It seems that I’m becoming more comfortable with embracing challenges these days. With that in mind, I’m embracing the A-to-Z Blogging challenge, by writing about the things that I most closely associate with being alive, when I show up and engage with life as fully as possible.
And with that, I give you:
My mother’s homeland. She grew up in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire. The composer Ralph Vaugh Williams grew up in the next village over from where she grew up. Royalty have made their homes in the Cotswolds but to me it’s just beautiful. When I was little, I used to ride my bike all along the village lanes, imagining my gold and white bike were a palomino stallion and we were on some mission of great importance. Or I would climb some chestnut tree or another, hoping to see if I could climb above the clouds. The stream down along School Lane was an unending source of guppies and tadpoles. Occasionally you might find fingerling fish – I never knew what kind they were – but they were few and far between. I used to listen for robins in the holly bush or the finches in the hedgerows. That was before people forgot how to weave the hedgerows together. I remember going to pick blackberries from the hedges, eating more than ever went into the basket.
I went to high school at RAF Croughton in Northants, Northhamptonshire for the uninitiated, and our commencement ceremony was held at the Oxford Town Hall. I can, therefore, honestly and legitimately say I graduated from Oxford. I lived in Banbury – yes, of the “Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross” fame. And there really is a Banbury Cross. It’s in the middle of a roundabout in a pretty busy section of town. My Mum and I would sometimes walk from our house to the market to do the weekly shopping. Think “Farmers Market” on steroids. Fresh produce for sure but bakers would sometimes bring yeasty bread rolls or lardy cakes (my personal weakness) to sell. Local butchers would have caravans laden with pork and lamb, ready for a Sunday roast, and best of all (at least to teenage me) were the booksellers. As they say, as long as you didn’t ask where they came from, the books were ridiculously cheap and I could make a pound or two go a long way.
My grandfather was a great lover of English history and many were the weekends when we would pack up his light blue Ford Fiesta and we would head off to some place or another. There was the Crofton Beam Engine, a 200 year old steam-powered pump that was basically used to raise and lower the water levels in the canals along the Rivers Avon and Kennet. And then we’d take in a show of steam-powered tractors in some small village somewhere. A visit to the Broadway Tower in Wiltshire – why on earth anyone would build a tower on a hill in the middle of nowhere was beyond me, but then that’s why they called such structures “follies.” And of course, there were the Long Barrows and the Round Barrows, burial grounds of ancient Saxons. I learned my love of engineering and history at the feet of my grandfather. When they first uncovered the Roman ruins in Cirencester, just three miles from my grandparents’ home, you would have thought he’d made the discovery himself. As soon as the museum opened, he took me to go see the mosaics and other relics from the Roman past. Thank you, Chico, for a passion that won’t let me go anytime soon.
It’s more than family history. It’s the mystery of Stonehenge and Avebury. It’s the enigmatic Uffington white horse, or is it the dragon St. George slew? It’s the Rollright stones of Chipping Norton, which promises Medusa’s curse if you count the same number of stones twice. Or Wayland’s Smithy, near Uffington, that will re-shoe your horse if you leave a silver coin with your mount. I love those old folk tales, the legends of the Celts and Saxons. The Roman histories and as well as the better-known “histories” (more like PR campaigns) of the English monarchs. It’s the heroism of Boadicea and the tales of Robin Hood. The unlikely champions. The authors and musicians and poets that became part of the warp and weft of who I am.