1 year, 11 months ago…

…I began this blog, just two weeks before moving from Manchester to lovely Lincolnshire.

Before I started posting a friend gave me some advice: ‘Never blog about why you haven’t been blogging!’ It seemed sound to me, excuses and apologies never making for interesting reading; and I decided that when my posts became apologies it would be time to stop.

I posted 110 times in the first 12 months of the blog but in the past 11 months I have only written 27 posts. I think it is time…

I can think of reasons good and bad for the writing having dried up. It has been a hard few months, with family demands and problems taking me often away from home and distracting me from myself. I have had very little time for the walking, outdoors and landscape which inspired much of my thinking and writing last year. I have been preoccupied with worry about people I love but about whom I am not going to write about here. I have had less time to savour that sense of freedom and lightness that I have written about finding since moving to Heckington.

And yet, there is something more, something different. I began this when about to make a giant step (for me) into a new life and in the following months I explored what it meant to have made such a choice. At some point earlier this year I felt I had reached a different place in my understanding. I think I had said what I wanted to say here. But I have enjoyed writing and having people read my words and making new connections. So I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave – although I’ve written very little.

I’m winding up the blog in a month’s time, on my second blog birthday. Between now and then I am going to revisit posts I wrote along the way and reflect on the journey. In my first-ever post, Farewell Manchester, which appears below, I wrote about the things I would and wouldn’t miss about the city. I don’t miss all of them as much as I thought, though I miss people just as much as I knew I would.

This picture is from Chorlton Meadows, where I walked with my dogs for years and years. In the winter of 2011 it was an amazing winter wonderland. I miss seeing it in all its different hues and seasons. And oh I do miss my dogs!

Meadows Winter 2011

A short break

River at Maintenon

After a ten-day holiday in France, during which we had no internet to speak of, I am writing today to announce another short break. For the next few weeks I am writing up my portfolio to get accreditation as a family mediator and am putting an embargo on blogging until I have broken the back of that writing task.

So I leave you with a couple of the few photos I took on our holiday, from the chateau that is famous for having belonged to Madame de Maintenon, mistress of Louis XIV. I struggle to love French formal gardens, but this is a nice one, not too huge, with lots of water and a beautiful colour scheme in the planting of the beds (we saw even more beautiful plantings in the town of Chartres on another day). It was a nice day out.

The highlight of my visit however – apart from the general niceness of spending time with friends and catching up with family – was on a walk, when we came suddenly close to some deer hiding in a field of oil-seed rape. They turned to check us out, then ran off into the nearby woods, leaping high over the yellow rape so they looked like the model for those roadside signs (seen often in France) telling you there will be leaping deer for the next few miles. I have been as close to very tame deer at Dunham Massey in Cheshire, but these were not tame and they were wonderful.

Almost as wonderful was the cheese shop in the town of Rambouillet, a few miles from where we were staying.

If you are a regular reader you will have noticed that I have been posting less often in the past few months than I did last year. Over time the blog has been many things: a diary to keep friends in touch with our life in the new place; an introduction to rural Lincolnshire for those who don’t know it; a garden, food and cooking journal and a place to muse on connection to place and to people. In recent weeks I have been preoccupied with family issues, which I don’t write about here. And I have been turning over in my mind the question of what the blog is for and where it is going. No answers as yet, but watch this space (though it will just be space for a few weeks!).

p.s. And if you haven’t already visited the Facebook page, please do go and ‘like’ it. There are a few more photos there than appear on the blog posts, if you like that sort of thing.

p.p.s. I have this week been eating and loving the rose and rhubarb jam I wrote about in this post last year. Lovely stuff!

p.p.p.s. So exciting, the beginning of the long, light evenings. We ate out tonight, an unusual treat that was our Christmas present, and driving back after ten saw the last light in the sky – magical.

I shall return. Until then, go well.

Chateau at Maintenon

Urban glories

Chorlton sunset 1

Bit of a cheat, this post, since the photos are not mine. A good friend took them in Chorlton, where we used to live in Manchester before moving here to the lovely flatlands. He kindly said I could use them here.

I loved them when I first saw them as they reminded me of sunsets here and sunsets back there. They made me think of moments on the street or at the allotments when I would see an expanse of sky or shining light after rain, when I would forget to be ground down by the traffic and the noise and remember instead to wonder at beauty.

They remind me that there are glories around us wherever we are.

Chorlton sunset 2

Possession

Field

Last year I wrote about the rooks we see and hear from our garden. Their constant presence, and that of crows in the fields around us was probably what prompted me to read Crow Country by Mark Cocker. It is a fascinating book in many ways but today I have been thinking of what he writes about his connection to both the place where he lives now and where he lived as a child.

He talks of feeling a sense of possession, of ownership of a particular, familiar territory. He describes what I feel about this part of Lincolnshire where I have fetched up. It belongs to me and I belong to it; ever more so as I learn my way around the back roads and through tiny villages. The shape of the land, turns in the road, particular trees are become familiar, even as the views, the colours and the light still make me shout in surprise and joy.

