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

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

Hooray! The light returns.

Winter light - Alison

The winter solstice happened just under an hour ago as I write this. Henceforth (until June) it all gets better, the days get longer.

This beautiful photo, taken by my cousin Alison, conjures up for me the thrill of light emerging from the dark and seems just right for this moment of the year.

It’s a wild and windy night outside, with nothing about it of summer days to come. But as I raced back from a North Manchester park on darkening streets with my granddaughter, I suddenly remembered that the solstice was about to happen and was so excited. I don’t know why it takes me this way, like a child about Christmas, but it does. I am tired and feel I have a cold coming on, but am nevertheless absurdly happy just in this moment. I think for me the lengthening days and returning light are a promise that life goes on, a reminder of all that it means to me: all that light and warmth and love.

This is what I wrote on this day last year, in more solemn mood.

And now I must go and cook some sausages and peel some potatoes. Life goes on…

People and places, revisited

Sunset in the winter garden

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.

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.

A landscape that I love

image8.jpg

I took this picture on a walk with friends on New Year’s Day, on the way going north out of Heckington near a very small place called Howell (with a lovely, very old church – picture another time) on the way to another village called Ewerby.

It was one of the few days since we moved when it wasn’t raining and the light was nice enough to take photos. This shows the flat fields of the fens and the black earth; the wintry colours that I love and a landscape that warms my heart and makes me feel at home – far more than I realised it would when we decided to move here.

I barely know Lincolnshire, but the views across these fields remind me of the landscape I grew up in, around Grantchester, near Cambridge. The village of my childhood is south of Cambridge so not in the fens proper (which start to the north of the city), but it is still pretty flat and an agricultural landscape like the one here. I look at medieval church spires, visible from miles away, and the leafless, winter trees black against the blue/white sky on the distant horizon; and I feel right here, feel I can breathe here, am allowed to be.