris, our ‘young’ dog, was nearly thirteen by then – see Spot the dog and Poor Doris for more about her. She was getting a bit stiff with arthritis, but was still frisky in spirit and we expected her to be with us for some time more.

Yesterday, suddenly her back legs gave out and she couldn’t walk or even stand. We talked about investigations, x-rays, general anaesthetics, pain relief. We wanted to keep her longer but it felt that it would be entirely for us not for her. So we let her go and the house is desolate with no dog. In twenty years we have always had at least one.

I was planning a celebratory post about a year in Heckington for today. But all I can think about is that a year ago I had two dogs and now I have none. And then, ridiculously I start feeling guilty about making them move.

I know this is transferred guilt about having hurt people by my leaving (of which more another time). Really I know that no dogs, or people, died because I moved to Lincolnshire. I’m glad that Bob and Doris shared the beginning of our new life and I’m glad they had a garden for their last months.

But I do miss them: beautiful creatures, greedy scavengers, speed merchants, born-to-kill hunters, all of that and dear companions.

Bob

People and places, revisited

Sunset in the winter garden

So I ponder this paradox: that I don’t love this city, find little beauty or joy in its many faces, and yet so many places in it remind me of love.

I wrote this a year ago today, two days before leaving Manchester.

These themes, of connection to place and connection to people have continued to preoccupy me in the past year while I have been writing this blog. Many people, I guess, though definitely not everyone will have a time in their life when they face this kind of split; when the people they love and the place where they feel at home are far apart.

As I have approached the anniversary of us moving here, I have been missing Manchester friends and family very much, both a wider group of people we had known over many years and a few, very close friends, and my daughter and grandchildren, whose company I miss every day.

And yet I wouldn’t go back. There has not been one minute, one time since arriving here when I wished myself living in Manchester again.

In Manchester I used to try to summon up a sense of homecoming as I approached my house, my street after being away; but my pleasure at coming home to my loved ones, my familiar surroundings, was always tinged with nelancholy. How odd to have lived in a place for so long and never loved it. Is it something wrong with me or just that we didn’t fit?

If I left here and came back, I imagine myself falling on my knees, digging my hands in the earth like an exile coming home.

In fact sometimes I want to do just that, even now: the earth looks so luscious in the bare, ploughed winter fields.

A sense of history: in Boston

Boston Stump

Boston, Lincolnshire is not often in the news but was last week because of a terrible storm and flooding. Boston was a very important medieval port but the silting up of the River Witham, which empties into The Wash brought decline. It is still a watery town, with the river and big man-made drains carrying water from the Fens, running through it.

I was in Boston the day before the storm. It’s a half hour walk from the station to Pilgrim Hospital, grey and overcast on my way there and brilliant sunshine on the return journey (the latter sadly painful, after laser treatment on my eyes). My route took in St Botolph’s Church (otherwise known as Boston Stump and visible for miles across the fenland fields), Maud Foster Drain, Maud Foster Windmill and a lovely footpath through winter allotments. All the photos are on the Facebook page.

Medieval England feels very alive to me here in this part of the country, as it did when I was growing up near Cambridge. I don’t know why it holds such a spell for me; and I know that perhaps it makes little sense of speak of half a millennium (from the 11th century, say, to the 16th) as one period. But when, as on Saturday night, I sit in my village church, built in the 1300s and listen to a carol from the 1500s, when I lay my hands on the massive stone pillars, I feel I touch, across the centuries, the hands of those who built the church or who came, generation after generation to worship there.

On that day in Boston, crossing bridges, river, drains, I had a powerful, vivid sense of another Boston, in its twelfth century heyday, waterways full of boats and men and ropes and shouting; it seemed very near me, almost seen, as though through a veil.

I could have been sad, for what has passed, but I felt instead an exciting sense of timelessness, of today’s Boston containing still that other town, as we each hold all our past and all our future.

Maud Foster Drain

Food and friendship revisited

This time last year, when we were leaving, I spent a lot of time looking back over my time in Manchester. I don’t keep a diary, but my nearest thing to one is my cookery notebook, as described in this, my second blog post, Of food, feasts and friendship.

The party I talked of there was our last in our Manchester house, but we didn’t do the cooking as we were packing up to move. Friends brought the food, which was nice, but strangely this means that I haven’t written it down in the notebook. I know what we ate at our first Manchester party on 22nd December 1990, but I can’t remember for sure the date of our leaving party in December 2012 (or was it still November?).

Recently I have heard of the death of a friend’s mother and a friend’s father, both very striking people in very different ways; and also people I’ve not seen for many, many years. It is only this evening, in another retrospective session with the notebooks, that I find I cooked for both of them in 1981. Is this an odd way to commemorate people?

I can’t help but look back, to Manchester and beyond, as the anniversary of our moving approaches. When I was doing the same this time last year- and trying to imagine myself in the new life to come – I said that I wouldn’t miss Manchester the city, but I would miss my friends. And that has turned out to be exactly right.

Happy Blog Birthday

From the park
This was one of my favourite views back where I used to live in Manchester; and this photo of it was taken this time last year. Coming home through Chorlton Park, I would look through trees to little rows of little houses running down to allotments and the park.

For a few seconds home looked like part of somewhere greener, smaller, without the surrounding acres of buildings, cars and people.

More photos taken back in December 2012 are on the Facebook page.

Now home is marked by the church tower seen across flat fields, sometimes from miles away. It is very strange to read my first post, written one year ago today, written when we were making ready to move but had no idea what the new place would be like.

It was a planned move, a long-desired move, but a step into the unknown for all that.

I stepped into a new life and found myself at home.

Grantchester: bringing it all back home

Footpath to Barton

I’ve had a brief visit to Grantchester, where I grew up, to see my mum and to go to the Advent Carol Service in Kings College Chapel, a great treat.

As a teenager I used to queue with friends for the more famous Christmas service, but the service for Advent is my favourite. There is always some very early music which I love. So in this flying visit I spent time in a beautiful, old building, listening to beautiful and ancient music; and took pictures of winter farmland.

The medieval world and the outdoor world are both part of the fabric of my childhood and adolescence. Much of what I have written in this blog deals with a sense of connection to the past and to a particular landscape (see Childhood landscape and Landmarks in a flat country). On Thursday it will be the first anniversary of beginning the blog and soon after that, the anniversary of us moving to Heckington.

So my next few posts will be a kind of retrospective; a chance to think about what I have learned about connection to place and people through this adventure of moving to somewhere new and finding myself at home. I will put up my first few posts from this time last year on the Facebook page.

I have also put up an album of photos taken in Grantchester, some, but not all, of which have appeared in earlier posts. The Facebook page is public, like a business page or website, so you don’t have to have a Facebook account in order to visit it and look at photos. You would have to be on FB yourself in order to ‘like’ the page or post comments on it.

I have loved writing this blog; it has been a focus for my thinking about history, place, belonging and so on. It has also been a reason to take more photos than I had done for a long time before.

So thank you to everyone who has come along for the ride, especially those of you who have been reading and following since very early on. You know who you are!

Bridle Way