When we lived in England, I spent a number of years working in the town of Ipswich, in Suffolk. In those days (1980’s) we tended to park a vehicle and walk around the friendly little town, both during the day and at night. The last time we were there, however, in September of 2018, we parked our car (at a very expensive rate) to walk to a restaurant in the town at night. There were 3 of us including my husband Steven, but even so we all felt so uncomfortable, so unsafe, that I resolved never to enter the town on foot again at night. The streets where we walked were in the same part we had known so well. But they were so different that it was as if we were in an entirely unknown town. Where was my friendly, familiar Ipswich?
As in this reflection, my perception of Ipswich was turned upside down. This photograph was taken during our visit of 2016 when, even then in the friendly daylight, I was marvelling at the fact that it looked totally unfamiliar.
It’s time to revisit England. Not literally, though a little while ago we had thought to return this month. No, this time I am thinking of England at my favourite time of the year, when I always wish I were back there. It was April, 1968 when I first visited. I had just left a Canada which was still wintry, slushy and tired of the cold and snow. England was having one of its balmy, even hot, sunny springs, with flowers blooming everywhere, birds singing and everyone friendly and happy, sitting on the grass in parks and by canals. I fell in love with the country then and I will always go back there in my mind every spring. There is nowhere like it for me. I have no photographs of the spring in England, I don’t need them. My memory holds it all including the warmth of the sun on my back and on my pale winter face, and the wonderful scent of the spring flowers. Every year I think of the lines from Robert Browning’s “Home Thoughts From Abroad“* – “Oh, to be in England Now that April’s there…”
And then another line comes back to me from “A Shropshire Lad“** by A.E. Housman “Loveliest of trees, the cherry now Is hung with bloom along the bough…” Many years later, the first real home I lived in in England had two ornamental cherry trees outside the front door. To this day every time I see a cherry tree in bloom, I am transported back to that time and the joy they brought me then.
Through the cottage window
There were few flowers to be seen on our trip back to the UK, but some of the scenes brought back just as many memories. It’s funny how even the interior of a modern park home, one of many almost identical in tight rows, can seem like a quaint cottage when it is filled with the things brought from just such an old home. Everything about this said ‘cottage window’ to me and the simple treasures brought to it from such an old kitchen filled the modern space with a feeling of solidity and timelessness. The little lidded pots for tea and coffee had made a graceful transition to sit on a modern windowsill, and the bird feeders transplanted to the tiny garden were so familiar that as you looked out beyond them to the golden leaves on this new riverbank you were once again standing in the kitchen of the ancient cottage on the river bank in the Suffolk countryside.
The things we choose to keep
When we move to new homes, we choose the things that we want to keep around us, things that represent in some way who we are and who we have been. Here, this window hanging plant crossed generations and was selected to be brought through multiple moves. The horse brasses in the sitting room, tide clock and seascapes from Suffolk hanging on the wall as if they had always been there all serve to connect us all with past windows, past cottages, past loves, friends and families. No casual visitor could guess why such a plant, such simple possessions were carried through sad and happy times, places and lives, yet, even without guessing, something does come through, something more powerful than a simple object.
Looking around the home we were staying in I was warmed by the memories that each piece of decoration brought back. They all opened a window onto the past that was still there, though so far away in time and miles.
Whenever the subject of the English weather comes up in conversation among those who have never been there, it’s never too long before I hear about how foggy it is there. I always laugh and say that what you see on TV shouldn’t be taken too literally, as often the programs represent Victorian England, when the pollution really did bathe the country in a murky dank smog. But those days are long over and England is no more or less foggy than other countries these days… Which is a shame in one way, because I really love foggy days.
For most of our stay in England last winter, the weather was absolutely glorious – at least during the dates we had planned to be there. We had to extend our stay due to illness and as if on cue, from that day the clouds, gloom and rain descended. And the FOG! I guess I have to revise my defence of the English fog as it really was very thick at times. But then I heard on the radio that this was an illegal weather immigrant phenomenon.
BLAME THE FRENCH!
So it seems that this deliciously atmospheric pea soup was wending its way across the channel and travelling hundreds of miles up into the heart of England, from France. We were driving through the Linconshire countryside as we heard this announced on the car radio and sure enough, there it was, creeping up the country, clearly visible across the field bordering the highway we were on. We pulled over and I took that photo you see above. So it’s not really English fog at all. But it stayed with us until we left.
FAMILIAR STREETS SEEM TO BECKON TO MYSTERIOUS DESTINATIONS
We took a walk down a familiar street which seemed to dissolve into a mystery just out of sight. Without the effect lent it by the Continental mist, this modern development had no more appeal than any other housing estate, but now it seemed to draw you along to see what secrets lay just out of sight. And then suddenly there it was! Right at the end there was a very English path with a lovely little crooked gate and a stone bridge through which trickled a gentle stream. It felt like we had jumped from one world into another!
A DIFFERENT WORLD
DUCKS IN THE MIST
The pond by this path was filled with ducks gliding silently through the reeds. The mist made them almost ethereal, like creatures of my past reappearing to remind me of all the ponds with all the ducks that had had bread fed to them when I stood by them on misty walks with my little girl.
It’s true that although England is no longer (usually) shrouded in thick smog, some of my fondest memories of the landscape of that country include mist or fog. All the same, I had not expected those memories would be so poignantly brought back to me on that short trip to Linconshire.
I’m not yet finished with England as far as my stories go, but this simply expressive photograph caught my attention today and I thought I would put it up to share. It’s one of the last taken on that trip, during our breakfast at Gatwick airport before we left and it doesn’t need anything more in the way of description.
Clicking on the image takes you to the gallery of photographs of our trip to England (more to come).
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