Sunday, 23 August 2015

Greenham

We're currently on the M4, heading back to London through a dazzling sunset and, periodically, big swirling mists of floating thistle down, which are sometimes so intense that it feels like we're passing through snow storms.

We woke up this morning at Lisa and Mark's house in Huntingdonshire. The weather was glorious, and we sat in their sun-filled garden eating dippy eggs with soldiers for breakfast. I introduced Lisa to the blissful joys of a little dash of balsamic vinegar taken with one's egg. When I was a child I would actually pour large quantities of malt vinegar directly into the egg shell, but these days I'm refined enough to scoop the egg out before applying a more classy type of vinegar.

Sadly, whilst everyone else chatted and laughed in the garden, I was forced to work on Brass. I've given myself the untenable task of completing yet another song by the end of the day, which will no doubt mean I have to return home tonight and carry on working. But that feels okay because, even though I've worked quite hard today, I also feel like I've lived a bit, soaked in a little sun and achieved a life time's ambition... But more of that later.

We had our lunch in a cafe in Higham Ferrers, the small Northamptonshire town where I grew up. Despite always having been something of a glorified council estate, its centre is old and rather pretty, so, in recent years it's become a place where people like to buy nicknacks and drink tea! The cafe we chose was Barker's Shoe Shop in my day, but also happens to be the very spot where H E Bates' novel, The Sleepless Moon was set. Of course the woman who worked there couldn't have looked less interested when I dusted off that particular nugget of information, but I thought it worth a punt!

A huge group of Higham's finest female pensioners were taking tea and gossiping whilst we ate. Their East Northamptonshire accents burred and drawled: "foo" instead of few, "goo" instead of go, "Toosdy" for Tuesday and a's which lasted an aaaage. It created slight mayhem in my head. On one hand, the dialect was charmingly recognisable. It's a quirky, rather beautiful accent if I put my impartial hat on, one which I ought to enjoy because it's a large part of my upbringing. But a lot of me wanted to block my ears and run in the opposite direction. The matriarchs of the town were always rather stern when I was a kid, and, if I'm honest, brutally homophobic. So, periodically, as we ate, I'd listen to them chopsin' and start to feel a little uncomfortable, gauche and, bizarrely, judged... Like I did so often in my childhood.

We drove up to my old school, which is now, somewhat laughably, an arts academy. I say laughably. I wrote to them about five years ago, during a period when I was speaking in a lot of schools and universities, and offered my services (as an alumni) to go back in for an afternoon and talk to the kids to inspire them about working in the arts. They didn't even respond to my letter, which I thought was a little rude! The school's sign offers an eccentric piece of information: "The Ferrers School. This is a good school." I assume this is a reference to some kind of Ofsted report, but it seems a somewhat bizarre thing to be displaying on a sign. It's rather luke warm as superlatives go!

On our way into Higham, we passed Stanwick Lakes, which, in my day, was a former quarry in flood planes next to the Nene where archaeologists had recently dug up a Roman villa. It wasn't much to look at back then: a few newly planted trees and a couple of migrating herons. The trees are a bit taller these days, but it doesn't appear to have altered a great deal, except that now there's a big sign which says "Stanwick Lakes: a great day out!" I guess the moment it goes in print, people start to believe it. Great day out. Good school. For that reason I was rather chuffed when someone at the BBC described me as a renowned composer (when I was not even close to being anything of the sort!)

From Higham, we drove cross country to Newbury and Greenham Common, a place I've been meaning to visit for my entire life. My mother was a card-carrying CND woman and a great deal of my early childhood was spent hanging out on a commune which was largely peopled by women who would go on to become peace protesters at Greenham and Molesworth. I have always considered the Greenham women to be great heroes, so visiting the spot where they changed the world felt like something of a Mecca for me.

Of course, because they eventually succeeded in having the U.S. Airbase at Greenham closed down and those evil cruise missiles removed, the site of all those clashes and angry encounters is now an incredibly beautiful and blackberry-bedecked Heathland.







One area remains fenced off; the site of the infamous silos where the missiles were actually stored. They're a chilling reminder of the Cold War, a symbol of everything which terrified both Nathan and me as children, and staring through the metal fences at them was incredibly unnerving. But the overall sense was one of great peace. It's a wonderful spot to visit. If you're an old leftie like me...

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