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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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Commercial sins?

I took my grandsons out for the day yesterday. We went to Maryport Aquarium, my plan being to spend the morning looking at the fishy displays then lunch before going on to an indoor play park. We had the aquarium to ourselves and the displays were excellent although I needed to lift the youngest (age 2) to see inside every tank situated at my eyeline but the oldest (age 4) became frightened by the sound of waves splashing in the big-sea pool so we whizzed round the whole place in less than five minutes.

 

I thought I would pacify him in the café. It’s a good café, not only serving delicious homemade cakes but with an excellent choice of kids meals not based on chips (my boys don’t like chips) and a perfect view of the harbour to keep their interest. I ordered coffee, they wanted ice cream.

 

Outside it was trying to snow, two swans swam around the harbour and men were working on the deck of a fishing trawler docked on the opposite quay. I thought great, lots of interesting things for the boys to watch and I’ll have ten minutes respite to drink my coffee. But nothing is simple with toddlers! They only like vanilla ice cream. The waitress tried to tempt them with ‘Rocky Horror’, ‘Death by Chocolate’, ‘Sweet Strawberry Dreams’ or ‘Paradise Road’. No, it had to be vanilla! The waitress said they had vanilla ice cream in the gift shop but not in the café so I could go to the gift shop for their ice creams. I looked longingly at my coffee and the two boys sitting at the table waiting. I looked at the long path through the gift shop to the ice cream freezer sitting beside the entrance. The gift-shop was virtually as big as the aquarium except the floor was loaded with baskets containing the sort of bright coloured toys kids of two and four years old think of as treasure. I suggested it would be better if the waitress could get the ice creams. Eventually she obliged.

 

When we finished in the café the boys wanted to go to the outside play area being it was themed around a pirate ship. It was bitterly cold and trying to snow but they thought it was wonderful having the whole playground to themselves. If only to warm up we raced through the aquarium a second time, with more success. Obviously the ice cream sustained Oscar’s fear of waves. The rays were still fast asleep, the sharks looked hungry and we followed an escapee through the sunken ship. I’m not sure what the crab made of the boys but they loved copying its unique way of walking.

 

I survived the battle through the gift-shop. We didn’t purchase the fluffy dinosaur or plastic helicopter with fixed blades (daddy can’t fix it). There were no tears either but I wish the people who came up with these money-spinning layouts gave the option to exit without running the gauntlet of toys and sweets placed at toddler level, particularly when the displays we paid to see weren’t.

 Photo shows the view from Maryport across the Solway Firth to southern Scotland.Image

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