Monday, 23 February 2015

Yorkshire: a foreign country.

Yorkshire, like the past, is a foreign country. That's what I've decided. We just got back from five glorious days there and while sitting in the cosy lounge of our gorgeous little hotel on the edge of the North York Moors, taking afternoon tea, I overheard someone quizzing his son-in-law about his new life in the dangerous metropolis of York. "So," he said, "what's it like in York then? Do you have parks and that to go walking in?"

York! If you've ever been to York, my lovely home town, and even if you haven't, you'll probably know that despite being officially named a city, York is a compact and quaint little place compared to London. You can walk right round the centre in half an hour, that is if you don't find yourself lured into one of the cosy tea shops up one of the cobbled lanes first. Gritty urban sprawl it is not. So the idea that someone might regard it as such, from the distance of some 20 miles away, living as he does, it turned out, in the beauty of the surrounding Howardian Hills, is rather extraordinary.

But Yorkshire folk can be like that, so blessed are they by the stunning countryside around them they can't fathom why anyone would want to live anywhere else, even in one of their own county's most picturesque and comfortable cities. So it struck me that the man who was doing the questioning, a GP, I later found out, wouldn't think much of where we live in south London if he thinks York a bit too big and built-up for his liking. Urban sprawl just about sums up the geography around here, interspersed with the odd park or common, which is why it's so important to escape from it from time to time. And it is important.

I know this because for some reason or other we haven't escaped London for a break of any sort for five long months, which must be something of a record, and not one I want to repeat in a hurry. So when Middle One complained that he didn't want to go away over half-term and why did I want to leave our lovely home now I have a wonderful new kitchen? I had my answer ready: because I want to see the sky, because I want to see the land of my birth stretching away to the horizon on every side, because I am beginning to crave views like a glutton craves cream cakes. I want to stuff my eyes with scenes of spiky trees against empty fields, virgin woodland, crystal streams, unsullied moorland devoid of road or house or pylon. I need to see it and I need to be in it, and come to think of it there might be another reason I need it so badly after so long in the big smoke: because it's in my blood.

What was the first thing I saw as a baby, aside from the inside of my home and my parents' doting faces? Trees. Three massive beech trees, which dominated our back garden. And what else? A river, it ran at the bottom of the garden there. And when I got bigger, what did I do then? Played with my brother in that garden for hours and hours, and when I was bigger still I walked out of that garden and out of our cul-de-sac, turning right down the lane to the pond and the medieval church at the bottom of the hill and scared myself silly creeping around the desolate grave stones by myself, once finding a hedgehog there and running home to get a neighbouring older boy, Gregory, to come and catch it for me and put it in a cardboard box (it escaped). And then when I was grown still more I jumped on my gold-coloured Raleigh bike and peddled the lanes around the village for miles by myself, occasionally stopping and propping that bike against a fence post and venturing into a newly-ploughed field and steeling myself to go into an old abandoned barn and explore…

Those sorts of childhood adventure have all but disappeared for this generation of British children, and probably every generation to come, and I am too old now to ride bikes alone down country lanes, but something from that experience does remain, apart from the memories: the landscape. It's still there. The ponds and churches and lanes and fields and enormous skies of my childhood. So I go back as often as I can and walk in it and drink it in, trying to fill something that has emptied in the weeks and months away. Is it my soul I am filling? My memory bank? I don't know, but for the last few days I have had a dose of it again which should keep me going for a while, until the next time I visit that foreign land of Yorkshire and my past. I hope it's soon.

Love E x


As you can see from the photographs we were incredibly lucky with the weather. We stayed with my parents for two nights and then left the boys with them to stay at The Pheasant in Harome again and go walking. We ate there and at The Star Inn 2 minutes away.

View of the village pond from our hotel window.

The lounge at The Pheasant.

The Star Inn at Harome at night.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Read, Write, Walk, Cook.

What's the point of February? Can someone please tell me. Every other month has a reason. January is about beginnings. March is spring, and more importantly my birthday. April is Easter and lambs. May has the promise of summer. June marks the middle. July is warm. August is holiday. September is back to school. October: Halloween, mists and mellow fruitfulness. November: bonfire night. December: cold hands, hot fires, loud crackers and Christmas, but February has no point at all that I can see, except to draw out the winter. And don't tell me there's Valentine's day tomorrow because that's a load of old - or rather new - commercial claptrap. The days might be getting noticeably longer and there's a definite whiff of things on the turn in the air, but I can't see the point of February and think we should scrap it.

