Flat Earth, Big Sky joins Facebook

Hundred Fen

I have only recently begun to use Facebook and this week I decided to set up a Facebook page for this blog.

Why? Good question. I’d like more people to read the blog – though I don’t know whether or not this will happen. I also plan to put up more photos here than there is space for on a blog post. And I’d like to see if a page will give a little more scope for people to comment or talk to me.

The blog began life as a diary of leaving and arriving, my meditations on why I wanted to be in one place and not another. I have surprised myself by how right this new place felt, as soon as I got here. I miss people back in Manchester every day; and every day I feel profoundly lucky to be where I am.

This virtual conversation with friends left behind has developed in various ways. Sometimes it feels like my little advertising campaign for this part of England, and perhaps for rural, agricultural England more generally. I have also begun to meet (virtually, of course) other Lincolnshire or East of England bloggers – an unexpected and fun development, so thoroughly twenty-first century.

And so to the Facebook page – the latest development. You can go to it via the link in the right-hand column here. You can also ‘like’ it and share it with any friends you think may like to look at pictures of flat fields and huge skies.

You will also notice that I have today changed the look of the blog a bit. I liked the old fonts and spacing on the page better than this current one, but I wanted to have the archives, Facebook box etc more visible and easy to find. In time I will find some nicer fonts.

House on Hundred Fen

180 degrees

Tom's fields

Beautiful sunshine this morning reminds me of breakfast in the garden with a lovely houseful of people last Sunday. Family from Glasgow, friends from Colchester and from Manchester all came to stay for partner’s birthday.

Last year fourteen friends sat down for a birthday dinner at our house in Chorlton and shrieked in disbelief at the idea of us moving to this distant, empty region.

This year, after breakfast, we walked on Star Fen where a friend took this picture and another said how striking the flatness of the land is: ‘the full 180 degrees,’ with the sky like an upturned bowl.

Last year’s Manchester dinner was grander than this year’s, but I see that both menus featured mushrooms, asparagus and my favourite spring ice-cream, flavoured with blackcurrant leaves. I like that link across the months and the miles, and that two friends from that dinner were here with us at this one: connections, connections…

This year the asparagus was grown in the next village and I picked nettles for the pasta dough from the field at the end of the road.

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!

Star Fen, with birds

Star Fen Road

I like birds, but I’m very short-sighted and so miss a lot. Herons and owls are excellent – I can see them – along with other water birds, pheasants and indeed chickens (of which more in another post).

But smaller garden and farmland birds are a bit more challenging; so it’s always a treat, a different kind of walk, when I go out with my friend who is into birds and bird-watching. She has been visiting for a couple of days and yesterday we walked, in sun and a very strong wind, on Star Fen (see A Walk on Star Fen and Waiting for Spring). My friend spotted all the birds and then I got to see them through the binoculars (when the wind didn’t blow tears and eyelashes in the way).

We saw: a Reed Bunting, Swallows, a Skylark, Yellow Wagtails, a Yellowhammer and a Wren or two, plus lots of crows and pigeons and the odd gull. I’ve heard Yellowhammers before (the ones that are supposed to sing little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese) but not knowingly seen one, so that was the most exciting, along with a weasel running over a field very near us.

A few years ago, in one of the very, very cold winters, an escaped ferret or polecat lived at our allotments in Manchester for a while. It killed one of our chickens and several others belonging to friends of ours. I saw it close up more than once in the course of our battle to keep it out of the chicken run (people complain about foxes – huh!) and became briefly fascinated by this family (Mustelidae: including weasels, stoats, ferrets, otters) of small, carnivorous mammals. They have pretty little furry faces and their ability to kill things much bigger than themselves is impressive – though to be discouraged!

In the course of my research I found out how you tell the difference between a stoat and a weasel, so here it is:

A weasel is weasily wecognised, while a stoat is stoatally different – of course.

I hear my readers groan! Time to go.

[Really the stoat is bigger and has a black tip to its tail]

On people and places, reprise

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 four months ago to the day, in my fourth post on this blog, just two days before we left Manchester and came here to Heckington.

