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!

After the party

St. Paul’s was striking nine o’clock as I walked down from the Millennium Bridge after taking these photos, hands too cold to hold the iPad anymore; it made me think how much I like the church bells telling the time back in Heckington.

This same weekend last year the sun was shining for my birthday walk and lunch in London; this year, in the wintry weather, only three of us were hardy enough for a short walk.

Lovely friends and family all gone home now after lunch, chat and birthday cake lasting the afternoon. We ate the Spiced Salt Beef that I got the beef for from Bassingthorpe Beef (see A lumpy thing but mine own or At the farmers’ market). The recipe is in Spices, Salts and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, perhaps my most-used Elizabeth David cookbook – and her least well-known.

Guests today aged between two and eighty-one, but in the middle a number of my exact contemporaries; people I have known since early childhood or teens or student days, back when we were busy growing into ourselves; people I did all that talking with (see Grantchester reprise).

Very sweet to have these connections still, after so many years.

Along with pictures of St Paul’s and Millennium Bridge, in the gallery above, are the tower of Tate Modern and some of the many silver birches planted in front of it. I always think these look like the Hattifatteners in Finn Family Moomintroll, a favourite childhood book recently revisited.

Tap on the pictures to see bigger versions.

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.

On people and places

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This avenue of trees in the park near our house makes me think of walking back from school with our daughter in autumn, very slowly while she looked for conkers among the fallen leaves. And even further back than that, of walking with our first dog, in the days when I didn’t know that I would have a daughter or that she would go to the school in the park.

In these last days of life in Manchester I wonder how I will feel about the place once I don’t live here any more. I’ve spent so many years grumbling, never quite felt at home or at ease. And yet, it is here that I have had most of my ‘grown-up’ life, here that I became a step-parent and a parent and came to terms, of some sort, with my own troubled childhood. I have found good friends here, got to know whole families, watched my friends’ children and my child’s friends grow into young adults (some now with children of their own).

I conjure up the places where I have walked, where I have eaten, bought food, watched plays or heard music; and I see and hear the people who have been there with me.

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.

It’s been grim these past few days: partner really ill with flu, me with cold and the packing an impossible task. At last it’s nearly done, with help from two brilliant cleaning/decorating women. Tomorrow, come what may, it all goes into the removal van; the morning after that we leave.