Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Italy 1 - England 0

Hurrah! AC Milan won the football. In the city where I used to live, I can imagine the scene. The thronging piazzas and bars, the hugging, the kissing, the jumping up and down, the beeping of the car horns, the grid-locked traffic now filling what, a few short hours ago, would have been empty streets - everyone glued to their TV screen. In my head that's where I want to be right now. In my sixth floor apartment in my handsome brownstone Rinascimento building, peering down on the rooves of cars, the tops of heads, seeing the lights, hearing the voices, feeling the energy and smelling the air. This is Italy. A land of optimism, passion and football mania. In England the same passions are more devisive, less endearing. I'll never forget when friends of ours visited. He was a dyed in the wool Chelsea fan. I took them to lunch on the Navigli (canals) - a little bar, some football memorabilia. We sat outside in a weak sun, me enjoying sharing with them these lesser known spots. Paul went to get another drink. He came back, a little giggle in his voice: 'I think I've just seen Cesare Maldini'. He was Italy's national coach at the time. I felt good that I’d provided, unwittingly, a little football high-point in the weekend for our friend. When we finally dragged ourselves away from an idle lunch, I showed them round a few more places, then we went home. That evening we decided to pop over to a restaurant just a stone’s throw from our flat. A simple pizzeria restaurant, full of buzz and chatter and the smells of a wood oven. We sat ourselves down. Ordered our bottle of red. There was a big party of people celebrating a birthday. A classic Italian family gathering. Paul started chuckling. It was Maldini again, this time with his famous football playing son, Paolo – star of the AC Milan squad and captain of Italy. Twice in one day. Of all the bars and restaurants in Milan, both places at opposite sides of the city. And both times without pretence or celebrity. Just getting on with their lives. It made Paul’s weekend. It made me think, ‘God, I love this place’. It’s hard to be unhappy in Italy. There’s always something to put a smile on your face.

I’m tired of England right now, you see. This fight to save our school has, to date, been all-consuming and exhausting. And ultimately so senseless. I’m tired of talking about it, thinking about it, worrying about it. The children have become feral, feeding themselves, taking themselves to bed, practically driving themselves to school. After the ‘big meeting’ last night with the Idiots in Suits where the parents and Village Hall Trust gave a presentation in front of 200 people, followed by questions, we went to the pub. Drained, still reeling from the surreality of it all. From the short notice, from the short-sightedness. The children got to bed at 11pm. One had to do SATS this morning, unbeknownst to me. Amidst all this chaos and uncertainty, their tiredness, the children still performed exceptionally well. Their performance a direct reflection on their teachers and their environment. The very environment the Suits are trying to destroy. I could weep. But I won’t. Instead I will fight. I needed a day off today though. A day to sort the laundry. Make sure the children have socks again and I have pants. To put a little order back into our dismantled domestic life.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Village Schools - Superb or Superfluous?

I despair sometimes, I really do. Does excellence stand for nothing in this country? Is it really all about ‘the bottom line’? I have just received devastating news - for our little community at least. Our village infant school has been earmarked for closure.

This school is one of the key reasons I was prepared to unpick my life once again and move from the south to the north of the country. It is one of my strongest and most positive memories from when we first came to look at the house and the village. In the Autumn it was awarded the highest possible Ofsted inspection result and, as such, was put into the top 10 per cent of primary schools in the WHOLE country. This is a remarkable achievement for a school of 25 pupils. And it is all down to the dedication, vision and plain hard work of its Head and equally dedicated staff – one teacher, one assistant, one secretary – not to mention the strong parental input and board of governors. It featured in an article in the Primary Review just a month or two back about the quality and value to the community of our village schools. Its pupils leave in Year 2 with the abilities of most Year 4s. Thanks to the drive of the Head Teacher and her understanding that to remain open she has to achieve excellence and go for every financial subsidiary being offered, the school offers an incredible range, for such a small school, of ‘add-on activities’ and extra-curricular activities – swimming, ball skills, basketball, gym club, ICT both within the school and at the local secondary school, French club, card club…indeed, when we first visited the school it had more interactive white boards and computers than the private school our eldest daughter had been forced to attend in London (such was the impossibility of getting her into a decent state school in the over-crowded area of the city that we lived in). It was impressive. Put that together with a magnificent setting – clean air, startling views, quiet lane, sheep and cows and a very full programme of school trips and nature activities - and moving up here, rather than my husband weekly commuting, was an obvious decision. And you know what? – it really made me HAPPY that my children could be educated by the State, as they should be able to be, to a very high standard, in an inspiring environment.

