I’m back, I think.
I’ve not finished my other writing yet; and I’m still musing on what this blog is about now that my Lincolnshire life is no longer shiny new, now that I’m seeing and doing things for the second not the first time.
But in recent days I have found myself thinking often of this, and you, my readers; and on Tuesday evening I had a moment, en route home from a visit to my mum’s near Cambridge, that felt a very blog moment.
After the M11, A14, A1 and A52 I turned at last onto the back roads for my last, cross-country half hour. Imagine yourself with me in the sudden peace as I stopped the car here: no more road noise, engine noise, the A52 only yards and another world away. I heard birdsong, breathed cool, sweet air and looked over golden fields and a limpid blue sky: just a small road on its way to a small village somewhere in England, and something like heaven.
And oh the irony that my first thought is to share this sense of peace with the world, when what I am loving is the emptiness and people being so beautifully not there!
The rest of the photos, as ever, on the Facebook page.
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.
This was one of my favourite views back where I used to live in Manchester; and this photo of it was taken this time last year. Coming home through Chorlton Park, I would look through trees to little rows of little houses running down to allotments and the park.
For a few seconds home looked like part of somewhere greener, smaller, without the surrounding acres of buildings, cars and people.
More photos taken back in December 2012 are on the Facebook page.
Now home is marked by the church tower seen across flat fields, sometimes from miles away. It is very strange to read my first post, written one year ago today, written when we were making ready to move but had no idea what the new place would be like.
It was a planned move, a long-desired move, but a step into the unknown for all that.
I stepped into a new life and found myself at home.
I’ve had a brief visit to Grantchester, where I grew up, to see my mum and to go to the Advent Carol Service in Kings College Chapel, a great treat.
As a teenager I used to queue with friends for the more famous Christmas service, but the service for Advent is my favourite. There is always some very early music which I love. So in this flying visit I spent time in a beautiful, old building, listening to beautiful and ancient music; and took pictures of winter farmland.
The medieval world and the outdoor world are both part of the fabric of my childhood and adolescence. Much of what I have written in this blog deals with a sense of connection to the past and to a particular landscape (see Childhood landscape and Landmarks in a flat country). On Thursday it will be the first anniversary of beginning the blog and soon after that, the anniversary of us moving to Heckington.
So my next few posts will be a kind of retrospective; a chance to think about what I have learned about connection to place and people through this adventure of moving to somewhere new and finding myself at home. I will put up my first few posts from this time last year on the Facebook page.
I have also put up an album of photos taken in Grantchester, some, but not all, of which have appeared in earlier posts. The Facebook page is public, like a business page or website, so you don’t have to have a Facebook account in order to visit it and look at photos. You would have to be on FB yourself in order to ‘like’ the page or post comments on it.
I have loved writing this blog; it has been a focus for my thinking about history, place, belonging and so on. It has also been a reason to take more photos than I had done for a long time before.
So thank you to everyone who has come along for the ride, especially those of you who have been reading and following since very early on. You know who you are!
A postscript to yesterday’s notes on travelling from Manchester: here is the ‘little train’ from Nottingham, on which I sat writing my way home. It has just deposited me at Heckington a little after 8 o’clock in the evening.
I’m alone under a luminous evening sky, watching the train pull out of the station. In the photo you can just see the lights of a train coming the other way, from Skegness and Boston.
Tuesday night bell-ringing is in full swing as I arrive home, filling the garden with sound. I try to capture the cheerful clamour with iPad video, though it may make for too strange a blog post – we shall see…
A short while ago the fields around were still covered in stubble, but now they have been ploughed. This the third field that the dogs and I cross on our regular walk and I am fascinated by the red-brown soil turned over in fat, slug-shaped ridges, such a rich colour, dense and fat and tactile, like something to be moulded or even eaten.
On the far side of the field is Naughty Doris, spoken of in Spot The Dog. She might be hunting in the hedgerow or just eating grass.
The picture below is the view looking back towards the village when we are on our way home.
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.
I’ve been looking for years for a Christmas pudding recipe that I like enough to use more than once – and think now I’ve found it. Called Plum Plum Pudding – plums twice because it uses fresh plums as well as prunes – it’s from Dan Lepard’s recent book, Short and Sweet and is delicious. I also made Figgy Pudding and a more classic Xmas pudding from the same book, but we’ve not eaten them yet.
Just now I’m too full of Christmas dinner to think about eating anything else for a long time…
Less rain today. Took dogs out for v quick walk before we sat down to eat, a little before dusk. Had brief glimpse of the kind of view I love – vast sky of bright, pale blue washed pink around the edges, green grass and skeleton black trees, intensity of colour that catches me by the throat. Turning back, I head for the church spire standing tall in the flat landscape.
We’ve been here a week. In some ways it’s still like being in a holiday house where you don’t quite know how everything works. But out walking in the fields it already feels like home.
Yesterday’s landscape photos too dark, but here is a picture of the village green with the church behind.