I regularly count my lucky stars.
Living in The Hague as I do, I am reminded daily of how incredibly fortunate I am to live in a place of great beauty. The architecture, the canals, the pavement cafés, the cobbled streets, the plethora of parks, the beach, the sea… all this on my doorstep. I wonder how I could ever leave.
But last week I was back in my home town of Stamford again, visiting my father again, who is now in a permanent nursing home. The sun was shining, as it has done for more than eight weeks now and the stone town where I grew up was bathed in honeyed light. The oak and chestnut trees were full and fat, the river shone and the sparrows in my mother’s garden sang from dawn to dusk. Again, I counted my lucky stars. To be able to walk to buy a postage stamp or a bunch of beetroot through streets and meadows of outstanding gorgeousness is a privilege. That it was voted the finest town in which to live in England in 2013 is no surprise.
I’ll fess up. I’ve been looking at houses. It is time the Parfitt family planted some roots back in the homeland and so, to relieve the dark hours of sadness spent with Pa or in contemplation of what lies ahead, I’ve been staring in Estate Agents’ windows and this time I have been going inside.
Like Terry Anne, ‘home’ seems to be beckoning and because this is so, maybe, as a way of compensating for the imminent loss of my father, I’m subconsciously trying to plug the hole with bricks and mortar.
As I stood on the doorstep of a gorgeous red-brick Victorian cottage I’d walked past every day on the way to school for seven years, I shook the agent, Josh’s, hand and thanked him.
“Gorgeous house,” I said. “As a writer, this is the kind of place that speaks to me. It’s perfect for writing retreats.” I also knew it was a silly (as in expensive) price.
“I love it this town,” he said unprompted. “It feeds my soul. I’m a musician. I couldn’t live anywhere else.” He went onto clarify, “well, I’m only a drummer, but still…”
Well, I guess, I’m ‘only a writer’ then, but the fact that a young lad in his twenties already recognized the importance of living in a place that fed his soul every single day, lifted my heart.
From that moment, until the end of my stay, I was more mindful of all the parts that make Stamford a place that makes my heart sing. I began to walk more slowly. To sit on a bench and just look and listen, feel the air on my skin and breathe in the scent of greenness. To spend time on the swing seat in the garden watching a brash pigeon muscle in on the fun six sparrows were having in the birdbath, scattering them back into the bushes.
But it is not just the church spires, the landscape and the medieval architecture that feeds my soul, it goes deeper than that. These walls have seen things. It’s as if my secrets and stories are tucked between bricks and pavement cracks on tiny scraps of paper that only I can see. I gaze at the spot on the Meadows where I sat with my schoolfriends in ’77 during a study period, plotting our escape to our house where we would draw the curtains and watch Billy-Jean King play at Wimbledon. I never pass that spot without that thought, like that brash pigeon, elbowing its way into my head.
More than memories it’s the people. The shadows of old friends still linger and I bump into their parents in The High Street. More recent ones invite me out and meet me with a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc ready for me at the bar.
One evening I met recent (as in we’ve only known them 25 years) Paul and Helen at The Crown and took grateful snapshots along my ten minute stroll. This is my town, I thought. My people. This too feeds my writer’s soul.
I love The Hague but I know I can love another place too. Watch out for a 2019 Writing Me-Treat in Stamford, folks!