Friday, 22 April 2011

35 years on

Another utterly sun-kissed and magical day. I've been with Nathan, brother Edward and Sascha. We did a sort of pilgrimage to ancient haunts, starting with a town in Bedfordshire called Potton, where my family lived in the late 1970s.

It was a proper nostalgia fest. I suspect the beautiful sunshine helped us to retrieve memories of those drought-ridden years; picking blackberries on the other side of a dried-up brook, rounders matches, birthdays, ABBA records, firework displays, chiffon scarves, CND rallies, flared trousers, tape cassettes and kiln parties in communes. Sadly, our old house looked a bit run-down and unloved. Someone had slapped a cheap-looking conservatory on the side of it, right over the bit we used to call our secret garden. The next-door neighbours had added an extension to the front of their house, which took their front door round the corner, as though their house were turning away from ours in shame.

35 years later...

The year of the drought...

Potton itself has hardly changed, but for the field filled with beautiful, tall horse chestnut trees that we used to look at from the upstairs windows of our house, which had become a swanky new housing estate. Even the causeways looked the same, lined with the same old hawthorn bushes, dock leaves and sticky grass plants.

From Bedfordshire we travelled cross-country to Northamptonshire, via towns like Kimbolton, along those roads that always seemed to be obscured by blankets of mystical swirling fog in my teenaged years.

We parked up in Higham Ferrers, which is where we lived in the 1980s. It looks very different these days. There was a great deal of expansion in the town in the naughties and I felt a bit like the central character in Orwell's Coming Up for Air, who visits his old town and doesn't recognise it.

It's cleaner again, which is great. The last time I visited, great piles of rubbish filled the little pond where I used to catch newts and sticklebacks. Fortunately the rubbish has now gone, and the town feels like it's taking care of itself a little bit better these days. There's a lovely little cafe in the market place, with a court yard out the back. It used to be a shoe shop in my day, which tells you all you need to know about the collapse of the local industry.

We looked at our old school, The Ferrers School, through tall iron railings. It has become a performing arts specialist comprehensive. Plastered all over the walls are all sorts of motivational comments; "aspire, achieve..." all very well, but have they ever asked me back to inspire and motivate the kids? No! I get asked to speak to posh kids in Scarborough!

We went home via Bedford and a little spot we always called "the magic place" which, since the health and safety brigade have got involved to divert the river and put up all sorts of pathetic little plastic picnic tables, has lost a great deal of its magic. There's nothing as grotesque as a place suddenly recognising its potential, and trying hard to become the thing that it was doing naturally so perfectly. Furthermore, Edward had brought two smoothies from Asda, which had gone all fizzy and wrong, so the moment was well and truly spoilt!

Ceci N'est Pas Une Glas!

We went instead to the beautiful Dunstable Downs and watched a family with the longest kite in the world. Back to London, and we're off to see Nathan remove all his clothes in Naked Boys Singing tonight!

April 22nd 1661 was the day before the Coronation, and the day that the King made his glorious procession from the Tower of London to Whitehall. Pepys got up, and dressed himself "as finely as he could" in a velvet coat that he'd had made six months hence. He went with both Sir Williams and their families to Mr Young, the flagmaker's in Cornhill, where they had an upstairs room to themselves from which to watch the parade. They had good cake and wine, and a brilliant view of the street below. I'll let Pepys take over, for his words are rich and detailed.

It is impossible to relate the glory of this day, expressed in the clothes of them that rid, and their horses and horses clothes, among others, my Lord Sandwiches. Embroidery and diamonds were ordinary among them. My Lord Monke rode bare after the King, and led in his hand a spare horse, as being Master of the Horse.The King, in a most rich embroidered suit and cloak, looked most noble. The streets all gravelled, and the houses hung with carpets before them, made brave show, and the ladies out of the windows, one of which over against us I took much notice of, and spoke of her, which made good sport among us. So glorious was the show with gold and silver, that we were not able to look at it, our eyes at last being so much overcome with it. Both the King and the Duke of York took notice of us, as he saw us at the window

Later in the day, Pepys chatted to Lord Sandwich, and discovered that his fine suit had cost a whopping £200! That's Elton John profligate!

1 comment:

  1. And you will appreciate the irony that my old school, which you were jealous of for its fantastic performing arts programme in the 90s, has now become a sports specialist college. On the spurious claim that Derek Redmond went there no doubt. Take the money where you can get it, I suppose.