But it seems that all that counts for nothing. Irrelevant the fact that they continue to build new housing without increasing the schools and doctors and dentists so that many of the local schools (again, in just the four years since we’ve been here) now have classes of 30 or more. Irrelevant that the village school brings a heartbeat to the ageing community, already stripped of its youth by lack of job prospects and the ever-widening horizons of the modern world. The farming community has virtually been squeezed out of existence, it is now the turn of the young things who, with the tools provided by the excellence of their early education, setting them up for life, are to suffer. Instead of being able to walk to school, we will now have to drive to another, far bigger one, to sit at the back of a huge class and lose all that careful nurturing and attention that creates confident, capable young children, allowing them to make the very best of the next stages in their education. Am I being too idealistic? Or is the local government just being too short-sighted? When money is the issue – they claim the cost of educating each of our children is just too high – it is a hard battle to win. But in the end, you get what you pay for don’t you? Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Is that really what this country needs? Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to celebrate success, to celebrate excellence and turn a blind eye to the bottom line? When I think how much taxpayers’ money has been thrown away over the years – don’t get me on Iraq, don’t get me on the Greenwich Dome or the London Olympics. All very different areas of expenditure, to be sure, but I can’t help feeling the domestic coffers could be better prioritised.

I am not a political person. I am simply a person who has paid a lot of money to the government over the years and has, frankly, taken very little back out. I am someone who believes in investing in people, in giving everyone the best start possible in life. I just think it is time someone sat up and took a look at the balance and quality of the education in this country and the importance of the village school in maintaining the heart and spirit of the rural communities. Everything is so weighted towards urban environments that in trying to improve the inner city situation while centralising rural education, leading to the sort of overcrowding that is reminiscent of the urban scenario, there is a real danger of chucking the baby out with the bathwater.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The Day the Circus Came to Town

I have posted the above picture just to remind us all what the weather HAS been like…it was taken on the way home last Thursday after a day out at Chatsworth (the school having been shut for polling day). Already, as I walked round a bedraggled, damp garden this afternoon, it seems a lifetime ago…

My better half is away at the moment and missing the fun. He has been on a short wind-swept and drizzly golf tour with the boys in the south-east of England and, after a swift change of clothes and a meal out with us on Saturday, jetted off to New York on Sunday morning. I received a text from him on Monday: he had enjoyed coffee in warm sunshine overlooking the Hudson river and the Statue of Liberty, lunch with a mate, a stroll in central park (with time to send me a pic), before heading off for drinks with other friends and supper and a baseball game. I was struggling to see where the work was being fitted in on this ‘work trip’. I, meanwhile, was sat in Wickes car park in the rain with five children while my friends looked for a hose. I reel sometimes at the very glamour of my life.

Prior to that we had been to the circus. No, not the Cirque du Soleil, or even the Chinese State Circus. No, just plain old Circus Mondao. Big top, big ladies in sparkly tops, unfunny clowns, horses, miniature ponies, recalcitrant goats, jugglers, sawdust, empty seats – oh, and a couple of zebras. This was the most exotic bit about it, I can assure you. Still, the kids loved it and we adults laughed like drains when the goat refused to jump the fences and ploughed doggedly through the whole lot like a bad day at Hickstead. We paid for the tickets, we paid for the popcorn: we refused to pay for the flashing light toys and the candy floss and the pony rides and the raffle and the photo with the miniature pony and Shrek. Actually, I found this a bit painful – poor Shrek had to stand in the middle of the ring with this weird looking pony by his side, shifting uncomfortably from big green foot to big green foot (and probably blowing raspberries at us all behind the mask) while not a single person thought a photo of their little darlings with this freak show duo would be nice to have on their mantelpiece. If the interval had gone on one more minute you would have probably found me rushing out there clutching all five children and a fistful of notes just to put him out of his agony…he’s probably having counselling as we speak. We did, however, cough up for them to pat the animals outside in their pens (50p a child). No ‘Now Please Wash Your Hands’ signs here. I’m not prissy about these things, but did wince just a little as L patted a particularly grubby looking goat on its backside. (Needless to say the one time I really could have done with the antiseptic hand gel, some useful little person had removed it from the car…)