Maybe this is because I don't have much work at the moment. Okay, scratch a line through that, I don't have ANY work at the moment, not of the paid variety, and it being February is not helping with the whole 'try not to slip into a mental abyss' thing, that lurking black fog which I refuse to let encircle me, although I'm sure it's a battle I'm destined to lose, one day.

For the time-being I'm purposeful, resolving to spend the short days when not searching out gainful employment of the directing or writing variety, by reading, writing, walking and exercising generally as much as possible ('GPs to tell patients: exercise, it's better than many drugs!' The Guardian Friday 13th February 2015) and cooking tasty meals for my family in the evenings, and I'm doing pretty well on all fronts, thanks for asking.

This week I read To Kill A Mockingbird in less than two days (I know, I know, I don't know how I ever missed it either, I'm trying to fill a few whopping literary gaps while I can), made a chicken and leak pie, which Eldest declared my best ever, a cod, prawn, spinach and pea concoction, which Middle One said was "delicious", and a spicy bean stew to go with some tortillas that induced Husband to remark: "why have we never had this before, it's fantastic?" and then later admit he hadn't realised it didn't contained any meat. In addition to which I am on top of the washing (a miracle) and have started to clear out old books and toys, taking a rucksack full on my back to the charity shop down the hill in dribs and drabs - that's part of the walking and exercise bit, see.

On my list for today, after I've written this, is to crack on with some more writing of a more creative bent, book a mini-break, put another wash on (hey ho), buy food for tonight, have lunch with some friends and then start on the The Great Gatsby. I KNOW! I KNOW!

Love E x


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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Not going out.

Old friends are like buses: you don't see any for ages and then two come along at once. Well that's our local 319 for you anyway, and it was our weekend just gone as well when we saw two sets of very old friends on consecutive days.

On Saturday a couple from our uni days, who now live in Oxford, travelled to see us with their two lovely children and their enormous dog. And then on Sunday we had our friend from France - from Husband's  French degree days, who lives in Arras and was in London on his school exchange programme - along for lunch. We were a bit catered out by the end of it tbh, but it was fun while it lasted. Actually it was lots of fun.

After they had all gone on Sunday evening Middle One declared: "I really like your old friends! A lot." Why might this be, I wondered?

Could it be because they politely sat and listened to his guitar playing and declared it amazing? Could it be J's hair-raising tales from university that made him sound like Vivien from The Young Ones? Could it be that they really are lovely? Whatever it was they should consider themselves honoured, and it made me realise that there's something fantastic about your children liking your friends and your friends liking your children and all sitting around together at the dinner table chatting and socialising together.

Perhaps part of the reason Middle One liked them was because he was able to see us - his crusty, boring old parents - as the young students we once were. Or perhaps it really was because J told him he drove a hearse when he was at uni and rigged up the electrics in their student house so they never paid a penny and walked around in t-shirts ALL THE TIME even in winter. In Norfolk. And that they drove motorbikes up and down the stairs. In fact his antics were so apocryphal that when he went back years later someone accused him of being 'that guy who slept in a coffin'.  

And maybe it was also because his partner, the lovely M, talked about how she teaches children with SEN as a volunteer (despite being a qualified teacher) and does amateur dress-making and Tai Chi and is learning Chinese because she recently went to China and thought it was amazing and would love to live their one day. How could you NOT like such a person?

And maybe it was because Middle One recognised in our lovely French friend that he is a kind and gentle soul, very knowledgeable, who patiently listened to what the boys had to say and then invited them all to come to France and stay with him and his family anytime they wanted. 

Socialising with your children included, I decided, is the best sort of socialising there is. To be honest we hardly want to go out without them anymore because we have a party at our house most nights already, one with all the best party ingredients on tap: usually some alcohol (for us only, I hasten to add), a nice kitchen to hang out in, lots of silly jokes and most importantly of all the best most charismatic, witty, lovely people in the whole wide world. Ours.

Love E x