Where I’m from

A question I haven’t tackled in a while, but which Emily really made me think about.

I’m from a country slightly smaller than the state of Oregon. A country with a history so rich and thick it’s almost tangible, a history that I took for granted until I left it behind. There is a Neolithic settlement that was buried for thousands of years in sand and accidentally rediscovered in the mid-20th century; there is a Viking tomb, where at sunrise on Midsummer’s Day a ray of sunlight bounces off a stone one field away and lights up the entrance way. There are Roman villas, Norman churches and buildings from every period since and despite these architectural glories there are whole towns constructed from concrete. ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough/It is not fit for humans now’.

I’m from the Black Country, a former industrial heartland that got its nickname from the smoke that shrouded it in the 19th century. I fled and lost my nationally despised accent, and moved around enough to recreate myself as someone who isn’t from anywhere in particular. So I’m also from Sheffield, built on seven hills like Rome. The people are dour but friendly, with a dry sense of humour and wicked self-mockery. It’s another industrial town, but I like brick buildings and half-broken windows and ruined factories gradually taken over by weeds. I sympathise with rusting ironwork, disused railway bridges and forgotten canals.

In the north of England you become attuned to the myriad subtle beauties of grey skies with their delicate opalescence of pearl and lilac. They are a foil for the open moors, where the clear air can take your breath away and the heather paints a thousand shades of autumn over the hills. The seaside isn’t where the beautiful people go to sunbathe, it’s where the ordinary people go to sit in their cars parked on rainswept promenades, to burn their mouths on Sarson’s-drenched chips that came wrapped in newspaper. The car will smell of grease and vinegar all the way home.

Then there’s Cornwall, King Arthur’s country, a place associated with childhood holidays. There’s a particular quality to the light in Cornwall so that artists congregate there. Barbara Hepworth had a studio in St Ives and some of her sculpture is in the garden of the cottage she owned. There’s a Tate St Ives where, on a clear summer’s day, the most remarkable image is the view of the coast, all blue and gold like the colours from a medieval painting.

I’m from a country where summer really does mean cricket on the green, the pleasing sound of a leather ball struck by a willow bat. I don’t even understand cricket, but it’s a marker of my year as are punting and Pimms, hot cross buns, the start of the football season and mince pies.

I’m from a whole different array of holidays: May Day, when we danced around a maypole and no one told us it was a fertility symbol; Pancake Day (Fat Tuesday), the only day of the year when we got pancakes and we could eat as many as we wanted for dinner; May Bank Holiday, when you knew summer had started; August Bank Holiday, when you knew it had ended and we still hadn’t had more than 3 consecutive days of sunshine; Bonfire Night, when the air smelt of smoke and we were allowed up late to watch fireworks and write our names in the air with sparklers and eat potatoes baked in foil in the bonfire. Lapsang Souchong tea tastes of Bonfire Night to me now.

Of booze and books

I don’t know how it happened, because I haven’t breathed a word to anyone, but Someone has found this blog and kindly left a welcoming comment. Now, of course, I must actually put some effort in, for fear said Someone returns and discovers that I’ve done sod all.

This weekend’s breakthrough discovery has been that alcohol and study do not mix. Groundbreaking, I know. Sadly, I’m not talking about knocking back a couple of bottles of Montepulciano by myself and then being justifiably hungover the following day. Those days are long gone. Mostly. No, now one or two glasses over the course of the evening is enough to ruin my ability to think. Today’s attempt at study went something like this: switch on computer; put kettle on; put in some laundry; change bedlinen; add water to teabags in pot; return to computer; open document; return to kitchen to pour tea and find biscuits; take tea up to husband, who is busily constructing shelves in the attic; return to computer; read email; phone mother; take out laundry; look at reading list; put aside books for photocopying; update bibliography; make more tea… The recurring tea motif is a clear sign of me not settling down to anything much at all.

By the mere fact of sitting at the desk with an open monograph beside me, I can sometimes convince myself that even though I’ve spent the past half hour looking for shoes on Zappos, I’ve still done some work. The miserable truth of today is that I’ve achieved very little indeed. I haven’t even bought any shoes.

So, this is my blog?

Well, we’ll see how it goes. I’m not sure why I’m doing this, except that I’ve had many discussions with friends who blog and I got all intrigued. And, I think this might be a good way to keep in touch with friends in the UK. And, I’m supposed to be writing a dissertation so there’s probably some not-all-that-unconscious work-avoidance thing going on. My self-created rules say I’m not allowed to read fiction, else enormous tracts of time will vanish and in their wake will come equally enormous great swathes of guilt and anxiety.

I must say that this page was seductively easy to set up. No wonder half the known world blogs (I believe that’s the official figure). The question is, what next? Somewhat illogically, I find I don’t want to tell anyone about the blog, so I’m publishing it in the hopes that no one will read it. I’ve already furtively changed tabs on the browser when my husband wanders in to look over my shoulder.

I’m calling this an experiment, a foray into Web 2.0. But, just in case, I’m keeping my fountain pen and my beautiful stationery.