There’s a strange soft beauty about this place. It’s been 21 years and I’m still not used to it.
The ageing sandstone of buildings eroded by sun and wind and rain – simultaneously places of alien and industrial Georgian symmetry and still yet, looking as though they had grown from the valley, natural as the trees and the cliffs that slip to the river.
I live in a giant’s sand-glass that’s measuring out decades in softening window lintels and hollowed stairs and crumbling chimney stacks. The many sash and case windows multiple mirrors for sparrows and great tits and magpies – and nursing wasp nests in spaces between gently rotting wooden frames and stone.
My home town is blunt bastard of a place. Wrestling raw red brick and render and concrete from a blighted-looking plateau. Housing Schemes that squat down beside old bings and stunted, wind-blasted trees.
I was nurtured amongst the old coal dust and pigeon shit; amongst plain fair and auld cars kept running by paternal magic. I was raised by douce poverty and working class aspiration. In a tin roofed hoose that became a rain and crow-claw maracas.
I think now, that there’s beauty in that blunt bastard of a place too. Not like this pretty honey-trap – which, despite its obvious beauty, always feels strangely transient – a ghost-community of souls who leave little trace, even day-to-day. But where I came from – there were tangled roots laid down there. Folk you knew – for good or ill – right down to the mammies and grannies and brothers and sisters and aunties, all shouting through spit-thin partition walls. Their joys and sorrows and everyday-ness, a hair shirt and sunday-best that we were all familiar with.
I used to look back with a gladness that I had escaped. That my own children were raised in this cradle in the valley – with the sound of the river to lull them to sleep. And it’s true, that I have no regret that we left and would do it again. There’s only this: that once you leave, there is no going back. The understanding that ‘home’ is more than the lie of the land or a place to sleep. That I am still more there than here.