Sunday, 23 July 2017


Ragwort and convolvulus in front of railings on a high stone wall.
It was a mistake.
I'd thought photographing familiar plants would be a good idea; a clear connection between my old life and new. But it wasn't. Seeing good old convolvulus poking through railings instead of clambering over a blackberry hedge was painful. And ragwort should be beside tracks. Those tracks might be of the narrow, foot-trodden into earth kind, or they might be railway ones . . . but that's where I expect them to be. Seeing them spread about on top of a high, black wall was disconcerting - a clash of feelings. I came back to my new home tearful and full of home-sickness.

I doubt if many people move in this direction - from the sea and sand and sunshine and fossils of Dorset to the no-sea, no-sand, not-even-a-river, less sunshine, more rain of Halifax. Explaining is difficult. To say too much perfection is eventually boring might not sound very sensible. But where I used to find it reassuring to see the same plants coming up in the same place every year, I'd begun to think 'Year in, year out, that same old plant. How predictable can you get?'

Dandelion growing between black stones of wall in Halifax, UK
Of course, a wall might seem even more predictable; being there 'year in, year out' is precisely what one expects it to be. But for me - each wall here is new. Another new thing to explore. And the less like a Dorset wall it is, the better I can cope. Abrupt change is easier than struggling with memories.

As I write this, I'm hearing what I think is Kurdish music coming in from the house next door instead of silence. And people passing by in the street are more likely to be talking Urdu with a Yorkshire accent than English. At night, in my old house, it was so quiet I could hear the street lights humming. Incessantly they hummed. And I was becoming more and more frightened by the sea - the millions and millions of tons of pebbles which make Chesil beach crashing against each other, over and over and over with each white wave. There needs to be a new word for 'hearing'. To 'hear' the roar of Chesil Beach is nothing like hearing the roar of traffic on a busy road. In order to be run down by a car you have to step in front of it. No way is it out to get you. Whereas the sea . . . it's eating into the underbelly of the cliffs till there's no rock left to hold up the tops so they crumble away or come crashing down until in some places there's nothing but grass sticking out high above the coast; and whole sections of cliffs are cracked sheer from top to bottom by alternating rain and drought - and the sea is sucking everything that falls into it greedily away.

Willow Herb and bindweed growing on a wall in Halifax with house behind.
In an era of Brexit, it's best to be clear about this from the beginning. Where I've lived until now, it would rarely come into anyone's head to mention anyone's ethnic background. For nearly everyone shares a similar heritage. Now, all of a sudden I'm being confronted with the oddness of citizens with different cultures living in different 'areas' all within the same small town . . . and of shops being defined by the ancestry of their owners - this is a Pakistani shop, this is a Polish shop, this is a 'European' shop. I think I'm classed as a 'European'. I've always thought of myself as English. And one might as well say it aloud - that to be defined as 'Eastern European' (as opposed to just 'European') round here tends to mean you are expected to be rowdy, loud, litter strewing and drunk. (I've yet to find out what the stereotype of someone like me is - so I don't yet know whether I will live up to it, or down to it - or what!)

Plants and grass growing on a blackened stone wall.

Thatched cottages are common in Dorset. Hardly any buildings are abandoned or broken. Abandoned and broken is new to me - and here 'abandoned and broken' is everywhere. The buildings which have fallen out of use are too large and too many to be turned into holiday homes for wealthy people who like to look at a bit of greenery and a few cows at the weekends.

You'd have thought that once into the the countryside I'd feel more 'at home'. But the leaves on the trees here have more blue in them. Their green heads towards emerald. And the whole landscape is over-coloured and so highly saturated it's disconcerting. It's alien. It's an adventure.

Polystyrene cup and metal cans stashed where a stone is missing in a wall with convovulus hanging down.

So . . . I hope you will adventure with me in this new land . . .

as I get used to convolulus growing thinly on black, urban walls.

A change is sometimes way more than a rest - it's a regeneration of life. Already, brushing away the tears, I can feel that new energy begin.