I couldn’t help drawing comparisons with this and the circus we visit every August in the village in France for G’s birthday. No concerns about animal rights there – plenty of lions in cages and the odd elephant. Their equivalent of the goats are domestic cats – not renowned for their compliance – and I sniggered last year when one clearly thought ‘bugger this’ as it was manhandled into a swinging contraption and shot off through a gap in the tent, never to be seen again no doubt (except on a plate somewhere). That said, the French clowns were funnier and the jugglers better – but the glittery suits tattier and grubbier. No, safe to say, I won’t be running off to join the circus anytime soon…any lingering illusions now securely shattered!

Thence to Wickes, B&Q (still searching for hosepipes) and finally to Pizza Express (wash hands children!) – no Hudson River here, just a river of rainwater running down the middle of the street. It would have been an agreeable meal without the children. And I ended up with a dreadful stomach ache to boot. Roll on the next Bank Holiday! Let’s pray it’s not wet…

Yet, wet can be good. As we drove back into our village an evening sun burst through from under a bank of black cloud, throwing slanting golden rays and shadows across the landscape and a magnificent rainbow up into the sky. We gasped, it was beautiful, I wish I'd had the camera.

Friday, 4 May 2007

An Italian Sort of Day

Wednesday 2nd May 2007

If this weather carries on I’m going to have to change the blurb under my blog title! Everything’s on its head. It’s usually us poor folk up here in the north west hills that have to watch the sun streaming down all over the country while we wallow in mud and mist and rain, whatever the month. I’ll always remember my days in Milan where I would snigger smugly at the Sky News weather reports which had this constant pulsating symbol over the UK which represented rain, storms and every other ghastly metereological happening while I wafted around in linens, gently fanning myself and improving my tan. Yet tonight, sweet revenge! As I watched the Big Football Match over in Milan between Manchester United and AC Milan I could barely see the players for the curtain of rain that was falling, or hear the commentary for the thunder and lightning going off in the background. I looked out of my window here onto a scene of bucolic perfection. Fields bathed in a soft evening light, the bright blue sky that had spent the day with us just beginning to fade at the edges. Marvellous.

The game was a wash-out in all senses of the word. It had been hyped on the North-West news since there was a chance that the final (in a couple of weeks’ time in Athens, strikes allowing), for the first time ever (or in Lord knows how many years) was possibly going to be between two English clubs and, moreover, the two big red rivals of the region – Man U and Liverpool. It was eye-opening how much of a frenzy everyone was in about it all – it was the lead story, bumping off into second place that of some poor young innocent girl who had been shot dead through the head this morning outside her house. I was intrigued by the editor’s priorities (not for the first time in recent weeks, eh!). So, all revved up (I love a good game of footie – my father has been a sports’ journalist all his life and, when I was young, used to go off every Saturday to report on matches, returning home always with a rattly box of Maltesers for us – it’s his treat now to our girls when they visit), I sat down to watch the match. After endless speculation from the commentary team and pictures of boorish Brits shouting at the camera with the obligatory beer in their hands, cluttering up the magnificent Piazza Duomo in central Milan, the match finally started. Within minutes you could tell it was going to be dull, even before the first Milan goal. I switched channels to check out another programme which sounded interesting and was. I shall talk about that another day. I flicked back to the footie, saw it was 3-0 and blew a raspberry at the TV screen. I couldn’t help thinking of the family of the poor girl shot in the head who had been relegated to the bottom division by the BBC. Imagine if it was your child? I think I’d feel hurt.

