Archive for September 2012

Walking in Circles

Posted on Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 16:03
Isn't it funny the way that things we do in our childhood go on to influence us later in life? As we go about our daily lives, little seeds are sown that germinate and grow, as we grow, until finally they flower and form part of the garden tapestry of our personalities as adults, often to our very great surprise.

One thing I never expected to develop was a love of walking. For me this began in two separate places during my childhood. One was the walks that I used to take with my family at the weekends and during the holidays, and the other was my daily walk to school.

The first of these seeds matured during my second year of university, when I would take walks along the cycle path at the weekends, sometimes walking for many miles in a stretch. I didn't really think of myself as being into "walking" though until my first year in Plymouth, when L and I tagged along with Plymouth University Chaplaincy on some of their group walks on Dartmoor. Since these were only once a month, we soon found ourselves going out by ourselves on the intervening weekends, gradually building up our distances, terrain and equipment, until we looked less like people going out for a weekend stroll and more like a pair of mountain climbers preparing to scale Everest.

My walk to school took much longer to re-emerge in adult form, due primarily to my life style. Whilst in Bristol I learnt to drive, and so soon found myself to be a commuter, rather than a walker. This continued in Plymouth until I became self employed, working from home, at which point I began to be aware that something was missing.

You see, there are two things I liked about the walk to school. One, obviously, was the exercise and chance to stretch my legs, something which I still value very much. The other was the opportunity to experience the changing seasons through a brief but regular exposure to the local environment around my home. I've ranted on about my love of Autumn countless times, but last year I probably only made a conscious effort to get outside and see the season in progress two or three times. At that rate, Time seems to pass very quickly, as seasons come and go almost instantly, as do the years.

In Bristol and in Plymouth there wasn't a great deal I could do about this. The dense human habitation and activity in cities tends to alter the climate; raising the temperature and limiting many of the more noticeable aspects of any given season. It's hard to enjoy the changing of the leaves on the trees if there is only one tree near you and its leaves don't die until late November.

So, when I discovered that we'd be moving to a green and quiet Hampshire suburb, one of the first things I began to look forward to was walking around and witnessing the seasons change all around me, the way I remembered them doing in my childhood. I realised that I would need to take two walks a day to achieve this: one early in the morning, the equivalent of walking to school, in order to feel the cold, crisp air in Winter or see the morning dew on the grass in Autumn, and another at lunch time, to enjoy the heat from the sun in Summer, and to fight the post-lunch lethargy that tends to plague my work life whilst I am digesting my meal.

And this is exactly what I take. Each walk lasts between 20 and 30 minutes and takes me all over the estate on which I live. The estate in question is one of the better things to come out of 1990s building practices. It's a mixed estate, with everything from flats to five bedroom houses with double garages, and many, many different architectural styles are used, meaning that no two roads look the same. In addition, there are many fields, and trees dotted about, as well as a woodland with a pond and our local stretch of the Basingstoke Canal passing nearby. This all adds up to an almost infinite number of walks that I can take around here, without ever having to get bored, or feel like my options are limited.

My morning walk usually takes me out of the estate, to watch the builders who are extending the garden centre across the road. Another seed that was sown in my childhood was a love of watching building going up, after the extension that was built at my primary school when I was in Year 5. They're still preparing the ground at the moment, so I can't wait to see how it all unfolds over the coming months.

At lunchtime I tend to head in the opposite direction, deeper into the estate to explore new roads and paths that I've not seen before, and to see how the trees in the wood are changing as Summer drifts into Autumn. With such frequent walks, Nature appears to me to have slowed down to a pace at which I can savour every little change, without the feeling that Time is passing me by to quickly.

As someone who always feels like I have too much to do and too little time in which to do it, I can't overstate how beneficial it is to me to feel like I've got enough time to indulge my love of Nature fully and completely, at this time of year more than at any other.

