Last year I wrote about the rooks we see and hear from our garden. Their constant presence, and that of crows in the fields around us was probably what prompted me to read Crow Country by Mark Cocker. It is a fascinating book in many ways but today I have been thinking of what he writes about his connection to both the place where he lives now and where he lived as a child.
He talks of feeling a sense of possession, of ownership of a particular, familiar territory. He describes what I feel about this part of Lincolnshire where I have fetched up. It belongs to me and I belong to it; ever more so as I learn my way around the back roads and through tiny villages. The shape of the land, turns in the road, particular trees are become familiar, even as the views, the colours and the light still make me shout in surprise and joy.
I remember feeling this way about London when I was a teenager and later, in my twenties, when finally I lived there. I revelled in my growing knowledge of the city, each confident step a claiming of it as my own.
I wrote a while back of imagining coming back to this place where I live now at some time when I no longer lived here, sinking to my knees and plunging my hands into the earth like an exile returned. I go further; I imagine that I could, just now, walk out into the nearest ploughed field, lie on the rich, cold earth and disappear, merge, become a part of it. And in that imaginary desire to become one with the dense clay there is such a lightness and a freedom. This connection, this relationship requires nothing of me but love. I possess and am possessed: equilibrium.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a fourteenth-century ancestor living on the Lincolnshire Coast. At the weekend I was in London to see my mum – staying just across the river from the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern – and revelling in a bit of history of some centuries before my ancestor’s ancestor even arrived in this country (perhaps).
I have loved London for so much of my life but these days I am often wearied by the rampant inequality and deadening, decadent consumerism which seem inescapable in the city. I’ve turned unfaithful late in life and fallen for lovely, empty Lincolnshire.
But I still love the River Thames, vast and tidal like the sea, a workaday, working river, and full of ghosts: of long-dead boatmen, dockers, playwrights even. And here in this unprepossessing part of the City is this piece of ancient history; such a gift.
Queenhithe is the only surviving inlet on the modern City waterfront. It was probably a Roman dock or harbour and later a Saxon one. It got the name of “Queenhithe” when Matilda, daughter of King Henry I, was granted duties on goods landed there.
Two thousand years ago people unloaded goods on this dock; more than a thousand years ago they came to market here. And a thousand years from now, something else will be here: perhaps nothing that we would recognise, except, I guess, the mighty Thames. And so, what a sense of liberation and of hope there is in contemplation of my smallness, seen against the tide of centuries. I watch the iron-grey river and say, ‘this too shall pass;’ and I am light as a feather from the wing of the seagull shrieking overhead.
I’ve mentioned my travels to and from Doncaster in previous posts (Heckington, Grantham, Doncaster, Manchester…). For nearly two years I’ve been going once a fortnight or so to this South Yorkshire town for my training placement in family mediation. I enjoy the 20-minute walk from station to office (along the High Street, past the fetching Blue Building, pictured below), but often that is all I see of the place.
When I do have time to spare, or to kill, I go to The Point on South Parade, home to Doncaster Community Arts and a nice cafe. Last Thursday I was amazed by their exhibition Brilliant Women. The artist Michelle Clarke-Stables invited people to send her snapshots of women who inspired them. The exhibition includes her portraits from the photos and what was said about the women in the paintings, about their creativity, caring, strength, integrity, humour and more besides.
‘Brilliant Women’ is a brilliant title. I felt I walked into a room full of energy and light, of humanity, wisdom, power and love. Clarke-Stables’ portraits are warm and vivid, but what impressed and intrigued me most was the relationship between the paintings and the knowledge that these women all meant something special in someone’s life. Somebody chose each one. Somebody thinks of each one and celebrates.
That choosing, that memory and celebration gave the painted women life and substance. I imagined them stepping off the walls and milling around me. I felt myself in the presence of superwomen.
Yet these women are ordinary. We all know someone just like this. And life is the richer for them being in it; and we give thanks.
Yesterday I was in Gainsborough, in the north-west corner of Lincolnshire. As I left, driving south out of the town, along the route of the River Trent which forms the border with Nottinghamshire at this point, there was the most amazing sunset sky, made more unreal and dramatic by the towers and smoke of refineries in front of it.
It was like a Turner painting, a post-apocalyptic film set, so surprising it made me shout out loud at first sight. I wanted to stop and look, but was in a line of traffic on a narrow road.
By the time I parked in the village of Marton the blazing colours were beginning to fade. But I saw a track leading into the sunset and raced down it. The late hour and low light made the iPad photos fuzzy, but they capture some of the atmosphere of my brief, impromptu walk. The rest of the pictures are on the Facebook page.
The first house we looked at when beginning on our journey to Lincolnshire back in 2012 was in this village. I found myself thinking yesterday how I might have been walking this track every day with our dogs. We would have been getting to know a very different part of the county, have met different people, be looking at different views; a strange thought.
The juxtaposition of sheep, sky and industry sums up some essence of England for me. My drive home in the dark was tiring so that the wonder and glory of twilight in Marton was lost for a while. But looking at the photos today makes me want to shout again. The spaciousness and solitude of moments like these, the colours, the textures and the light knock me out, over and over again. This place, this world is astonishing.