So, throwing the football to the winds and rain, what else did the day hold? Well, actually, a rather pleasant lunch with my dear Italian friend on her alpaca farm deep in a valley below a village which goes by the dubious name of Flash. And if that wasn’t enough, there is also a Flash Bottom. You couldn’t make it up if you tried! Flash also basks in the fame of being the highest village in England at 1518ft. Actually, I think it featured once in Country Living (aagh, quick - garlic, crucifixes!). It formerly had a reputation for being a centre for illegal activities such as cock fighting and counterfeiting (hence 'Flash money'). According to some sources the counterfeit money used to be exchanged at the nearby Three Shires Head (where Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire meet) on Axe Edge Moor. Hah, bet you didn’t know that did ya! Well, now you do. So, a lunch with a dear friend who keeps me sane and a little insane and reminds me of my other lives, was enjoyed outside in the sunshine with a foreground of white male alpaca’s (separated from the pregnant females) clinging to a steep hill and trying desperately not to look like sheep. Since I have known Gemma, their numbers have increased year on year and they are now looking to sell some (any offers?). But back to lunch. Chilled white wine, dry cured ham, cheese, mushrooms and artichokes, and the spiciest rocket from her father’s vegetable garden just outside Milan (she’d been over there just last weekend, flogging English pottery to eager Italians at the monthly antiques market in her home town). Once sated, Guilt pulled us to our feet and took us for a delightful little potter along the banks of a stony, tree-filled stream. We chatted endlessly, took photos of butterflies and bluebells, paddled in the stream and returned happy and fully digested to her wonderful farm. I looked at my watch and realised I was about to be late to collect the children from school (what’s new! I hear you cry), compounded by the fact that I suddenly realised that the petrol tank was empty – again. Not just a bit empty. Really empty. With great trepidation I set off up her very steep drive and upwards, upwards to the heady heights of Flash village. A little bit more uphill on the Leek to Buxton road, then, finally, a downhill coast to the petrol station. £52 pounds in the tank. Yep, very empty.

The only other element in my day was Brownies. The days are now longer and I no longer have to collect in the dark. When I turned up this evening all I could hear was a cacophany of bleating lambs, filling the air as the buzz of insects. The sun was golden, the mood mellow. A friend’s father had come to pick up his granddaughter in a shiny maroon MG, soft top decidedly down. We chatted for half an hour about MGs (my second ‘serious’ boyfriend’s mother used to have a green one and I loved it when he picked me up in it), convertibles (we had one till I wrote it off on the lane – sad, sad, day – the origin of ‘Mummy’s Corner’) and this sublime weather. He informed me, having lived here all his life, that he didn’t reckon we’d had such a good Spring since 1947 – following one of the coldest winters on record last century too. I’ve certainly never had one like this in the four years since we’ve been here. The days are truly beautiful, I feel totally content. But I am aware that the ground is rock hard and the run-off streams have dried up - and it’s only the beginning of May.

Growing Up, Reaching Out

Tuesday 1st May

I helped out at school this morning as I often do on Tuesdays. Now I don’t have little L at home to stick and make with and do jigsaws and get messy with paint, I have been reduced to ‘volunteering’ to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in with her and her little friends in Reception. Our village school is an Infants School and currently has 25 pupils in it. It is a lovely place in which to pass the time. I pottered about filling paint pots and setting out number games. Today we were reinforcing their numeracy skills – counting in tens and units, more than, less than and all that jazz. I just love watching them all cross-legged and attentive on the mat, mainly drinking up the information but from time to time fiddling with shoes, taking their eyes off the teacher at their peril and being hastily and firmly drawn back to the matter in hand. I have flashbacks to myself at that age – just starting out on the long educational road, strewn with potholes and rusty nails on which it is all too easy to come a cropper. I remember the smell of the ‘copier’ – the heady fumes of methylated spirits reeking from the purple prints. I used to put my little nose in it and sniff deeply. What would Health and Safety have to say about that then?! I remember going up to the teacher’s big wooden desk at the front of the class and reading Janet and John. I almost remember that special moment when suddenly the words on the page become meaningful, readable. All the confusion collapses. Suddenly you can read! L reached that milestone in January and she now utters the words of her simple books with great fluency and expression. She has been given some of the most important tools of her life. I watch her mouth the phonetics when she hits an unfamiliar set of letters, then out comes the result. Part of me is nostalgic for the days when she couldn’t read, when she would lay a book on her lap like her sisters, something way beyond her years, and ‘pretend’ to read. It would always make me smile. Now a whole new world of independence has been opened up to her and there’s no stopping her. The moment she is settled in her car seat she demands her school bag so she can do her reading. The journey home is but two minutes, but she will not be dissuaded. She’s a stubborn little miss and her world grows bigger every day.

