Monday, 23 June 2008

Home Is Where Your Heart Is

Flying out of Perpignan to visit the UK, I looked out of the window and watched the landscape. A landscape that has become normal to us and is 'home'.

Vines as far as the eye could see, randomly dotted houses with large gaps between them and the bright blue of the essential swimming pool.

The craggy rocks of the mountains, sparsely covered with the dense grey-green scrubland known as the garrigue where we live.

Dry sand-coloured tracks that link the distant properties and cut along the contours of the land.

Flying into Southampton airport, I eagerly looked out on the landscape of the county I had been born and brought up in. A landscape that was, until 6 years ago, an integral part of me. That had shaped my childhood and helped to make me what I am as an adult. I am from Hampshire - and was 'going home', if only for a short spell.

I saw rolling fields of crops, a patchwork of colours reaching far into the distance. A landscape I remember having to draw and paint once long ago in a school art-assignment.

I saw the lush bright green of the trees, primarily oak, that clustered across this southern county. Black tarmac roads that wend their way between villages marked out invariably with a church spire.

Both my brother and my eldest sister live here and my father is currently in a care home close to them. So I spent my five-day visit driving lanes and passing through villages in the area that I had spent virtually every day of the first 18 years of my life.

It was a curious experience and, if I am honest, slightly sad and yet revealing. If Richard had been with me, he would have felt the same. The girls - no.

Everywhere I went became a mental prompt to compare how our life, and our home environment, has changed.

But for me, I admit, Hampshire is where my roots are and will always be.
I found driving down winding country lanes with leafy hedgerows such a contrast to the open roads of Herault.I found it amazing to see again and appreciate the cottages and walls of my county, built out of the true Hampshire building material - flint. I found it sad that all the local pubs had changed their traditional signs to be modern and chic - trying to get across to passers by that they were now gastro-pubs more usually found in trendy London suburbs.

How can 'The Coach & Horses' (where Richard and I spent some of our courting evenings) not have a sign with a coach and/or horses on it?! What does a squiggle represent, except an owner who had more money than sense and employed a city design company to come up with a 'logo'?!

How come 'The Trout' which was always a Gales pub in our day, has a few stylised lines on it's sign now to represent a fish for which the chalk streams and rivers of Hampshire are famous?!

In Alresford where I grew up, I was staying with my brother and his wife (thank-you Sue & Patrick for having me!). The local wine shop there has at least tried to reverse the trend. Whilst selling a wonderful range of wines, I was delighted to see that the whole window display of The Naked Grape was taken up with beer! Just down the road from them is the Itchen Brewery where I bought Richard some beer straight from the barrel - and managed to get it home through Customs successfully. It was like the nectar of the Gods to us - we sat out on our terrace, drinking it, and dreaming of our misspent youth in Hampshire pubs. We savoured every swallow - knowing it will probably be a few years before we taste true Hampshire Real Ale again!

1 comment:

Lesley said...

I recognise most of the places in your pictures! Along the Worthy road? It was lovely to see you too and thanks for coming all that way for Dad's party xx