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.

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