We're in Warwickshire, the greenest, leafiest county in the UK and the one with the reddest soil. Our friend Ruth got married today, in a stately home in a village somewhere near Stratford Upon Avon. She looked stunningly beautiful, utterly radiant, and chose the prefect day for the occasion. The sun shone constantly, casting the long dark shadows that only emerge as summer ends.
Today was the day that most Warwickshire farmers had obviously chosen to bring in the harvest. The roads were covered in little straws of corn, and as the purple dusk descended, the fields, as far as the eye could see, were shrouded in dusty clouds, as the harvesters and tractors went about their important business.
This is the ground in which my ancestors lie and we spent the day visiting familial graves, the first of which belongs to my Auntie Gill. Those who know me well will know that I'm never without a little silver elephant, who hangs on a length of leather from my neck. We call him Little Great Alne, and he's a replica of a wooden elephant which my Auntie Gill pressed into my mother, her sister's hand when she died.
Sadly the original wooden elephant broke in half. My mother was utterly devastated, but someone in her village suggested the broken halves could be glued back together and used to create a silver mould. So Gill's wooden elephant gave birth to a series of silver babies which my brothers and my mother all cherish. I use mine as a good luck talisman, and if I'm feeling particularly spiritual, a sort of energy diviner for things I'm happy to not fully understand. Periodically, one, or more of the elephants finds its way back to Gill's grave to be "charged", and mine sat quite happily on the top of the gravestone for a good half an hour whilst we ate our sandwiches on a nearby bench.
From Wilmcote we went to Stoneleigh to see my Grannie and Grampa lying in the idyllic churchyard there. After tending the grave - I always forget flowers - we took ourselves up onto the steep hill above the village. It was a walk we regularly did as children. We'd go past the bluebell wood and then snake along the top of the hill where the village houses looked like matchbox toys. You can see for miles up there. I'm always half tempted to throw a coin with all my might to see if I can get it to drop down someone's chimney! Peeking above the trees on the other side of the valley are the tower blocks and black spires of Coventry. I was surprised they were visible. I'm sure I don't remember seeing them from there as a child. Coventry was always such a mystical place. The place my Grandfather watched burning down. The place where a new world rose from the ashes. The place I still feel so desperately proud to have in my blood.
I looked down into my Grandmother's old garden, and just for a second, one glorious second, I thought I caught a fleeting glimpse of purple. I wondered if, in some world or other, she was waving at me. A moment later, I could have sworn there was a little lad with curly hair, and a brown jumper standing next to her, jumping joyfully and holding a plastic margarine tub, about to pick the blackberries at the end of the garden. I blinked, the figures disappeared, and my heart cracked.
It's been a day of ghosts. The ghosts that only come out at the smokey end of summer. The ones who herald the start of the new academic year when, for one day, everyone is the same age, and everyone has their slate wiped clean. The ghosts who take you by the hand and say "I'll watch over you until the spring arrives." The ghosts you never stop to thank.