Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Big sky country


For all the cracks in the walls and creaky floors I still like where I live.  Dating back 200 years our tiny mid-terrace would have been a Georgian hovel; I’m sure I’ve seen the ghost of Baldrick from 'Blackadder' tending to his turnips more than once – he would have felt at home here in Regency times, when it was no doubt inhabited by a family of fifteen who only bathed on their birthdays.  We’ve got problems with the hot water tank and woodworm, a 1980s bathroom suite and a kitchen which would shame Harold and Albert Steptoe  – I could go on but it’s too depressing – but still I’m comforted by the fact that it’s possible, eventually, hopefully, one day, to change those.  I’m a natural optimist, even if a foolish one.  It’s the bits you can’t change that matter, and if they’re ok then it’s a good thing.

And they are, mostly, ok.  Unfortunately I can’t change how busy the road out the front can be; in spite of being a rural area the route is a well-used one.   The trans-European lorries cause our doors and windows to shake daily, to a degree that I’m sure would show up on the Richter Scale.  It may only be once a year but when the Traction Engine event is on nearby, fancily painted steam engines with metal wheels rattle and clatter on the unforgiving road surface so much I think my teeth might fall out.  They toot their horns with a glee not shared by the crocodile of impatient motorists stuck in first gear behind them, whose cars in turn belch out exhaust fumes like angry, exasperated sighs.

It’s what’s at the back of these old red-roofed houses that makes the difference, though. 


Every day I walk to the end of our small garden and look over the gate.  Beyond is a sizeable meadow, owned by a neighbour who lets wild rabbits and the occasional pheasant enjoy sanctuary there.  Through the gate, the path leads straight to open fields, beyond which are more open fields.  The sound of traffic on the road is lost here to the sound of birdsong.  I can just stand and look and listen for ages and, when I do, all feels well in the world, even when it isn’t.


It’s not always completely peaceful.  Last night a black cat prowled up the path with something rather big in its mouth.  He saw me, dropped it and then I realised it was a dead baby rabbit.  At the same I heard a loud thumping sound and noticed parent rabbit very close by, urgently conveying its concern to the rest of the warren with its agitated foot movements.  Thump.  Thump.  I could sense its distress, and I wonder how many more babies it will lose to a predatory feline this season.

Spot the rabbit...

One year, a tranquil summer evening was disturbed by a helicopter, of all things, coming in to land in the  meadow!  Was some Head of State making a top secret visit to this quiet corner of East Anglia?  No, a neighbour's new squeeze just happened to be a pilot, so he flew in to see her.  I’ll resist making a joke about his chopper…

Other aerial visitors are more welcome: dusk in summer time is full of swallows, swifts and sometimes, if I’m lucky, just before dark, low-flying bats.  They speed through the air just inches above my head it seems, like tiny mice with wings that beat so fast, attracted by the insects getting drunk on heady honeysuckle nectar.  I feel intoxicated myself, just being in their presence. 

I’ve lived in damp, rented flats with no gardens before and I know I’m lucky to have a home in a little pocket of English countryside with all this behind my gate.  There are other places I’m sure I could live too – by the sea, or in Tuscany! – as long as nature is not too far away, it’s all good.

11 comments:

  1. I know exactly what you mean about the big sky - as a Fenlander its one of the things you notice in its absence. There is something stunning about it but its also one of the few things I do miss about East Anglia. I've been sitting in the sand dunes by the surf today and I have to admit I'd find it hard to ever go back to the flat lands again.

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    1. Thank you, I also know exactly what you mean about the sea. I've always been drawn to it. Now I haven't spent any significant time by it in ten years and I think that's why the big skies are my substitute - not dissimilar in some ways perhaps, moving and vast and unknown and sometimes breathtaking, if not quite as tangible! Any time I've been near the sea though I've never wanted to leave...it's just got a hold. So... I guess I just have to look up at the skies and pretend!

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  2. It's funny how all the worries of the most hectic day can just melt in the presence of nature. personally I'm a bit scared of big skies, I feel kind of trapped by flat lands and always long for mountains when I am away from them, but I guess where you grew up accounts for those kinds of preferences?

    Old houses though, even if I am not lucky enough to have enticed the ghost of Baldrick, I so much prefer creaky old houses which groan and stretch during the evening and have visible reminders of the previous lives that have passed through the doors. I can never sleep in new houses or flats when I have lived in them in my migratory past. I have always felt curiously agitated.

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    1. Thanks, I think big skies can make me feel 'put in my place' somehow, but perhaps in a strange way that's also what I quite like - a sense of just being a tiny part in the big picture. (I can't do really high ceilings/vast indoor spaces, though, they make me feel dizzy and lost, weird!) That's nice what you say about old houses, I do feel comforted by the idea that the place has been around for so long and all the lives that have passed through, as you say. The house must have 'seen' so much.

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  3. I've lived both in the city and by the sea for long periods and now I'm more or less in the country. I used to love standing on the beach at dusk in the middle of winter with fearsome waves crashing in, which also gives the sense of being a tiny part in a big picture. As I've said before, I'm amazed at how totally I've become immersed in the nature that surrounds me now, something I wouldn't have imagined even five years ago. The time is obviously right. Maybe it's that 'certain age' thing again!

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    1. Ah, it's really nice to know you feel so immersed in nature now - and that you have the chance to be! I'm a firm believer in the idea that connecting with nature (be it with the sea, the sky, the birds, whatever) is some kind of key to life - or at least to a happier one. It can lift your mood, give perspective, it gives pleasure for free, opens your eyes, brings peace, inspires, is a great leveller, a great teacher, etc etc etc etc.............. ! At this point I could get very (even more?!) dippy - 'nuff said!

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    2. I think you've hit the nail on the head, sky, sea or open fields or wilderness - its the leveller - no-one can be as big as it all and we all look the same under, in or by it. The Diggers got it ! As for that certain age thing - absolutely Mr Swede, I love the city but I find myself immersing more and more in anything but - and what's more I want to !

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  4. That is really a lovely lookin' place you're in there.

    And it has an antique tractor show...man. I'm jealous.

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    1. Ah, thanks - it is pretty nice. Not as exotic or exciting and colourful as Mississippi, though! And no cottonmouths to bring the frisson of danger to an average day.. ;-)

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