I was in the Midlands all day yesterday. The older I get, the more of a sense of belonging I feel when I’m in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. The accents are recognisable. The landscapes feel right. The houses are built from familiar stone. I can overhear the names of towns and villages and have a clear sense of what they look like. I can drive without a map...
The day started at Daily Bread in Northampton, which is a sort of whole food warehouse. It used to strike fear into my heart as a child because it meant my mother was buying wheat germ and carob and all the healthy things I used to hate eating. These days, of course, it’s an absolute Mecca. I was able to buy vats of smoked paprika, garlic powder and dried cherries and cranberries. Nothing has changed about the place: not even the smell, or the yellow price labels on all of the produce.
I met my parents there before taking them on a whistle stop tour of my favourite Northampton haunts including the amazing Magee bakery up near the football ground and the Vintage shop down towards the Mount.
We lunched in the village of Badby, famous (to me at least) as the source of the River Nene. We were somewhat surprised to note that the landlord of the pub we were in was Merlin, the cocktail waiter, from Channel 4’s First Dates.
Badby is a beautiful, red sandstone-built village which nestles in the stunning, undulating West Northamptonshire countryside. As my Mum pointed out, “it’s every bit as beautiful as the Cotswolds, but you don’t have to share it with anyone!”
Badby is well-known locally for its ancient woodland, a site of special scientific interest. It is one of the most lovely spots. Pools of silvery, dappled light glowed on fields and fields of blue bells which were just going over, but wonderful enough to realise that, a week ago, they would have been spectacular.
We walked through the woods and stared for some time at the mysterious ruins of a Tudor dowager house in parkland beyond, highly frustrated that we weren’t able to get closer to properly explore.
From Badby, I travelled to Leamington, listening to the Film Programme on Radio 4, which was presented by a woman and featured lengthy interviews with a female critic, a female director and a female screen writer. A lone man’s voice appeared at the end of the show - to talk about the sorts of perfumes that Femme Fatales would have worn in the golden era of Hollywood! If I’m honest, it felt a little arch. But then I wondered if this is how women always used to feel when radio programmes featured nothing but men’s voices. I am a great believer in equality, so I would like to have heard a few more men and, if honest, fewer questions about how it feels to be a woman working in the film industry. Having listened to Woman’s Hour on the way up to Northampton, I rather felt I was being bashed over the head with female interviewers asking women how it felt to be a women, when I’m pretty sure most of the women I know who write screenplays and compose music would far rather talk about the things they’ve written.
I was in Leamington to assist on a quiz at law firm where my dear Auntie Gill had worked in the 1960s. You see: you go back to the Midlands and immediately become subject to these sorts of coincidences! The first person I spoke to from the firm had attended the same school as my Mum.
The quiz took place in a marquee and was fairly uneventful until the sun started setting. It melted into the most glorious, bright orange fire. As it dropped, I suddenly became aware that it was perfectly lightning the face of our quiz master, Lesley, who has red hair which began to glow majestically. It was one of those moments which felt suspended in time, the sort of wistful, nostalgic light which somehow took me straight back to my childhood in the 1970s. Rather wonderfully, it also suddenly started raining. I don’t know how this was possible because the sun was shining so intensely, but the smell of rain filled our nostrils and we could hear a pattering on the roof, followed by a distant clap of thunder.