Brilliant

Brilliant Women

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.

Blue Building

Travelling Light

Morning train

These are last week’s pictures of my train journey to Doncaster: the train at Heckington in grey morning light and then the view of fields and the sun coming up, seen from the train window.

I had been feeling a bit lost and disconnected for a few days, worried about work and money, uncertain about the future: perhaps suffering from a sense of anti-climax after passing the first anniversary of moving here.

But my spirits rose waiting at the station in the half light. Then, travelling while the sun came up, noticing sunrise being a little earlier, I felt excited and full of hope, my steps lighter. Nothing had changed except the sun had risen, just as it does every morning, every dawn. But perhaps every new dawn has a bit of magic in it.

Sunrise on the tracks

Vertigo

Mill view

It’s been a busy week, including a short visit from two-year-old granddaughter sans parents. Great fun – and full on, as they say.

Handed her back at Doncaster station rendezvous on Friday; then I was off to my placement to do a mediation. By the time I had retrieved the van from Grantham station and was driving home I was very tired. So I turned off the main road earlier than usual and drove very slowly along narrow country roads, getting out once or twice to take a photo of fields.

This picture is taken from the road into Heckington from the nearby village of Burton Pedwardine. In the distance you can see Heckington Windmill.

Fields of wheat are like a green sea stretching out to the far horizon; close up you can see each individual plant, each ear of grain. They remind me of looking at Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles at the Tate in Liverpool some years ago. Hundreds of little clay figures spread out to fill a whole room, like a field or a sea. Yet each is a unique figure, the whole seems a metaphor for humanity; we are a mass and within the mass each individual is huge, complex, unique, valuable.

It is too much for my poor brain to contemplate on this particular day, the vast and the minuscule; vertigo brought on by corn standing in a field.

Field

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 train of contrasts

Mill and station

Here is Heckington station, early Friday morning, with Heckington Windmill behind it and the man opening the level crossing for the 6.27 to Nottingham. This is when I have to leave the village on rare days when I have an early appointment at my family mediation placement in Doncaster. This first train of the morning is only one carriage long; and station and train are both very quiet.

It was a very different picture on the way home, getting on the train at Grantham (see Of trains, work and people). There were two hen parties on their way to Skegness, one group of women already wearing pink fluffy ears. I have been on the train a few other times when it has been full of suitcases and people in holiday mood. Summer is here, in spirit if not weather.

Also at Grantham a small child watched the train pull in and said in amazement to her mother, ‘It’s little! It’s little!’

The Poacher Line, as it is called, is a community rail partnership. It is indeed little, but also local and lovely.

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.

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.

Of trains, work and people

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Over the past year I’ve been learning how to be a family mediator. Today is my first day back at my training placement since the move; so a new journey to work.

At 8 a.m. I was at Heckington station with the sun rising over the fens as I watched for the little train to arrive from Skegness, an hour away on the east coast. Now I’m writing this over a coffee at Grantham, waiting for a much posher train (East Coast Line, fast and pricey) to Doncaster.

I woke this morning feeling anxious. It’s an age since I did any mediating, or anything like work at all. But I opened my book on the train, looked down the index for something interesting to read (feelings, communication, questions, conflict…) and felt excited and pleased about sitting down to work with some real people again. It can be hard seeing how tough life and relationships are for so many of us, especially as times get harder; but still I get a buzz from encounters with people, seeing if, with a little help, they can work out something better for themselves and their children.

I love being on my own, out on my bike or walking, with empty fields stretching all around me and not a soul in sight. And since the move, this uplifting solitude is so near at hand, so everyday, so easy; not a struggle as it was in crowded Manchester. But other people are the stuff of life and I wouldn’t be without them all the time.

What’s the difference between solitude and isolation? Musing about this on the train; much more to explore another day.