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).
And now back to England. This post is for the birds.
I have always associated England with birds as it was there that I first really started to learn about them. I have never been a bird watcher in the focused, knowledgeable and dedicated ‘twitcher’ sense. But I was very fortunate, when I was in my early 20’s, to take an adult education (evening) class given by the warden of Minsmere Bird Reserve in Suffolk, Jeremy Sorensen, who subsequently became a great friend. He loved birds and was a passionate advocate for conservation and protection of the habitat of the reserve. That love for birds that he had was instilled in all of us, to the point that it still forms an important part of each day wherever I live.
Whichever country I was in, I took special note of the sounds, sights and behaviour of the birds around me. I had already experienced the attacks and shrill cries of the protective arctic terns as they dive-bombed us in our little boat on the lake in Lapland, a few years before. (That story and podcast are here if you want to read about that wonderful night. https://elliekennard.ca/lemmings-midnight-sun/) Now I was even more aware and observed with an intense thrill my first ever osprey as I saw it dive into the Baltic sea off the coast of Finland and watched as it caught a fish and rose, flapping heavily, to take it to its nest where its young waited.
Those were the moments of drama and excitement. But life is mostly made up of the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane. And with birds, my memories of England are the fondest when I think of those that fit that description.
For me, on returning to England, I wanted to find and photograph a robin. The little bright, cheery fellow who is so belligerent and so cheeky will always represent that country to me. And I was not disappointed, as he appeared on this feeder you see above, decorated so nicely with the cobweb. But I hoped to see and hear more of my old friends, as many as I could in the time I was there. During my trip there were times when birds were the stars, and there were times when they were important components of the landscape, still a vital part of the visit. This post is dedicated to the stars. The next will be the incidentals.
The blue and the great
I also wanted to see a blue tit again. They are such pretty little things, too, I have many fond memories of them during my time in England.
This little one sat so nicely for me so bright and pretty on this stake and gave me just enough time to take one photo before he flew off in a hurry.
A close relative of this fellow is the great tit. This one sat only a few feet away, safe in a hedge, watching the feeder and making his mind up as to whether it would be a good time to make a dive for it. I was glad to get a photo of him in this environment, as hedges are also a great part of the English countryside, protecting and sheltering so much wildlife. There are not many left but small gardens such as this often have such a hedge, where you can usually find all kinds of creatures hiding.
The pigeon is an oft’ maligned bird that I love. It isn’t bright and flashy, but its gentle sound is so comforting to hear in the garden that I was glad to see this old favourite sitting on top of the same hedge, also eyeing the feeder.
On one very foggy morning in Lincolnshire I went for a walk along the river bank (which is behind the hedge you see above) and saw a lovely scene on the other side of the bank with a pond and reeds and ducks and fog. It was just gorgeous, with that soft mist and the ducks moving in and out of the reeds on the water. I knew I just had to get that photograph. I picked up my camera and focused… on nothing! The ducks had decided that I must be there to feed them. And so they had all left the water and gathered at my feet! I did get one or two photographs of them on the pond and in the reeds when they got bored and went back in, but this seemed to be the photo to share here, as they milled around me at the edge of the water.
I have already posted about my swan sighting, on here, but I should include that photo again, as it really was a star on my visit. I love the elegance of these beautiful, royal birds.
and now for a …..
Well I bet you weren’t expecting this last bird, were you? In a strange way, this, too, represents England. Bringing up a child in England usually involves visiting a farm park nearby and as we spent time with our grandchildren we did exactly that. And there was yet another bird, this beautiful Emu. So although an Emu is not your typical English garden mundane bird. He does have a place here, bringing back memories of all children’s farm visits over the years. I don’t think Joe or Elsie gave him a sideways glance as they ran off to play on the trampolines or climbing frames, but I lingered and caught his eye before I left him to his dinner.
Now you’ve seen the star birds that made my trip special as they brought back a memory of bird watching days in Suffolk. The incidental birds that are an important feature in some of the landscape photographs I took will be in another post.
The sunsets in Suffolk are legendary. Beloved of the painter William Turner, I understand that they are produced by the particular quality of the misty droplets in the air from the North Sea which refracts the light in a certain way. We had some truly spectacular sunsets while we stayed in Suffolk and this one was taken through a window where the foreground was filled with the rooftops of the neighbouring houses and the trees. Once again, a multiple exposure showed the scene off to best advantage. My friend who lives in this house sees these kind of sunsets every day (when there is actual sun…) from her kitchen window! Just imagine.
It’s the only place to start. The beginning of the day and the start of the trip back to England, the country of my young womanhood.
I don’t usually sit by the window when we fly together. Towards the end of our flight, Steve had got up to stretch his legs and I picked up my camera and slid across to his seat. I looked out of the window as we flew into the morning, nearing the shores of the British isles. Just then I was startled to see, out of the corner of my eye, a flash, almost like a flame coming from the jet engine under the wing. It was glowing with the reflected sunrise just as if on fire. Such golden promise for the future.
And so the day began, with the rising sun appearing over the blue and white cloud layer beneath. A dawn in the sky has such an immense purity about it, with all of the earthly complexities rolling and tumbling beneath the clarity of the still sky blue yonder. This so well describes our stories as we recall and relate them, with their moments of supreme clarity shining still through the confusion beneath that threatens to suck them under.
My England always has an airplane at the beginning and at the end of it. And I remembered back to where I was many years ago, sitting in an airplane flying from Montreal to London for the very first time. So this return would be a trip for memories and for clarity. I really wanted to cut through to the essence and this dawn was the way to begin, before we started our bumpy descent through the ever present cloud layer lying over England.
One of the best things about our trip to England was finding family waiting for us. This was a really special trip for us as we met our two youngest grandchildren for the first time. In this post I am simply wanting to share with you, my dear readers a couple of photos I took of them. They are absolutely wonderful.
… like a pendulum do’ as the song goes. When one of my readers (yes, Jesse, that’s you!) said he wanted to see a pair of Bobbys on bicycles two by two, I had to fix it for him somehow. Well they don’t ride around on bicycles in pairs anymore, and certainly not where we are.
So here’s my laughing policeman! Part of my England!
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