How can I forget the look on my urbane husband-to-be’s face when I entertained him with a rousing chorus of McGinty’s Meal and Ale WHAUR the Pig ga’ed on a Spree? * He so didn’t know what he was letting himself in for.
I have been thinking lately how much my sensibility is that of a peasant. I have never seen the word as an insult, and Peasants I Have Known lead marvellous lives, close to the land, deeply rooted in place with their animals and family round them, and just as much access to the internet and the Cote d’Azur as the rest of us, should they want it, and grand-children at the Sorbonne.
Rootedness is what draws me to the idea, knowing every tree and hill, where the foxes’ den is, the best place to see a badger, which field you can walk across and which to avoid, the old cart tracks. I have travelled so much, and lived in so many places I probably have a romantic idea of staying put, and have never been able to tolerate renting – I need to plant a garden immediately, and demolish a wall or two before I feel at home. Even then, the hills around me are blank, without history, and for the first seven years or so I feel like a mouse on a tabletop. I read the book 1491 thirstily, eager to learn the early history of the land I live in now, because I miss the sense of continuity I love so much in England, the barrows and standing stones and hill forts. I need to be in relationship with my surroundings.
Before my aunt died I took my own niece to visit her, and then we went over to the island of Arran, where our people came from. It was a magical trip, once we got over going three times round the roundabout outside Glasgow airport because we didn’t know the exit. Arran was bright and green, and I delighted in Siena’s delight at seeing a post box and a standing stone companionably side by side, the round stone huts still in the fields, the deer and the mists and intensely cosy interiors, the wildness of the northern half, and the relative domesticity of the southern section where sandstone abruptly takes over from granite.
I have the same feeling in Yorkshire where my cousins still live: on the one hand it is utterly familiar to me, and I love the great sweep of the moors and the marvellous hospitality, to see Rosebery Topping my father used to climb when he was a boy, and to go to Whitby and dream of Captain Cook, but on the other hand I am a stranger there.
I don’t know how to integrate this feeling into my life. Maybe there is no ‘home’ to go back to. Maybe this is why I have found myself cooking traditional food lately, why I hanker after austerity and core values, why old songs have been haunting me, and why I so love looking out at the sea and the sky, because they are unchanged in their changefulness. Maybe it’s why we need babies and puppies and seed beds in our lives, to draw our thoughts forwards.
(McGinty’s was too awful, so I substituted The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre as a more refined alternative.)