Well, boys and girls, it’s been exactly six months since I moved to Hebden Bridge after spending 32 years in America. Locals here look at me strangely when I tell them that. Their eyes tend to open really wide and the word “Why?” is long and drawn out, encompassing a myriad of inflections. Of course, I’ve been asking myself the same question every day for six months but I promised that I’d commit some of those thoughts to paper at the half anniversary. So, I’ve chosen what I’ve done over the last couple of days to try and explain, both to other people, but also to myself the answer to ‘why?’
Yesterday it wasn’t raining, it wasn’t snowing and the temperature was above freezing at 10 a.m. This winter has been long and more severe than is usual. Even the upcoming week’s weather forecast predicts snow for three days. There were a couple of weeks when the temperature didn’t rise above freezing during the daytime and it was so icy outdoors that I basically stayed at home, just popping out for groceries as and when I needed them. During this time I had little face to face contact with anyone apart from the shop keepers, and their cheerful,”Thanks, love,” and “Lovely darlin’ ” were an important part of my support service! I have a lot to thank myself for in choosing the location of my apartment. I have a bakers, a chip shop, a hairdressers, an ATM in the same building. In the next door building there’s a grocery store, a library, a pub and a gay bar. Across the street there’s a charity store, a chemist, a jewellers, a specialist food store, a Chinese takeway and a florist. These are all small shops with just one server – not some vast warehouse of a place with a dozen checkouts – so you soon get to know each other. I’ve become involved in an age friendly rural areas project being done by Manchester University about age friendly rural areas project (Manchester Urban Collaboration on Health (MUCH)) which has involved me taking photos in the area of things/people/ideas that are/are not age friendly. This has made me even more aware of the necessity of friendly shopkeepers, helpful bus drivers, chatty milkmen to mention just a few. In Santa Cruz I could walk to a grocery store, coffee shop, pub but that was about it. I used a bus maybe a handful of times in the 12 years I lived there. If I wanted to go out anywhere it had to be by car – band rehearsal, the library, a concert. Living in Hebden Bridge I can get to my band and my volunteer adult literacy at the homeless shelter by bus, and all concerts in Leeds or Manchester by train. At least you get to meet people on the bus, and more rarely, on the train.Take yesterday as I was on the bus to Heptonstall I sat next to an elderly lady who’d travelled by bus from Rochdale to see the Pace Egg play and she told me that one of the hilltop buses begins its service for the Spring season tomorrow. I may go and check it out of the weather holds.
So finding a few days of better weather lures me outdoors without too much persuasion. Yesterday I decided to try my map-reading skills up in the hills. I knew that it’s too wet to hike through fields, the mud is still so deep that my boot sinks in all the way to my ankle. (That’s why people around here have waterproof leather hiking boots, but mine are not waterproof because I didn’t need them to be in California.) I walked across a dam, then through a couple of farms where the sheep stared at me with a ‘who the hell is this?’ look on their faces, while in the next field a farmer was raking flat a couple of hundred mole hills. The farmers on these high moors work incredibly hard to keep their pastures and grazing land in tiptop condition. If they didn’t the fields would soon revery to being moorland. A steep footpath downhill brought be to the next reservoir where I followed
the footpath around and subsequently the river outlet into the town of Ripponden. There’s a lot about Ripponden that’s like Hebden Bridge – an early mill town, quaint terraced houses built onto steep hillsides, but it doesn’t have the ease of access to public transportation, not the number of activities and festivals. It does have a great old pub there where I was able to have lunch. Just as I was reflecting on how well my map-reading had gone I managed to get on not exactly the wrong bus, the right bus but going in the wrong direction! I couldn’t help but laugh. It mattered not one jot. I had nowhere else to be. With a Day Rover ticket you could travel on any amount of rides for an entire day, so I enjoyed my impromptu visit to Huddersfield bus station, where, in exactly two minutes I purchased a cup of tea, a bag of cheese and onion crisps and jumped back on the bus, which deposited me directly outside my apartment 50 minutes later. However, since it was Thursday that meant it was market day in Hebden. I buy all my fruit, veggies, cheese and fish from the market stalls which are erected in the centre of town every Wednesday evening. When I got to Phil’s fish stall I was greeted with, “Ee, luv. Yer a bit later than normal today. Wer’ve yer bin?” Phil only had two pieces of salmon left, but I thanked him for the cooking tips he gave me about the kippers last week. “We won’t be ‘ere next week. Am takin’ wife caravanin.’ We’re goin’ to a 21st century caravan site in Shropshire. All mod cons. Hot tubs, swimmin’ pool – the lot. You name it. They ‘ave it.” Next stop was the cheese stall where I buy tiny slices of 3 different cheeses each week just to try them out. So far my favourite is Harrogate Blue. Then to the veggie stall for a cauli, a cabbage, a melon, tomatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, apples, bananas, clementines. He fills a bag, and then as always brings it around the stall so I don’t have to reach over for it because it’s quite heavy by then.
