It’s easy to feel at home … here, in Stroud, the town where I grew up. There was an unexpected relief that revealed itself only gradually, but distinctly and sweetly and in a remarkable sense cellularly, that felt like a call to my whole self to be all that I ever was all at once – not with a timeline of was once but now left behind, as we usually measure the movement of the years, the decades, but more like the circling rings of tree trunk growth, all distinctly and perceivably present, and none more or less important than the other. There are still bits of my childhood that I need to … um, kind of harvest, perhaps less in the sense of apples off the tree or crops from the field; more as dig out, like potatoes (or Roman coins), out of the dark rich soil where they have lain buried. Dis-cover the treasures; feast on the goodness!
The train harrumphed alongside the road-canal-river-towpath-valley in the last miles of my 12 hour door-to-door journey from East US to West UK, through Frampton, Chalford, Brimscombe, Thrupp, Bowbridge - Gloucestershire names warm with familiar musicality as if they were old friends. This inner I-belong-to-me shift gave me such contentment that I felt like the proverbial cream-satiated cat. A proper arriving, even though I was only due to stay one night while visiting Auntie Joan and would have almost no time to explore. I left Stroud in 1983 when I moved to Germany for a year, and my parents sold our family home at Nelson House, Nelson Street while I was a student in Reading; it has been many many years since I called this ordinary little Cotswold town my home, but isn’t the soul of a place unforgettable?!
It was the scruffy, dull-green-coated hills that I got so much pleasure from in and around the town. Unspectacular … delightful. I love how they lend their sheltered fringes to host the still bare-limbed trees and ragged bushes in this late winter landscape; I harbour the idea that there is a sort of symbiotic care offered by these dogged plants with their life-channelling roots, that protect the land’s intimate crevices. I used to call Stroud a dump – it felt like the back of nowhere, and nowadays I almost never meet anyone who was there, then – not, at least, from the school and social circles of which I was part. (I have wondered sometimes if perhaps it didn’t actually exist in the real world, apart from in my imaginative memory. Do you ever get that?!) And it has certainly become a thriving, lively town full creative, gritty people who love life and want to share it generously in community. But the landscape was always this same old-feel homely place, the confluence of five valleys with their surging and swelling hills between, and the pale stony homes nestling and perching, or sprouting, hustling; lone-standing, or in hamlets, villages or towns along the way.
I took the bus from the centre to Cashes Green, taking advantage of its delay to come into conversation with a nun in the queue, who, it turned out, lives and works in the residential care home Moor Hall where our dear old family friend Margot now lives, now age 90 years, tinier then ever and sharp as a pin – as long as it isn’t yesterday’s news you want to discuss. (I wondered to myself if the smiling Sri Lankan sister knows that her name is famously used for a beautiful, intelligent, magical owl belonging to a certain young Harry Potter. Have you ever met a person called Hedwig?). Auntie Joan was thankfully more lively than her recent reports of leg difficulties had led me to expect; in any case she is always a great conversationalist and a good sport! I cooked lunch, did a little bit of cleaning, and while she rested went out for a walk in the afternoon sun. By 5pm the toll of the travel was making its claim, mind and body, and I walked up the hill towards Randwick, dropping in at the district-wide favourite Jolly Fryer for fish and chips (YEY!), beyond and up and over and round and down, to find my B+B for the night. Got lost, cos I forgot the directions. Didn’t care, because I suddenly noticed that birds sing ! and there are tranquil skies ! and that dusk carries secrets of home-coming and respose, in this place which is so far from the concrete and fumes and screeches and bustle and high-rise and great vibe of East 17th St in New York City.
I breathed, I looked, I smelt, I felt, I listened, I tasted; I slept. A silent night. A gentle dawn.
Nipped up to the Convent Care Home to morning Mass, alongside Margot and Hedwig and the others, dropped past AJ for a brief goodbye. Bus back to town, met another old old friend by chance in Kendrick St – what a pleasure - and off to the train for my ride to Kimpton (home-home), and husband, and familiar village life.