Living in this windy little corner of the world with its ever changing weather, mini heatwaves and sudden downpours, visited still by millions of people each year, not to mention the birds that fly here in the winter to find food and in summer to breed, it still feels like a relatively quiet backwater on the world’s stage.
Tucked away with our memories of empire and our numinous literary history, sometimes I think England floats on a bulky, yet fragile reedbed of dreams; a palimpsest of stories. I meet so many people with dogs who tell me their memories as we wander round and across the woods each day: there is always a new tale, “Look there was the wild life park and there, hard up against that rock, was the cafe…there where we ran as children and collected hazelnuts… there were prefabs there under the cherry trees after the war…Here we climbed the fence and swam in the lake after dark’.
My childhood was spent by the Thames to the South-west of London, messing about in boats, wandering along the towpath that ran from Kingston to Hampton Court, reading books, spending hours racketing along on Tube trains and overground trains that had that weary smell of old cigarettes and drying umbrellas. Holiday and weekend afternoons we explored the grand old deer park behind the Palace where the kings of England hunted; full of deer and sheep, rabbits and dark trees, tussocky grass and old earthworks, parasol mushrooms in the long grass in autumn, swans nesting in the summer. An old icehouse tucked into one corner, small secret ponds; visited by tufted ducks and Canadian geese – more recently Egyptian geese and rose-ringed parrakeets – then you would come through the trees to the Long Water, leading your gaze up to the Palace behind its iron gates. The park was always empty of people, the Palace crowded with visitors from all over looking for the ghosts of Henry V111’s wives. He, I fancy, thundering heavily on some large horse down the radiating avenues of trees.
But the past is ‘ a foreign country, they do things differently there’. All that exists is a current thought, a fleeting thought that looks into the realms of imagination, harnessing that mystery called memory. There is no past, no future, just a moment and then another moment and another.
Looking back briefly at the blackberry picking pictures, the loaves baked and long ago turned into toast, I recall why I took their photos in the first place. I bought a camera so I could take pictures of the breads I made, so I could remember them and in a funny way honour them and the miracle of life that makes them possible in utter defiance of the second law of thermodynamics, from water, grain, salt and leaven to a loaf – I still can’t get over the magic; on one level so everyday, on another so extraordinary.
Thank you for reading my 100th post all of you, and thanks in particular to Celia who started me off. It’s been fun!
And when you have the time bake bread and make cakes – feed your loved ones, your friends and neighbours; treading gently on this old Earth that we all share.