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A Sense of Belonging

When I was a child going to stay with my Nan was sublime. She lived three hundred miles away, in Northumberland, not four miles from the best beach in the whole wide world. Staying at Nan’s meant freedom. My younger sister and I would go exploring the boundless sand-dunes and rock-pools on what we thought of as ‘our’ beach, because more often than not we were the only souls there. An infinity of childhood memories survive in Druridge Bay.

 

Druridge Bay Northumberland National Park

Druridge Bay Northumberland National Park

Nan’s house was tiny; a miner’s cottage in a remote and rural village where the mines had long since closed. Our visits were cramped, my sister and I shared a bed in the box-room, but to a child who lived most of the year in a faceless, frenzied city it felt safe and comforting as a big, warm hug. Nan’s village had a tight-knitted community and everyone seemed to know we ‘belonged’ to Nan. It didn’t matter if family had migrated to Newcastle or the Blue Mountains of Australia (like great-aunty Jean) if they had roots in the village they would always belong.  

 

I realise that living a whole lifetime in just one place is extremely rare. Over time most people get ‘displaced’, work and relationships drive them to search for a better life. Yet that intrinsic sense of belonging seems to beat at the heart of humanity and too much suffering is rooted in the sense of not belonging or in not being able to belong. Staying at Nan’s was one place I felt I belonged as a child because it was where I was accepted unconditionally, and unconditionally loved.  

 Grannie Wright's cottage

It’s not surprising the sense of belonging spurs many writers. Shakespeare often referred to his roots in Warwickshire and unlike contemporaries wasn’t embarrassed to set some of his plays in rural England. It is likely he never thought of London as anything more than a bachelor pad because he didn’t invest any of his hard-earned money into buying a home there. There is a rumour that young Shakespeare had to leave Stratford abruptly after being accused of poaching (fish?) from Charlecote, an estate belonging to Sir Thomas Lucy, a prominent squire. The story bares more than a ring of truth because William’s family were near destitute at the time but the case never came to court so there is little in the way of evidence. Early in his career as an actor/playwright William uses a scene in The Merry Wives of Windsor to suggest that ‘luce’ (a type of fish which famously appear on the Lucy coat of arms), might actually be ‘lice’. No doubt Shakespeare’s audience enjoyed the pun at Lucy’s expense but the very fact William chose to point his pen at the family’s emblem seems to indicate a deep and lasting hurt.  

 

A writer’s job is to synthesise facets of life through the medium of words. And the sense of belonging is something most people experience at some point in their lives, pining for a particular time and place where the future is never in question, where the living is easy, the fish are jumping, and the cotton is high.     

 

I’m sitting in the railway station.

Got a ticket to my destination,

On a tour of one night stands my suitcase and guitar at hand.

And ev’ry stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band.

Home-ward bound.

I wish I was,

Home-ward bound.

Home where my thought’s escaping,

Home where my music’s playing,

Home where my love lies waiting

Silently for me.

 

In 1965 an unknown singer-songwriter came to England to perform in pubs and clubs and fell in love with a young lady who was to become his muse. Paul Simon wrote down the words to this song while waiting to catch the ‘milk’ train from either Liverpool or Widnes Station (Paul says Liverpool but Widnes claim the glory). Travelling alone between gigs this New Yorker thought of home as the place where Kathy was waiting for him, Brentwood in Essex.

 

 

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Dust

I love this time of year. It’s late May and the weather is getting warmer, saplings burst forth beneath a cerulean sky and puffs of snow-white clouds hover upon the horizon. The days are getting longer but summer hasn’t quite arrived; the countryside radiates with wild flowers, with fresh, green-scented renewal. And that effervescent energy, that primeval life-force, seems to spill into our very being. Nature’s providence drives human motivation. But I suspect spring is also nature’s way of keeping women-kind indoors.

 

Maybe it’s the unique angle of sunlight as it beams through the windows, acting like a magnifying glass on every speck and filament of dust, but nobody would believe I ever took up arms with the Dyson. Glistening in the clarifying light is a finite veil of dust that mocks my frequent battles. I suspect this evidence proves that nothing is really taken away, just re-cycled. Like Superman, dust is virtually indestructible.

 

Anyway this got me thinking about the motivation behind spring cleaning. Were our iron-age sisters as concerned about dirt when spring cast her beams through the doorway? Because I suspect this impulse runs very deep. And how many battles might never have been fought if women-kind denied those instincts for a spring-cleaning splurge? Did the men-folk, lacking any impulse to defeat a foe as oblivious as dust, spur their energies into other (outdoor) activities…..such as hunting, and picking fights with the neighbours? And I was always taught the reason medieval wars generally launched in spring had something to do with the harvest. History could be told quite differently if dust was a perspective.

 

Which started me wondering what other traditionally ‘masculine’ sports are activated by spring? Perhaps it’s no coincidence May is the preferred month for elections? And what accolades might I have achieved if it wasn’t for an impulse to sweep the remains of winter out of the house? A quick run through Google confirms my suspicions, the activity of Spring-cleaning occurs world-wide, Wiki’ even proposes it was first ‘celebrated’ in ancient Persia! But I believe this urge is so instinctive, so primeval, it would hardly be recorded until some well-placed power-monger, realising the value of keeping women busy at home, timed the most iconic events and festivals to coincide with what was already a natural and well-known phenomenon. So the war against dirt became sacred and anyone trying to change things is still accused of ‘stirring up dust’.

 

I’m looking again at the dust spun patterns on my window-sill, at the silver-framed pictures of my family, at the pottery dancing figure my daughter made when she was twelve, and tucked in an old blue candlestick I see a Lego flower has been planted. It’s an alien, plastic creation and I know exactly which grandson is responsible. He’ll laugh when I show him! Tricked gran again, putting something where it’s not meant to be, messing up the tidy humdrum of life in wonderful creative chaos. Proof, as if I need it, that I don’t live in a laboratory, but a home. Dust is a by-product of contentment and the fact it remains in-situ merely evidence of a busy life. And what doesn’t get re-distributed can be described as enchanted, as fairy-dust waiting for action.   

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