Last week, I went back to the village where I grew up, for the first time in years. It was a sad occasion, the funeral of a friend’s dad. I don’t want to intrude on that private event in any more detail…but it was very strange to go ‘home’ after so long, and it’s been on my mind ever since.
I always used to define myself as a ‘country’ person. I grew up in the country – proper country, despite being only a few miles from the end of the Central Line, the village is deep in Green Belt territory (having survived the addition of a handful of cul-de-sacs and some council housing in the 60s/70s) – and it felt like a proper childhood: dens in the field, long cycle rides, tramping through woods in the autumn, and living somewhere where you felt you knew everyone.
My expectation after 12-odd years was that it would be a lot more bling, Footballer’s Wives-style, and on the outskirts of the village there were a few new houses along those lines (big gates, pillars, you know the type), but the heart of the village was pretty much as I left it in 2001, just a lot cleaner than I remembered.
It was always pretty, back in the day, and it won ‘tidiest village’ awards from time to time, but it’s not one of those really pristine chocolate-box places like Finchingfield: it was always a bit shabbier and more awkward than that, with unexplained derelict houses, odd corners with ugly modern houses dumped in them, and run-down farmhouses with rusty equipment in the farmyard. Also, whilst it was idyllic and green, it was never what you’d call quiet: it was used as a bit of a rat run between the two nearest A-roads, so there were often lorries and horse boxes lumbering through the village centre, and in the early hours of the morning, the first flights of the day from Stanstead used to wake me up.
Now, it felt like it had had a proper spring clean, with formerly shabby cottages now tidy and smart, and even most of the 1960s houses, like the one I grew up in, had been made over in the Noughties, with lots of plate glass, skylights and wood cladding in place of PVC and plastic fascias. It was the houses which have been untouched since the ’80s which stuck out like a sore thumb, rather than the other way round.
But I walked just to the edge of the village, just round the corner from our road, and suddenly it felt like home again. The pavement comes to a sudden halt, it was muddy underfoot, and I stood at the crossroads which once represented freedom and the unknown to me, the road stretching away in the distance with an inviting gleam. I know where it goes, of course, but oh, I love the mystery of it. I love it.
It feels like an anomaly, my village, an anachronism in the county of TOWIE. A few miles west and it would be on the very edge of London sprawl. A few miles south and it would be a suburb of the nearest town, deep in nail-bar and tanning-salon territory. Yet here it is, a proper village, preserved in its Green Belt bubble: surrounded by fields, footpaths taking off in all directions, and a patch of Domesday-era woodland at its perimeter. I won’t ever live there again, (nor would I want to, even if I could afford it) but it will always be home.
Having said that, a week later I had an unexpected solo night out after booking a returned ticket to see David Tennant play Richard II at the Barbican. I’ve always loved the Barbican, despite getting lost there as I always do, (and why are there no toilets except the ones miles away in the basement?)
It was a beautiful, clear night when I left the theatre, and I decided to walk back to London Bridge, through the near-deserted City – and found, to my pleasure, I remembered the route quite easily from the last time I did it, even in the dark. (The City evidently not quite such a rabbit warren as the Barbican, then…)
I finally paused on London Bridge to take a picture of Tower Bridge and the moon, and I thought, perhaps I am a town mouse, after all.