About 11 o’clock I was back at the house, catching up on the domestics – clearing away breakfast, emptying the dishwasher, putting a load in the washing machine, bringing in the sheets from the line. One of my great pleasures in life is hanging out the washing on a sunny day. Somehow it’s the combination of being engrossed in a job, out in the fresh air together with the sheer simplicity of sun and wind drying my laundry. No machines. No noise. No electricity. Just the movement of the air and the warmth of that omnipresent golden fireball. Not to mention that indescribable smell that only air-dried laundry has - sweet, full of negative ions, that’s the best I can say. I ironed while watching the lunchtime news. It was then I noticed the acidic brown stains of bird poo spattered about my lovely white sheets. I ironed over them. Country living and all that. No pretences here! Does Cath Kidston do a bird shit pattern? If she doesn’t, she should. Very authentic. Could be the next big thing.

Deciding I hadn’t spent enough time outside on this glorious day, I walked down the lane to school. If I’d taken the car I’d have been on time. As it was I was late. Again. I passed Henri on the way chatting to another neighbour, her dog cooling its heels behind her and looking bored, and gave her a rushed hello.
‘Hi Henri!’
‘Not got the car then?’
‘No, it’s too beautiful a day’
‘The air will do you good’.
‘Yes, and the children too’
They were sitting inside the classroom, waiting patiently as they have become accustomed. I sent them out to play and had a quick meeting with the teacher about arrangements for Year 2s doing an impromptu ‘farewell and bon voyage’ to our esteemed Head. She is off to Rwanda at the beginning of June to train teachers and will miss the Leavers’ Assembly at the end of term. It has fallen, somehow, to me to be the co-ordinator of this and the joint present - as has the task of co-ordinating the fundraising barbecue later in the term. My halo is shining so brightly at the moment that you can see it from Mars.

Meeting over, I scooped up the children and led them back up the hill. L strided out in her green gingham dress, swinging her school bag and telling me how we would always walk to school when it’s sunny and only take the car when it rains. She’s always been the big outdoors girl. She was only six months old when we first saw the house but I will never forget how her eyes brightened and her little pudgy arms started twirling in their sockets the moment we stepped out into the garden to have a walk round. She even managed to sprint up the last little bit of the hill to touch the ‘winning post’ – our house name on the wall at the entrance to the drive. In bucolic mood, we dropped the school bags inside, the girls changed and we came back out to look at the new lambs in the field. Just four bouncy little bundles ragging around with their mothers who, it has to be said, seemed more interested in chewing grass than gambolling. I knew how they felt. I was gasping for a cuppa and a lie down on the sofa. Which is exactly what I went and did. I ignored the huge puff of dust that plumed out as my feet hit the cushions and instead let my gaze rest on the still dazzling light outside illuminating the hundreds of busy insects buzzing about in the atmosphere in this fecund month of May. I think then I might just have dozed off – only for a minute or two, of course…

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Just another Monday morning

Monday 30th April 2007

I stood outside the school gates this morning and chatted to a friend. It was a beautiful blue sky day but with a chilly wind. I noticed the goose bumps on my friend’s throat (as Mrs Gaskill would say – well, chest sounds a little leery in the circumstances!) and it made me feel colder. I was glad I was wearing my vest or I’d have had goose bumps up to my ears. Henri passed with her dog, regular as clockwork. We said a cheery hello. I saw her again, later in the day, on her afternoon walk. She seemed a little depressed. Her friend Mary, whom I am also very fond of and who was the best friend of the woman we bought our house off, is really not well. She had a hip operation but has another mysterious incurable disease, dirkham’s I believe it is called, which means her legs are very swollen and tender and movement is increasingly difficult. In applying a soothing cream – she will not entertain having a live-in nurse – she managed to topple over and dislocate her new hip. She’s back out of hospital, but should not be alone in her big house surrounded by all her cats – which have Aids, I discovered. I was a little alarmed when I heard this as the girls and I had been round visiting and I was desperately trying to remember if any of us had been scratched! I’m told it’s not transferable to humans, but you can’t help worrying, can you? Anyway, poor Mary’s in a bit of a muddle, but I love and admire her spirit. She’s such an interesting person too - has so many tales to tell, so much acquired wisdom. She’s been wanting to move from the village for years, having been widowed long ago, wearying of the inclement weather. We all thought her mad to be trying to move in her mid 80s and with failing health, but that’s the very spirit that I admire in her, albeit a little foolhardy. Anyway, I must go and see her soon.

