Monday, 22 September 2014

Sojourn to Blighty

There is something about the pre-dawn of day that gives off an element of the ethereal. As the mist hung over the polders, I sped towards Amsterdam and shivered from the excitement that being back on the road always brings. Flying over the North sea towards the east of England is something I will never tire of. It is a familiar view: a patchwork country from up above.

It used to be a view of coming home and now it is merely one of coming back. Returning 'home' to Cambridge and seeing it rebuilt around the edges gave it a feeling of some place new. But once I was in the Friday afternoon bustle of the centre, it was once again timeless. I walked up Trinity Street as I had done all those years ago, letting myself feel the anticipation of seeing King's Parade and King's Chapel appear at the end of the street. It is still a beautiful view that will always bring a smile to my face. It was at that moment, years ago, that I decided (after about twenty minutes, mind) I would live there, work there, make a life there. Which I did. One long ago September I began a new adventure; therefore, Cambridge in September is always a special time. A time of new beginnings. The cobbled streets are filled with leaves and students, and the Great Tree outside of King's Chapel begins to change colours. The wind changes, bringing a nip from the north-east.

It's a funny thing, returning to a place. An odd mix of nostalgia and longing for old memories and the people you've known. For me, content as I am in ever looking forwards, it was but for the briefest of moments. I was happy to see it, to catch up with old friends and family; but I was just as happy to leave it in the knowledge that it hasn't changed much, even though I certainly have.

I left Cambridge to go north, at a painfully slow pace thanks to British Rail and its signalling issues (nothing changed there, either!). I had a wedding to attend in the far north of Norfolk, which was an adventure in itself. It took me two buses to get to the village, and during my trip I reflected on the thought that the English language is rapidly declining. Now, perhaps this is just because I live in a non-English speaking country, but each time I return to England I can't help but think..."is this really English I'm hearing?"

It seems to get worse the deeper into East Anglia I go... It began at the airport when a person asked me, "All right, darling, yeah?" After speaking Dutch (which can be at times quite formal) and "International English" it was rather a shock to suddenly find myself addressed thus. Then again, I wasn't exactly flying with British Airways...anyway, it happened again in Cambridge when paying for my stockpile of tea and biscuits (Dutch tea is lovely, but there is something about Twinings that I miss... and thankfully, Scottish Shortbread has not just become a foreign import...). On the train the calibre of conversation was pitiful...how do people survive such day to day dramas? And then finally, on this bus journey, when everyone who got on seemed to know everyone else: it was a constant stream of, "Hallo! Or'right?" I can't quite understand how people in the West Country and East Anglians (opposite sides of the country!) manage to sound the same when addressing one another.

The second bus I took, driven by a Sikh, managed to squeeze and manoeuvre its way through impossibly narrow country lanes. I was deposited in the village, which is really more a hamlet, right outside the pub. Fantastic! As I went in, everyone at the bar turned to look at me. "Or'right?"

At last, I was here. Away from town and bustle and the confining city, in the open. Out here, where it is all sky and fields, and the birds overhead; where a person can breath. There are many places in the UK that are beautiful in a stunning, enchanting sort of way. In the wilds of East Anglia, it is a subtle beauty that comes with an easiness. Like slipping on a favourite pair of shoes. The rich, arable land rolls and tumbles towards the sea in a gentle fashion; the late summer sunset that burst with pink and red have a peaceful quality; the frozen sharpness of the air that bites reminds one of its wildness; and the earthy smell of the dirt is so thick, one can almost taste it.

Having grown up with dirt and animals, surrounded by ranches, this tract of land made useful by farmers feels somewhat familiar. A place of retreat as well as hard work. It is a place that I could quite happily escape to, indulging in wellie boots, thick jackets, and the companionship of dogs. This was my youth, a world away, and being back in a place surrounded by open spaces brings to mind such memories. I enjoyed looking out at the horizon and finding it waiting for me, beckoning me, rather than taken up by buildings.

The wedding was beautiful and wonderful; traditional from the service to the country dancing. I hadn't attempted country dancing since Australia, but found my rhythm eventually after a few times of skipping about and going in circles with the best man. Quite fun really, and certainly beats a disco. I think from now on all discos should be replaced with country style dancing - can you imagine it? All the bright young things dancing like Elizabeth and Mr Darcy rather than grinding and bumping their way about a "dance" floor. Time to bring some old fashioned romance back into modern day...

It was a delightful weekend on many levels. I was glad to get away from it all for a while and breath the country air. To feel some space around me and get my boots dirty: a wonderful escape for a time. Now, it is a new week, very nearly a new month, and there is no peace for the wicked. After a few days of fresh air and hearty meals, I feel ready to take it all on again.