They say dog owners are generally fitter than the population at large, because they are forced to walk their pets once or twice every day. I say, why rely on a dog to keep you fit? I walk as though I have a dog, but without any of the headaches of keeping one. I go out in rain and shine, and try never to miss a day. In fact, I'm going to end here, so that I have time to walk now, before the light levels fade and I'm required to go and cook dinner. If you've not taken a walk in your local area recently, why not pop out for a stroll now? You'll thank me if you do!

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Moving On Again

Posted on Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 12:18
It has been known, over the years, for me to occasionally talk about the goings on in my life on this blog; the big changes as well as the small. Let it be known, then, that in the year of Our Lord 2012 AD and in the month of July, we did up sticks and leave the City of Plymouth and set up a new home in the village of Church Crookham in Hampshire.

To many of our friends and acquaintances in Plymouth and the surrounding area, this move was seemingly unexpected, but to L and I it was inevitable, and in line with plans that we had made some years before. I talked a little when we moved to Plymouth about the pros and cons of the different living environments I'd encountered over the years. At the point that I left that particular post, we'd just settled into a city centre flat with sea views and shops within 5 minutes walk of our front door. Now we have "upgraded" as it feels just now, to a two bedroom semi on a quiet and attractive estate with lots of trees, green spaces and a canal, with countryside sprawling away in one direction and the urban sprawl of the London commuter belt in the other.

We moved to Plymouth in 2009 because I'd just finished my degree in Bristol and L was a couple of years into her's in Plymouth. We hadn't planned to settle there, it was merely a stepping stone. That isn't to say that we wouldn't have stayed if we'd liked it enough and if we could have done. After all, we were there for 3 years, which is long enough to settle into more or less any community, and we'd done a pretty good job of settling in down there.

I read something somewhere recently about how different cities provoke different feelings in people and tend to push them in particular directions. The example I remember from the article was New York, where, apparently, the main motivator is money, and very little else counts for anything.

I can attest to this impression of cities, as Bristol tended to leave me feeling upbeat and excited, and sill does whenever I visit. Plymouth, sadly, left a very different feeling. Despite the lovely people we met and the wonderful landscapes and countryside surrounding the city, the overall impression of the place we had was distinctly negative. We arrived their feeling positive and excited about exploring a new place, but as time went on, we found ourselves becoming increasingly cynical about the city. Every time we went to explore a new quarter, we found it run down, grey, or just plain boring. With the exception of a couple of places, such as the Royal William Yard, we rarely returned to places we didn't need to visit, and we were reluctant to spend as much free time walking around the city as outside of it.

As the years went on, our disappointment and frustration at various aspects of the city, whether it was the depressed economy or the poorly stocked shops increased to the point where we could hardly think of anything nice to say about it. And this, despite living in the nicest area of town, visiting the theatre and restaurants regularly and popping to the shops most days of the week.

The result of all this was that when L finished her degree and was ready to look for jobs, she didn't bother looking for them in Plymouth. True, we already knew that getting a teaching job in a city with two teaching collages would be tough, but if we'd wanted to stay there, we would have tried.

Instead, we looked to relocate far away, and eventually found ourselves just 20 minutes drive from my childhood home. Obviously the fact that we're living practically in my old backyard probably does make me a little biased, but I'm pleased with the move. I'm pleased with the area, with our life style and with our general situation. And I'm not sorry that we left Plymouth, in spite of everyone that we left behind.

Last week we went back to Plymouth for the day, for L's graduation ceremony. I think we were both curious about how we'd feel, returning there for the first time in weeks. When it came to it though, I didn't really feel anything at all. Some things had changed, most had not. The former gay bar next to our apartment building has gone straight and been renamed "G-SPOT" (yes, really), and a bit of building work has taken place, but otherwise it was the city we remembered. Looking back, the only place that tugged on the heart strings for me, was the M&S in Drake Circus, because it was where I'd bought both my suits. That was as emotional as it got, after 3 years of living in Plymouth.

And as I remarked at the time of our departure, if you don't fall in love with a place after 3 years of living there, it probably isn't the place for you. Goodbye Plymouth. Thank you for having us, and for giving us your friendship and happy memories. We'll be heading home now.

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