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.

Bumpy way home

Peak District

I’ve mentioned before (Heckington, Grantham, Doncaster, Manchester) how the train from Manchester to Sheffield passes through lovely Derbyshire scenery. I captured a swift peek (no pun intended…) through the train window on my way home from sweet day with daughter and grandbabies. More rural England, but with bumps.

I’ve lost what little tolerance I once had for Manchester traffic. Out on a walk I was so happy once off the streets of Gorton and onto the Fallowfield Loop cycle track, surrounded by trees and birdsong instead of cars. It’s a pity there are so many disused railway lines, but lovely when, as with this one, they have become peaceful green corridors for bikes, dogs, grandmothers and toddlers.

And now I’m at Nottingham, safely on the little train to Heckington. Feels like home already; even though part of my heart is left behind, over the Pennines, in the smoke.

Trainspotting

Not the Irvine Walsh novel, nor yet the film; just yours truly at the end of a platform at Doncaster (en route to see daughter in Manchester), surrounded by serious blokes with cameras, all of us jockeying for best position to take pics of a steam train going past. It was a fine sight. I was too slow with the iPad to get a good view of the engine, but here’s the rest of her on her way out of the station.

My first video post – hope it works for you.

I have found a page about trainspotting with a picture of the same old train, I think, called ‘Queen of Scots’, taken in 1962. Have a look here – you have to scroll quite a way down the page – I liked reading about the amazing electric table lamps which I saw through the carriage windows and which you can just see in the video if you pay attention.

A different piece of sky

Chorlton sky

I’ve been in Chorlton again for a short stay, seeing grandbabies and friends. I was struck by this view through a skylight when I arrived at the friend’s house where I was staying. Contrails from airplanes criss-crossed the sky, which was lit up with gold by the sun going down. It seemed an urban skyscape, fixing me in Manchester.

I’m on the way home as I write this, missing daughter and babies already but glad to be heading out of the city. I find the centre of Manchester exhausting – unused to it so quickly!

Last night was good, eating with friends at Arian, our favourite restaurant in Chorlton, where we had our leaving meal in December. Manchester friends or followers reading this, if you don’t already know Arian, go and try it. The Persian cooking is good, ingredients are fresh, tastes are interesting & genuine.

Lovely to see everyone, but Heckington, here I come!

Landmarks in a flat country

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I’ve written before about my pleasure in being back in a landscape full of medieval churches. This one is in Folkingham, a village about ten miles away from us, with a nice campsite where we stayed in June and August 2012 while looking at houses in Heckington. We walked through cornfields, our route a triangle marked out by the churches of Pickworth, Walcot and Folkingham itself.

I think that soon I will be able to find my way around by the church towers I can see. Some have squat, square towers, others soaring, pointy ones. You can see them from miles away because the land is so flat. Driving back from putting daughter and family on train at Grantham yesterday, I stopped to take a picture of the church in Helpringham (below, in too little light at dusk) which I think particularly pretty. Then as soon as I leave that village, I can see in the distance Heckington’s own church, marking my home – though there are two more villages, two more churches to pass before my journey’s end.

Hundreds of years ago, other people would have seen these same towers, guiding them through the flatlands.

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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.

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.