I was thinking about the years spent living in a place to which I felt little connection, but where I came to have so many dear friends and family ties. And now I am in a place I love but where I have as yet no ties to people.

On Saturday we went with some new friends to see a local band playing in the nearby village of Helpringham. The music and musicians were good and the beer was nice to boot. But strangely, after weeks and weeks of not feeling lonely, despite knowing nobody, I found myself missing Manchester friends like crazy.

Being out watching a band took me straight back to happy evenings at Chorlton Irish Club, dancing to the Lonesome and Penniless Cowboys; I thought of much-loved friends who shared those times but who have since died and longed for that comfortable feeling of being with people one has known for a long time.

At moments like these it seems surreal, quite crazy, that I have chosen to come (and dragged my partner) so far from all our good friends, have volunteered to go through the business of having to get to know people all over again. It takes my breath away when I stop to think about it.

But watching open fields under a darkening sky from the car window, on our way to the pub and the band, my heart was full of contentment and joy and I wouldn’t have been in any other place on earth.

Love is a strange business. Having it, losing it, stepping into it of your own free will; it takes your breath away, so many ways.

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.

Grantchester reprise

Grantchester meadows

Here’s a little more of Grantchester, where I grew up. These are from Tuesday’s walk with my friend and her dog. We started in Grantchester meadows where, in the summer, you see tourists and students in punts on the river.

We ended on a footpath past more workaday farm fields. Picture below is a stretch of farm road that I know like a piece of myself, that was a short cut from my house to another friend’s, when we were all still children together at the village primary school (wonderful but long since closed).

The river and the meadows are lovely; but it’s the farm road picture that tugs at my heartstrings. These paths remind me of the hours I spent walking and talking with friends as a child and teenager. I think of how we used to walk one another home, then turn back to walk the other way because we were still talking. Tammy Wynette’s Half the Way Home takes me straight back there (and makes me cry, as a good country song should). The sky, the field and track, my friend beside me; all so vivid. But what on earth were we talking about?

Farm road, Grantchester

Of clay and continuity

Pheasant plate

Last month I mentioned my bay tree that travelled with me from Brixton to Manchester and then, twenty-two years later, from Manchester to Heckington (Vegetable Stories).

Pottery and cooking pots hold other connections, threads running through my life. The ‘pheasant plate’ above was made by a lovely potter called Jill Fanshawe Kato; and I bought it in my mid-twenties, my first serious bit of ceramics buying. I’ve always treasured it, and used it, remember many midnight hours, the party over, friends gone home, after too much to drink, washing it up and putting it away so it didn’t get muddled with other dirty dishes and get broken in the morning.

I remember its first appearances, holding plaited bread for parties in a flat in Victoria. I remember a sort-of-Chinese chicken and beef salad in Brixton and Moss Side, terrines and roast lamb stuffed with spinach in Chorlton.

So when I look at this plate, sitting on a window sill just by me now, it seems to hold all those parties and dinners and friends in all those places; it holds that moment when I felt so grown up, buying a piece of art for myself; within it are centuries of Japanese pot-making, a modern English potter’s love of birds and the pheasants that live in my mother’s garden.

A lot to hold; but clay is dense and deep and weighty, can take it. At my pottery class (Too late, too late…), I’m getting used to the feel of it again after many years; takes me back to London days, ‘my salad days’ when I was young perhaps, but not so green that I couldn’t tell a good pot when I saw it.

And we did eat a lot of salad back then, come to think about it…

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.

2012: a year in pictures


Aldeburgh, Suffolk in March; while visiting friends in Essex.


North Yorkshire, while visiting more good friends in September.
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The Thames, taken from a balcony at Tate Modern; a few days holiday in London in September. We saw Munch at the Tate and Bronze at the Royal Academy – both great exhibitions.


Dogs in empty dining room on moving day, December.

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St Andrew’s Church, Heckington, in a brief moment of winter sunshine amidst all the rain in the last days of December.