There are traces of me all over this landscape. Some are paper traces left in official records and some are memories stirred as I stare ahead. Peering at buildings, into patches of green. Some places have me scratched on them, placed by someone else, not necessarily remembered by me.
I took my first breath over there, on a cold February morning, three weeks late. My mum laboured long. My sister arrived two years later, like a shelled pea.
I was christened in that church over there. Where my parents were married. Where my grandparents are buried. I haven’t been there in years.
Granny and Pappy Pencil lived in a large Victorian detached house there by the church. As kids, we slept in the attic room where my mum and her brothers slept when they were kids.
When Pappy Pencil died, Granny moved to an estate down there. I would walk the fields between us and have tea seated in a carver chair at her dark dining table. She was a terrible cook. Chicken breast cooked in Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup topped with broken crisps was her speciality.
My school is over there, where I landed at 13. Every week in summer I failed to serve, let alone return a serve, on the grass tennis court. I only recently learned it was a perfect storm of left-handedness and right-eye dominance. Knowledge that could have saved a whole world of humiliation and an ednuring belief I couldn’t do sport.
The first flat Mum rented in an old rambling mansion is over there. One winter, when the toothpaste froze in the bathroom, my mum, sister and I camped into her bedroom with the only working oil-heater.
The second flat she rented came with a ‘summer house’ that was spongy inside. On Sundays we would walk through the spinney and up the hill whilst a joint of beef cremated in the oven.
I kissed a boy at a party over there. I’m not sure I liked him but at 16 I wanted to be kissed. I was wearing pinstripe jeans and red suede pixie boots.
I went to a ‘Live Aid’ party back there, dressed as Diego Pri-Maradonna in a white and blue tutu. I kissed another boy and we spent the summer collecting Flowers beermats in exchange for a sweatshirt.
With my full-grant I went to University, and in another rented flat, I lost a permanent bedroom for a grey and pink sofa-bed and space in the corner.
I was married in a church over there on a day in June when it rained and rained. My dad decided the day before that he would attend.
And here, where I am, my friend and I spent many hours. It’s where her parent’s ashes are scattered and they became part of the land that was their home.
I wrote this as a series of thoughts, a collage of thoughts, when I stopped at Rodborough Common on my way back from the Women Talk Place conference in Manchester. Inspired by so many things, but when I travelled south (via Stroud to collect my mum) I was thinking about place, memory and traces.
25 September 2022 at 18:12
My mother was born in Stroud over 100 years ago. I too have many memories of the area. My father was from Cheltenham and I went to school in Cirencester. I still have brothers and cousins in the area. I think I appreciate it more now than when I lived there. All our holidays were in on the south coast especially Devon and Cornwall.
27 September 2022 at 18:05
Lovely to hear your reflections, Anna. I think distance also helped me appreciate it more. It’s a complicated thing where ‘home’ is.