I remember feeling this way about London when I was a teenager and later, in my twenties, when finally I lived there. I revelled in my growing knowledge of the city, each confident step a claiming of it as my own.

I wrote a while back of imagining coming back to this place where I live now at some time when I no longer lived here, sinking to my knees and plunging my hands into the earth like an exile returned. I go further; I imagine that I could, just now, walk out into the nearest ploughed field, lie on the rich, cold earth and disappear, merge, become a part of it. And in that imaginary desire to become one with the dense clay there is such a lightness and a freedom. This connection, this relationship requires nothing of me but love. I possess and am possessed: equilibrium.

Older and older

Queenhithe

A few weeks ago I wrote about a fourteenth-century ancestor living on the Lincolnshire Coast. At the weekend I was in London to see my mum – staying just across the river from the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern – and revelling in a bit of history of some centuries before my ancestor’s ancestor even arrived in this country (perhaps).

I have loved London for so much of my life but these days I am often wearied by the rampant inequality and deadening, decadent consumerism which seem inescapable in the city. I’ve turned unfaithful late in life and fallen for lovely, empty Lincolnshire.

But I still love the River Thames, vast and tidal like the sea, a workaday, working river, and full of ghosts: of long-dead boatmen, dockers, playwrights even. And here in this unprepossessing part of the City is this piece of ancient history; such a gift.

Queenhithe is the only surviving inlet on the modern City waterfront. It was probably a Roman dock or harbour and later a Saxon one. It got the name of “Queenhithe” when Matilda, daughter of King Henry I, was granted duties on goods landed there.

Two thousand years ago people unloaded goods on this dock; more than a thousand years ago they came to market here. And a thousand years from now, something else will be here: perhaps nothing that we would recognise, except, I guess, the mighty Thames. And so, what a sense of liberation and of hope there is in contemplation of my smallness, seen against the tide of centuries. I watch the iron-grey river and say, ‘this too shall pass;’ and I am light as a feather from the wing of the seagull shrieking overhead.

Alfred plaque

Distant relations

February sky with church

Two hundred years ago a great-great-great-grandfather of mine left Kirmington in North Lincolnshire to become a non-conformist minister in Cheshire. I know this because my grandfather and a cousin wrote an account of their research into the family’s history going back many centuries.

At different times over the years I have dipped into this family story; but I began reading it again with more interest after arriving in the county that my ancestor came from.

When George the young non-confirmist left home, the family had been living in Lincolnshire for nearly five hundred years. When Heckington’s church (pictured above against a late afternoon sky) was being built during the second half of the fourteenth century, my great-times-16 grandfather was living at Ingoldmells, now a holiday resort on the long, flat, sandy coast north of Skegness.

The church at Ingoldmells is Norman, with a square tower, not a pointy one like Heckington’s. But ancestor Thomas would have seen churches like this being built in his lifetime. He could have seen winter trees and stone spires like this against vast Lincolnshire sunset skies.

It’s a tenuous link, one male line threading back through the years, traced by the accident of a name. There are tens of thousands of great-times-16 grandparents to whom I am as much or as little connected and of whom I know nothing.

But it is a connection, a link with our medieval past that I feel nearer to since moving here. It really gives me a kick.

One year; two dogs

Doris

This time a year ago we moved and I wrote this post as we were about to leave Manchester.

Some hours later, about the time of day that I am writing this, the removal men were unpacking the van and I was walking two very fed-up lurchers round a strange village in the dark. They were not impressed by the trip over the Pennines in an over-stuffed campervan or by a late walk on the lead.

The new garden in the morning, with neighbouring cats to chase off, was better. But that first evening I felt like a very poor dog owner.

A year later both dogs are gone and we are bereft. Bob, everybody’s friend, the plucky three-legged character, died in the summer at nearly fifteen years old. Doris, our ‘young’ dog, was nearly thirteen by then – see Spot the dog and Poor Doris for more about her. She was getting a bit stiff with arthritis, but was still frisky in spirit and we expected her to be with us for some time more.

Yesterday, suddenly her back legs gave out and she couldn’t walk or even stand. We talked about investigations, x-rays, general anaesthetics, pain relief. We wanted to keep her longer but it felt that it would be entirely for us not for her. So we let her go and the house is desolate with no dog. In twenty years we have always had at least one.

I was planning a celebratory post about a year in Heckington for today. But all I can think about is that a year ago I had two dogs and now I have none. And then, ridiculously I start feeling guilty about making them move.

I know this is transferred guilt about having hurt people by my leaving (of which more another time). Really I know that no dogs, or people, died because I moved to Lincolnshire. I’m glad that Bob and Doris shared the beginning of our new life and I’m glad they had a garden for their last months.

But I do miss them: beautiful creatures, greedy scavengers, speed merchants, born-to-kill hunters, all of that and dear companions.

Bob