Tag Archives: relationships

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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Today my eldest grandson will have completed his first year at school. He is five years old. He came home yesterday armed with a handful of certificates and rewards and I think it’s safe to say he’s enjoyed attending classes. The worst hurdle was school dinners but that’s another story, his tastes buds are highly sensitive and some foods ‘scare’ him.

 

Our village school teaches fifty pupils who begin in reception, aged 4, and stay until they finally pass onto secondary school when they’ve turned eleven. It’s the same school my children attended and although the buildings have been extended to accommodate a pre-school nursery and a state of the art technology room, little seems to have changed in twenty years.

 

Last week parents and grandparents (and great grandparents) gathered to watch and encourage the competitors at the school’s annual Sport’s Day. Many families have lived in this community for generations and there was a big turnout, especially given a beautiful summer’s day and the promise of cream teas. The children were formed into teams of ten, drawn from every age group. My grandson Oscar was the smallest in his team, cheering enthusiastically as the others competed. During some events older team-members were allowed to help, events such as the wellie race which was difficult for little ones who could barely walk in ten gallon boots never mind run. Although I’d never met the young lady who held Oscar’s hand I recognized her mother and grandmother immediately as they waved and added their encouragement.

 

I feel very privileged to live in such a friendly community. When I was six years old my parents moved out of London to a small village in north Kent. It was the early 60’s and Upchurch was hardly bigger than Rosley but at that time the community was experiencing a period of great change. A faster rail network meant people could live in ‘picturesque’ Kentish villages and still work in London. This extension of the Commuter Belt meant new houses were going up wherever builders could get planning permission. Kent exploded with ‘estates’ which could house thousands of people, most of them earning higher wages in the city than they could ever earn in the small rural industries of Kent.

 

Unfortunately Kent’s education system wasn’t geared up for the sudden expansion and classrooms which had rarely contained more than a dozen children suddenly had to cater for thirty or more. This was certainly the case at Holywell Junior School, a two class-room building which finally closed the year after I left for secondary school. Many villagers resented the changes being brought about by this growth and there was a definite sense of division between ‘locals’ and ‘incomers’. As a child I wasn’t aware of what caused the rift but I sensed I was always an outsider. My sister, three and half years younger, never experienced the same isolation because by the time she began school the incomers outnumbered the locals. She still lives just a few miles from where we grew up whereas I never hesitated to leave. Community is a strong magnet, if you belong.

 

I’ve lived in Cumbria, in this same village, since 1982 and feel this is where I belong. I can never be a villager because I wasn’t born here, but with the third generation putting down roots we can almost claim to be locals.

 

 

 

 

 

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July 18, 2014 · 1:09 pm