Henri is also in her mid 80s and has lived in the village even longer than Mary – all her life in fact. She is a good advert for the place. She still walks up hills with a purposeful stride and energy that defies her age. She still does yoga every morning and her brain is as keen as ever. She has so many grandchildren and great grandchildren, I always lose track. Her favourite grandson is in Australia and the first time I saw a crack in her indomitable demeanour was just after Christmas when she had waved him goodbye and wasn’t sure that she would ever see him again in her lifetime. I was lost for words. How can you say something comforting that doesn’t sound trite? I tried, anyway.

The rest of my morning was taken up with housework – trying to sort out the piles of tiny plastic things, papers, treasures and clothes in the girls’ rooms. A daunting task at the best of times – I have to be feeling particularly strong. I turned on the radio to remove the tedium and the silence and ended up with tears pricking my eyes. The discussion was about mothers who leave their families - always a loaded subject. It was heartbreaking to hear how three grown adults – one a lady of 65 – still were so completely full of pain over the sudden departure of their mothers, many years ago. They were so choked and crying that they could hardly get their terrible stories out. There are so many reasons that a relationship can break down – and I speak from experience – but this drove home the devastating results it can have on children, especially, of course, if it is handled badly or all goes sour and the children become pawns. I hasten to add, I’m not making judgements, I’m just observing. It certainly added an extra poignancy to my straightening of the girls’ beds and sorting of their possessions – such mundane motherly tasks but done with the sort of love I cannot describe.

Before I knew it I was back down at school again. The children played in the bright sunshine, now a little warmer. Then it was home for biscuits and a drink before heading back down the lane to meet E off the school bus from Macclesfield. This morning I had found a piece of paper amongst her piles of stuff which had a drawing of the family on it, all of us carefully labelled, including the cat. On the back it said: ‘My Family to remember when I wave good-by to mummy when I go on a big bus to an enormous school far from home.’ How could that not melt a mother’s heart? And I felt the tears pricking the back of my eyes again….

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Let’s Go for a Little Drive

On Thursdays I go to see the Yoga Ogre in Buxton. I had the most amazing drive over there last week. Amazing only in that it was perfect, until I reached the A6 at least. When I compare it to the sort of journeys I used to make in London…. well, there is no comparison. There I had to plan exactly when to leave the house to avoid the worst of the traffic jams. Driving to see a friend five minutes away could commute to 30 minutes of wheel-clenching, teeth-grinding frustration, magnified into urban hell by tired/hungry/irritable/bored babies in the back screaming blue murder. Give me a padded cell any day.

Here, it’s a rather different matter. I have to go, I get in the car and I drive. The only obstacles are horses, tractors, ageing LandRovers driven by stubborn farmers and equally stubborn sheep. Used to be a dairy herd issue too, but sadly, the last one was sold a year or two back. I used to love going in to school and saying ‘Oh, gosh, sorry I’m late, cattle, you know, milking. Got stuck in the lane’. Now I just have to say, ‘Sorry, late again. No reason. Yep, ok, flossing my teeth.’ I get the hard stare back and put myself in the naughty corner.

So last Thursday I flung myself eagerly into my car, slinky black yoga pants by my side, and reversed in one seamless arc out of the drive (thankfully the need for a reverse manoeuvre through narrow gate and walls is what put a lot of people off buying the house and hence left it wide open for us to grab, slightly non-plussed by the extraordinary reasons people do or don’t buy houses). Wow, what a beautiful day it was. One of those that's all shiny and bright, like looking out through newly cleaned windows. The focus is true, the shadows are sharp, the colours deep. The blades of grass were positively sparkling and the chirpy, chatty bluebells were bursting through the green verges on the edge of the road, gossiping away to the fat yellow dandelions about the comings and goings of the village. They were nodding their pretty heads and whispering and giggling and swishing their green skirts in the breeze. Most of the daffodils were now hanging their bedraggled heads having shown up early to the party, just a few late-comers happy still to join the throng and laugh and dance and be merry.

