Not how did we come to be here as in “We must have gone wrong somewhere; the car park is on the other side of Ben Macdui”. I was thinking more of the circumstances – simple or convoluted; obvious or arcane – whereby we came to be involved in this… well, in this whatever it is: hobby? escape? obsession? last fragile thread by which we tenuously cling to what remains of our sanity? all of those?
This blog entry has been a long time in the writing: started, abandoned, restarted, edited to the point where only the white of the screen remained. Some things in life are like that – gloss painting, usingPhotoshop Elements, digging out nettles: tinker all you like; chances are you’ll never be entirely happy with the outcome.
Some, a lucky handful perhaps, would have been born in the long shadow cast by the hills and lived an entire life considering that to be nothing remarkable. The long shadows where I spent my formative years were those from cooling towers, or the smokestacks of foundries and rolling mills; the glow in the night sky from the opening of cupola furnaces, rather than the dying rays of a westering sun. So how did I, and others like me (of whom there are many) come to be here?
I’m not sure if there’s anything to the notion of ‘in the blood’, but one side of my family hails from north-east Yorkshire; from that narrow strip of coastal plain wedged between the Cleveland Hills and the North Sea. Part of every childhood summer would be spent in the moors around places like Danby, Castleton or Commondale, and I suppose this is how I first became aware that there were places out there which bore no resemblance to the environment which I thought of as home. But there was no real connection, not at that point; nothing beyond that of an occasional visitor: we arrived, enjoyed our stay, then returned to our particular reality; the journey, each way, took longer than a present day transatlantic flight. But, pushed for an answer, I’d say that seeds were sown; ones of which I lacked the life experience or intuition to be aware.
If there was a pivotal moment for my particular peer group, it was possibly the acquisition of a bicycle. Just as an aside, the ramshackle concoctions which we considered to be bikes were as far removed from present day, 27-speed, techno marvels as the Mark 1 Vauxhall Viva would be from a Bugatti Veyron; when brake blocks wore out we would stop by trapping the front wheels between the soles of our feet. What the bike did was to bring within reach places which were both relatively on our doorstep and yet a world away. The concept, let alone the reality, of suburbs was unknown to us: we were aware of posher places where folks with money had their houses; that was about the extent of our socio-economic awareness. That and the fact that they seemed to arrive home from a day at work still as clean as when they left the house.
The transition from urban to suburban, from grime to opulence – all attainable at the turn of a pedal – these were revelations to our unsophisticated eyes. And then we reached the open countryside…
Freed of the shackles of parental supervision we could reach these new frontiers whenever we had time on our hands: streams of clear running water (in sharp contrast to the oil-smeared canals of our own locality); flower meadows; the discovery that not all small birds were brown; foxes; rabbits; dragonflies. Then there were the views: The Clees; the Wrekin; The Malverns; the glint of the distant Severn at Ironbridge; and beyond – the shadowy outlines of hills as yet unnamed.
Somewhere in those formative years, something took a hold and has never really let go: a thread which has loosened at times; become buried by the demands of life at others; but sooner or later has always drifted back into focus.
I suppose that’s how I’ve come to be here.