Sunday, 22 December 2013

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…

In yesterday’s Guardian, Ian Jack discussed nostalgia. “Nostalgia used to be considered an illness. A word with a refreshingly certain etymology, it was coined by a Swiss medical student, Johannes Hofer, who in 1688 joined together two Greek words, nostos for homecoming and algos for pain or ache, to describe ‘a neurological disease of [an] essentially demonic cause’.”

In light of this week’s decision by Stratford-on-Avon District Council’s Planning Department to recommend approving the development of 80 houses on Oxhill Road, by Gladman Developments – albeit with a slightly modified design – I found myself becoming increasingly nostalgic about a field that is still there; unchanged, as yet; and only a frequent five-minute walk away from my front door.

It is, of course, the Planning Committee that makes the actual decision – at a meeting to be held at Kineton High School, on 8 January 2014 – and they will be fully informed, by then, of course, of the reasons for refusing outline planning permission on the grounds that it is not sustainable. So you could say that my nostalgia was a little premature.

However, it appears that Gladman will appeal, should the proposal be rejected; and it therefore feels right and proper to try and collect my memories now, in an attempt to preserve them.

The first time I walked across the field, this summer gone, I was greeted by an inquisitive group of bullocks: who seemed eager for my company – following me en masse wherever I went, at a respectful distance; and then clamouring at my departure.

When I returned, the next evening, they were slightly less curious; and, eventually, after just a few evenings retracing my steps, just proffered dismissive glances in my direction, before returning to the much more important task of grazing.

Time passing probably means little in their short lives; as with the people and objects who pass through them. But they, as a group, meant a lot to me – as, having worked amongst cattle (in what seems like a past life – and one which I am increasingly nostalgic for…), I do not fear their massing – which surely stems from instinct – nor their need to investigate – to ensure that I am not a threat. I actually have rather a soft spot for cows; and pity them for the way they are often treated. These, at least, were free(ish) to roam, for a while; and appeared to make the most of it.

Despite their weight, and the undoubted sharpness of their hooves, they also did little, if any, damage to this familiar, ancient, corrugated landscape – one perhaps shaped by their ancestors, oxen, attached to medieval ploughs.

In the Middle Ages, this field would almost certainly have been owned by the lord of Tysoe Manor; and farmed by his peasant tenants, using the open field system. Each such farmer would rent a number of strips – probably not together, but scattered around the manorial fields – his medieval plough (probably shared with others) turning the soil over and over, year in, year out. And, with his neighbours ploughing in the opposite direction, over time, this gradually moved the increasingly fertile earth inwards, from the edge of the strip (the furrow), causing it to build up in the middle (the ridge). And, as this creates such regular ditches, it seems likely that this process was also used to improve drainage for the farmers and their crops. 

These great open medieval fields were worked by the peasants as a community, though; and, at certain times of year – such as harvest – the whole village would come together. (Maybe there’s a lesson here…?) Although, in the end, of course, little could be done against the powers of the plague, and then enclosure – where landowners, with the full backing of the Government, could ‘enclose’ their land, and bring it into profitable use (such as build a dense collection of unsuitable houses on it, perhaps…).

I refuse to feel powerless, though – just yet. Nostalgia – especially for something that still exists – has its motivations, its positives; as well as its limitations, its negatives, its bittersweet pain.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

A poem from a long time ago…


Your name strides
Sculpted on my landscape mind,
Its racing arches rooted firmly
In that host of thoughts
Which we have christened…
Memory –

And wide, vast nothings
Echo round those blocks
Of chiselled retrospect,
And suns set beneath them –

Whilst crescent moons paint blue…
The conscious Memory.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Beyond the Wild Wood…

“Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,” said the Rat. “And that’s something that doesn’t matter, either to you or me. I’ve never been there, and I’m never going, nor you either, if you’ve got any sense at all. Don’t ever refer to it again, please.”
– Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows

I am a Mole, by inclination; and prefer the company of just a few very close friends and family members – and myself – to that of the general throng. I am, I suppose, socially, quite timid by nature (and probably somewhat eccentric, in other people’s eyes…): expressing myself better with written, than spoken language; and often keeping my thoughts to myself (or at least rehearsing, before uttering them…).

Grahame’s words – and the way of life he paints – seem all too apposite, currently. I don’t want the “Wide World” coming “Beyond the Wild Wood”, thank you. I chose to live in Tysoe, partly (mostly?) because of the lure of its isolation. I choose to stay here because of its isolation; its utterly wonderful, large moat of countryside; its intrinsic, unique sense of community and identity. (Those words again.)

I don’t know if it really is “the most rural village in Warwickshire”, as has been claimed – it certainly feels it, sometimes (thank goodness). What I do know is that I don’t want to be walking down Oxhill Road, with a future small grandchild in hand, explaining what the field that then holds 80 houses was; what it meant. (However, I presume all grandparents have many such sad epiphanies.)

But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.

I apologize if this sounds pessimistic (“For my life, I confess to you, feels to me today somewhat narrow and circumscribed…”): but the new speed limit signs on Oxhill Road, and especially their positioning, represent to me (and others I have talked to) stakes in the ground; territory being claimed and marked out; nails in a coffin… – and it’s hard not to jump to such conclusions. I have a feeling that, suddenly, the village (made animate) feels fatalistic and hopeless.

All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, Those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way.

But this is still Tysoe. My Tysoe. And nothing can take that away. All we can do is fight; and, when the battle is won or lost – when the war is over – know that we did our very best to protect what is ours – even if we, and the village, lie scared and scarred, bruised and bewildered. (And never have I come across such an intelligent, invested group of weary foot-soldiers – “This happy breed of men” – as those currently trying to hold the ground for future, current, and past, generations. We find ourselves fortunate in so many ways.)

“Well, very long ago, on the spot where the Wild Wood waves now, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there was a city – a city of people, you know. Here, where we are standing, they lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and carried on their business. Here they stabled their horses and feasted, from here they rode out to fight or drove out to trade. They were a powerful people, and rich, and great builders. They built to last, for they thought their city would last for ever.”

In the scheme of things, we are but little tadpoles in a roaring ocean – of both space and time (and bureaucracy…). (To quote the original Bard again: “Small show’rs last long, but sudden storms are short…”.) The field, though, has not changed in hundreds and hundreds of years; and our ancestors would have seen what we see now. Surely “This blessed plot” is therefore worth the fight?