Monday 27 September 2010

Hunsdon Mead

Tuesday 27th July

I dreamed of a big red wide-beam (which is shaped like a narrowboat but wider). The girl who lives on board showed me around. I can see where my girls would have their own separate bedroom if it were mine. There are two bed-cabins on board and a big living room, with a window view at the bow end from which you can relax and look down the cut: space. The girl says that she will sell it for about forty grand and I start to wonder how I can get the money. In this dream, anything is possible. The cost of freedom is a lack of space.

We moved the boat a couple of wiggly river bends up, so that we are moored in the middle of Hunsdon Mead, it’s like it is our front garden. Sixty-seven acres of flat ancient hay meadow, with an assortment of river-loving trees at the far side, stretches before us. The seasons allow it to display cowslips, green-winged orchids, ragged robin and meadowsweet, while butterflies, dragonflies and damsel flies hover above. Between the towpath and our boat is a strip of grass big enough to put the play mat on, so that our baby can sit and giggle at me doing the dishes as I watch her from the kitchen window. The navigation is deep enough here that we can moor without using a gangplank. My daughter runs wild and free in the meadow so long as we safely watch her from outside the boat. Wild flowers grow in the long grassy golden meadow until July when The Wildlife Trust chop it all and make it into hay. This common land has been farmed by local people using the Lammas system for 600 years. From July onwards it is used as grazing land for livestock and it is currently sprinkled with buttercup dots. So now it’s green and cut short for summer and a huge committee of self-important geese meet for a late afternoon business conference right in the middle. Big Sister said,
“There are miles and miles of geese!”

There’s something very beautifully dramatic about pegging out a load of laundry on the line, while stormy clouds gather across the summer sky above the vast flat field before me. Even behind me is nothing but grazing land and a railway, I cannot even see another boat. I feel connected to women throughout the ages who have hung out their family laundry in a desolate natural place, solitary, watching the elements gather ominous stormy power. Of course those ancestral mothers did not have their laundry machine-washed for them by the good Lady of the Lock. (She is not to be confused with The Lady of Shalott; the maiden in Arthurian Romances, who died because her love for Sir Lancelot of the Lake was unrequited.)

Later, the girls are in bed and The Lady of the Lock delivered my clean and dried laundry around to the boat.
“It’s no trouble, I’m just walking the dogs.”
I could really get used to living here.

When I’m doing the dishes I can look out across the meadow and I think that I have died and gone to boater’s heaven. All I need is a beautiful view and The Lady of the Lock to do my laundry.

“But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, ‘She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,”
The Lady of the Lock.

(Adapted from Tennyson’s poem, 1832)

We sat in deckchairs beside the towpath for dinner, our boat behind us and the flat expanse of green before us and watched the sunset paint pink and orange clouds shining across the sky in stretchy puffs and wafts. Spectacular. The willows and other trees at the far edge of the field frame the sky line and guard the real River Stort. The Stort Navigation has stolen most of the little Stort’s water and so she shambles along like a stream around the edges of the water meadows.

When people in films dream that they’ve died and gone to heaven, this is the kind of summer meadow they tend to find themselves running across in slow-motion. The Doctor and I note how rare it is for us to be able to see for a long distance to the horizon: like looking out to sea. Obviously in London we have no vision space. Although the rivers and canals have been beautiful here, we are usually hemmed safely in by trees or hedges of some sort. To be able to see some distance around, in all directions gives us a great sense of peace. We discuss our theory that this feeling is an evolutionary imprint from our ancestors, that a human might feel safe from attack, or able to see danger from afar, by being on an exposed plane like this.

Space. The final frontier. We had to come a long way to find it. We feel like we have arrived. We have come home.

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