So I waved goodbye to the old house on the hill, lilac wisteria decorating her handsome stone windows like eyeshadow on an old dame. She's crumbling a bit round the edges but still stands firm against the elements, solid as a rock, defying time. As I descended the steep right-hand curve (a bitch in snow), past my neighbours in what was once the farm and some workers’ cottages, down through the 'cutting' of high hedge and stone wall and under the boastful bowers of a cherry tree heavy with pink blossom, I startled blue-tits, sparrows and blackbirds out of the hedges and up from the verges: flashes of blue, yellow, brown and black all swooped in front of the car, drawing me with their frenzied flight further down the lane before darting back into the safety of the hedgerow. Round the S-bend (‘Mummy’s Corner’ – tale for another day) by the track which leads under the railway and down to the reservoir where ducks bob and white sails glide. Little brown bunnies hopped out in front of me and darted into some hidden holes in the hedges, one had a mouthful of grass still clamped between its furry jaws. Lunch interrupted. Then, as I was going over the modest little stream (which swells and floods in the downpours of autumn and winter) I looked to my left and saw a scene straight out of a children’s story book: three perfect white geese with nine perfect brown goslings were standing on the slope of the jewel green pastures which lead to the meandering stream. The light was so strong and sharp it was as if they were etched onto the landscape. They stood motionless, in perfect formation, looking up at the blue sky.

I continued past the farm, scattering cocks and bantams (they don’t always make it, but not guilty I), past the watering hole (pub to you) and on through the village. Another S-bend, another stream and up the green tunnel of trees which leads to the escarpment. I rounded the corner at Florence Nightingale’s old haunt and came face to face with a big bay horse. Atop it, way up high, was a mother from school. I gave her a wave and a smile and was relieved I’d got there just in time not to have to grind up the hill behind her and her noble steed, while feeling a bit of a cad – how much better to have been scaling the hill with real horse power rather than with man-made. But it would have made me terribly late and my thighs would have hurt even before the yoga began. With a mental note to fix up a ride soon, I went round the hairpin bend that once, in ice and dead of night, I famously tobogganed down in a car packed with Christmas gifts and parents. It was not a good moment. ‘Mummy’s Other Corner’. The view is beautiful from here (if you’re not plunging over the escarpment at the time). The yellow gorse has now taken over the chief hill-decorating role from the white hawthorn, soon to be joined by purple rhododendron. I passed the gritstone crags on the right where climbers often cling, and glanced over to Chapel in the wide valley on my left, the brooding outlines of Kinder Scout beyond. Suddenly a bolt-eyed hare bound out into the lane and bounced along in front of me before jumping through a gap in a crumbling dry stone wall. A ewe with her two sturdy lambs bumbled off the tarmac in fright, another escapee from the surrounding fells. Everywhere I looked there were woolly mothers with their little black-faced charges. Further on a farmer was feeding his flock which crowded round him like adolescents at a pop concert, jostling for pole position.

I passed the march of electricity pylons and tumbled off the hillside into man-land. The barren moorland feeds into the first line of houses and parked cars. A ginger and white cat strolled across the lane and hopped onto a wall. I passed the station, on the Buxton to Manchester line, and popped out onto the dreaded A6 to join a stream of cars and lorries, many of them serving the numerous quarries, in the (relatively) tedious trail into Buxton. I passed the spot where a guy from our village, born and bred, killed himself on his motorbike. The flowers to mark the year ago anniversary lay limply by the re-built fence. Past the spot where a new leisure complex has been proposed (oh, the horror of it, ruining the open-viewed approach to the town and causing more congestion problems on this busy main road), past the driving range and the golf course, and down into town. Past Aldi and the new Waitrose which took over from Somerfield (signs that things are changing in Buxton…), past the imposing Palace Hotel, the art-deco splendour of the Opera House, the rejuvenated public gardens and into the Yoga Ogre’s road. I am late. She is not pleased. The karma’s not good. I make my excuses and flee, muttering something about ‘next week’. Well, at least I enjoyed the journey.
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