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

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

There… and back again

We have been in Manchester this past weekend. The drive over the Pennines and back again can be slow, but there are glimpses of beautiful countryside to be had from the van windows as we pass – a few of which form today’s gallery above.

We have spent time with friends, daughter and grandchildren, all people very dear to us. Each encounter has been important, and fun, and yet I still find it unsettling being back where we used to live. Every bit of it is so familiar, it induces a kind of panic in me. It seems as though the new life, Heckington, is but a dream and I have not managed to leave after all.

On the way home I mused about why I find it so hard to go back. I think my separation from the place throws into relief the feelings of being trapped, stuck and powerless that I had over so many years. I feel cheered by this realisation that Manchester is not a terrible place; it is simply that I was often unhappy in the years I lived there.

I am happier now. Over this past year I have felt the happiness came from being in a place that feels so right for me. But perhaps there is another way of looking at it. Perhaps it is not the place so much as my act of choosing it that brings this lightness of heart, this sense of balance and freedom.

I am reminded of children’s adventure stories, of those moments when someone crosses into another world. There is a magic in the curiousity, faith and courage that take someone over a threshold into an unknown future. When we choose freely and step forward in hope, we claim some of that magic for ourselves.

I wrote this post back in April about some of the same set of feelings, though I didn’t see them so clearly then as now.

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…

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

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.

Food and friendship revisited

This time last year, when we were leaving, I spent a lot of time looking back over my time in Manchester. I don’t keep a diary, but my nearest thing to one is my cookery notebook, as described in this, my second blog post, Of food, feasts and friendship.

The party I talked of there was our last in our Manchester house, but we didn’t do the cooking as we were packing up to move. Friends brought the food, which was nice, but strangely this means that I haven’t written it down in the notebook. I know what we ate at our first Manchester party on 22nd December 1990, but I can’t remember for sure the date of our leaving party in December 2012 (or was it still November?).

Recently I have heard of the death of a friend’s mother and a friend’s father, both very striking people in very different ways; and also people I’ve not seen for many, many years. It is only this evening, in another retrospective session with the notebooks, that I find I cooked for both of them in 1981. Is this an odd way to commemorate people?

I can’t help but look back, to Manchester and beyond, as the anniversary of our moving approaches. When I was doing the same this time last year- and trying to imagine myself in the new life to come – I said that I wouldn’t miss Manchester the city, but I would miss my friends. And that has turned out to be exactly right.