Good Friday today. I’d planned on going up to Heptonstall to see the Pace Egg festival. This tradition is confined to Lancashire, Yorkshire and parts of the Lake District and may have some pagan origins, but basically it’s an opportunity for a few people to dress up in
funny costumes and learn lines, and the rest of the people to eat, drink and be merry, though there’s now quite a lot of money raised for various charities. The event took place on Weavers’ Square within a stone’s throw of the grave of my gt gt gt gt grandparents and I wondered as a sat watching the action, both on and off stage if Mr and mrs Wrigley
had ever witnessed a Pace Egg play on this very spot. There were 5 different performances during the course of the day and I had been warned that if you want to hear the play you should go to an early performance. By the end of the day there’s a big crowd and it’s very noisy. A lot of alcohol was in evidence even by 12:30 .
The church was serving tea and flapjack so after a quick stop for a hot dog David, Ann and I went into the church. To my surprise someone was playing the piano. I went over and a young man was playing a piece by John Cage “In a Landscape.” That was very unexpected. So was the fact that the piano was made by Broadwood! He invited me to play and since he also had some Bach music I played that. Then he asked me if I’d give him lessons. I’m still working on trying to find a place to teach in town. I had a lead a couple of days ago but it didn’t pan out.
By the time I’d walked down the steep hill back into Hebden the sky had clouded over and soon the rain came down. I’m working on a group of songs for the HBLT choir to sing and one is about the Worth Valley railway, so I’m considering taking a ride on the steam train tomorrow if the weather behaves itself.
Well, it was raining when I got up today and the forecast was for mixed rain and snow but I reasoned that I wouldn’t be outdoors much if I followed through with my idea to go on the Worth Valley railway. I caught the Bronte bus (this one is named Charlotte) at the
bus stop 15 seconds walk from my apartment and got off at Oxenhope station. Though today’s line is only 5 miles long it ran as a working railway from 1867 but was closed in 1962, reopening again just 50 years ago. It’s been the location of many movies, probably the most famous of which is The Railway Children. It was raining quit hard as I boarded the train. It quite surprised me to find myself in a compartment all to myself. I’d forgotten about these old train with no corridors! It took me a while to be brave enough to roll down the window in the door, carefully hanging onto my phone as I leaned out of the train to take photos. I made notes on things I was seeing to help me in my song lyrics.
In June of 2016, contemplating my decision to spend the summer in England for the first time in 31 years I wrote the following in my journal :
I’ve decided to take a chance and temporarily jump ship, so to speak, from the life I’ve fashioned for myself. Most of us, I suppose, have had at one time or another the impulse to leave behind our daily routines and responsibilities and seek out, temporarily, a new life. That daydream has always retreated from me in the face of reality. But I’ve had a feeling for a while now, as I turn a milestone, that here is a new phase of life, one that I need to embrace, no matter how full of doubts I may have right now. My daughters have graduated from college and are embarking on new adult lives of their own. A voice inside my head calls me with insistence, if I dare to listen to it, Hey, you there! You need to get back to the narrative of your own life. Perhaps if I travel by myself to somewhere unfamiliar where all the labels that define me, both to myself and others, are absent, I could explore a new me. But I wonder about my capacity to be a woman in a place without an identity, without friends. Alone for seven weeks? I have fallen into habit, quite naturally I believe, of defining myself in terms of who I am to other people – I am what others expect me to be – a daughter, wife, mother, teacher, mentor, friend, critic. I’d like to stand back from these roles and make the acquaintance of that new person who emerges. Now, how many reasons can I think of why I shouldn’t do it? What about my house? Who’s going to feed Tilly? I won’t be generating any income – yikes! Suppose I get sick in some strange place. What if I disappear off the face of the planet? The response from friends has been unanimous. In fact, over the past few months as I’ve wrestled with this dichotomy on hikes through the redwoods, along the windswept coastal buffs and wide sandy beaches of Santa Cruz, in hurried intermissions at concerts and over leisurely dinners I’ve come to see who my friends truly are. Go, they say, your children are grown, and Anthony can look after the cat. Some of them tell me in hushed voices that they are secretly envious of my independence.In planning the adventure some kind of cultural connection with the place I eventually selected was of vital importance and this was easy to find. I would immerse myself in the place of my father’s mother’s family. Since beginning to research my family’s history seven years ago I’ve visited many places connected with my family. But on short visits with my daughters we had time for little more than finding a little moorland village in Lancashire, jumping out of the car to take a photo of the stunningly beautiful church, or taking a quick picnic in the local cemetery (yes, one of our favorite pastimes!) or downing a half a shandy and a bag of cheese and onion crisps in the local hostelry. With seven weeks I wanted to wake up to the views my great, great, great grandparents had from their kitchen window, touch the font where five generations ago my ancestors were baptized, and then maybe climb the hill above the village to look down on that church, a view that may not have changed during the last 600 years.
I think I’ve learned a lot in the last two years about what’s important to me.