Thursday, 3 July 2008

Ledbury starts here

Can't help checking the weather forecast to see how the weather's looking around the Malverns for the next week. An oddity on the BBC website is that it offered me two choices - both Ledbury, Herefordshire. On the Telegraph website it offered me three choices - Ledbury, Gloucestershire; Ledbury, Herefordshire and Ledbury, Worcestershire. Which all reminds me of Birmingham, where I grew up, which seemed to be in a permanent state of multiple personality. There was Birmingham, Staffordshire; Birmingham Warwickshire and Birmingham, Worcestershire. A couple of days ago, lost in a the reverie of an English summer's day, I'd resolved to take the bike to Ledbury on the train. Now the 05 Honda Accord Estate is beginning to look as good as a summer's day, if not better.
I put these thoughts to one side and resolve to stick to the train. I like a challenge.
I was brought up in Birmingham, Staffordshire. There, at primary school one blistering hot day in the late fifties, huge and lovable Bertie Wilson was at the crease on the asphalt playground of Cherry Orchard School. The wicket was a small brick drain cover, and I think my brother or my cousin was bowling, but perhaps neither. (It's so annoying the way one's family embellishes memory.) At eight years old I was the wicket keeper, a position I'd coveted for the last twelve overs and the lunch break was nearly at an end. There I was, crouched over the brick wicket, wearing the Special Gloves wicket keepers wear. I do believe the cherry trees were in flower.
I felt significant.
The bowler let fly a magnificent full toss. Bertie, six foot and twelve stone at eleven and a half, stepped back slightly to gauge the trajectory, then swung his bat backward mightily as if the reverse movement would bounce back with even greater force when he came to hit the ball. That moment never arrived as Bertie's bat swung far enough backwards to hit me full in the face.
From a perspective on the far side of the playground I can see the cherry trees, the sun and shadow, the casual game of cricket amongst the boys near the fence. I see and hear the impact of bat on bone, the wicket keeper staggering around as if he has glue on his shoes, the batsmen, apologetic, sympathetic, fatherly, the blood streaming from the wicket keeper's nose over his stripey T-shirt.
Who needs significance?
I didn't play cricket again until I was twenty-three at Crookhey Hall School, near Cockerham, Lancashire, in the annual Masters v Boys match, the year I broke my ankle, smashed up my mother's car and left university. But that, as they say, is another story.
Bertie Wilson was a relative of Peggy Wilson who kept a farm at Hanley Swan in Worcestershire, not far from Ledbury. It was where my parents had stayed on their honeymoon - by tandem - in 1942. I think they honeymooned there because they had happy memories of a walk on the Malvern Hills when they belonged to the Young People's Fellowship at their local church. They took their family there in the fifties - three boys who, as I recall, loved every minute of the farm life. I loved the getting ready for going away, the excitement and anticipation. I feel it now preparing to go to Ledbury. But did I love my parents that much that I want to recreate their honeymoon by bike around the Malverns? From my window the Honda looks very sexy.
I remember we all had to have new shoes and stood on the strange X-ray machine in the shoe shop at Villa Cross in Birmingham, Staffordshire. I went for Jumping Jacks. I remember the scent and feel of new blue denim jeans, that smell of dry straw and cowboys. I remember the sticklebacks we caught in the stream and my mother on flower duty in the church.
So I'm looking forward to my trip to Ledbury and the Malverns. And I'm trying to remember who was that girl I met in Mallorca when I was fourteen, propping up a palm tree after too much wine. She lived in Ledbury and when I came to visit her with Howard Jones when we were supposed to be on a scout hike, we had lunch with her parents, then she took me into the back garden and there for the very first time I discovered what it means to kiss and be kissed.
How I long for that moment to last forever in the dappled, golden sunshine of an English summer's day.
I'm thinking about the strangeness of the memories summoned by place, the interconnections, the spectral bodies still riding across the land, kissing, catching sticklebacks.

I am looking forward to my trip to Ledbury, where for the first weekend , I'm staying with the festival photographer and his family...

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