Friday 27 April 2007


Yesterday was a pure nostalgia-fest. James was playing in a football match just outside Glastonbury. It’s a lousy long journey from school so Adrian and I figured we’d better show up to show support (as unlikely many other parents would make the schlep). Also it’s over by our old stomping ground so it was a good excuse for a step back in time.

The drive takes you over the Quantock hills, a long-time Favourite Place. Memories of our old boxer, Monty, vanishing into the mist and giving us palpitations as we heard shots being fired. Memories of coming off the Levels for a walk, leaving behind a full spring day and finding the hills in a winter wonderland thick with snow. Down into Bridgewater - a sad town that was once proud and beautiful but now, no matter how hard the estate agents try the ‘up and coming’ tag, just can’t seem to shake off its reputation for being generally grim.
Over the motorway, past the turn to our old village and onto the Polden Hills, that narrow spine that cuts through the Levels. You feel like a kid running along the top of a high bank, perched atop, flatness to the right, flatness to the left. When it floods it’s surreal – like driving over a vast inland sea. But today spring was everywhere – daffodils, blossom, heck even aubretia - it’s a much softer climate and a much gentler landscape than tough as boots Exmoor.
We parked in Glastonbury and popped into the post office. It LOOKS normal enough, except for the fact that there are more than the average number of rainbow sweaters, piercings and multi-coloured hair. But when the chap in front of us (actually dressed in a suit) got out a pendulum and swung it over his bank book – I had to bite my lip. It’s just SO Glastonbury, home of every wannabee Merlin or cut-price Gandalf.

I sort of love and hate the place really. When I was a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Castle Cary. My aunt and uncle lived in Glastonbury and – if we could hitch a lift on the milk truck – we would go to see them (picking up churns along the way). I would hang out the window, waiting for that magical turn in the road when all of a sudden you could see the Tor, bang splat ahead of you, rising out of the mist.

My whole family were a bit New Agey (bar my father who thought it was all a load of old tosh) and so I grew up steeped in the legends of the Grail, of the Isle of Avalon, of magic and mystery.
But in the old days (here we go!) the town carried its mysticism lightly. It was subtle, even secret, as all good magic should be – a hint, a whisper, hidden down alleyways and passed on by word of mouth. Nowadays Glastonbury is a New Age slot machine and every second building is a day-glo temple for Maitreya or a shop peddling mystic tat. Yet the original locals still go about their business in the few real shops still standing, seemingly oblivious of the be-cloaked, be-wanded, be-drugged oddbods chanting in their midst.

Whatever. Times change. We had a very nice lunch at the 24 Monkeys café and I managed to nab some Love Potion Number 9 from Starchild (seriously outrageous bath oil – use with extreme caution – I won’t be held responsible for the effects!) and then watched the match (we were held to a 1-1 draw, purely because the other team had a well-good goalie. Frankly, we were robbed).
Struck out of Glastonbury back to Street and hit another wave of nostalgia full in the face. As a child my twin loves were the Tor and the sheepskin factory. The latter sprawled along the road, a faint smell of tanning on the air. Best of all was the shop where I’d lobby hard (but always unsuccessfully) for a sheepskin rug. It’s been derelict for years but now they are pulling it down. I suppose it will be replaced with new housing or yet another supermarket. I know life has to go on, but I nearly found myself crying watching the old brick walls come tumbling down.
‘Flipping heck. It’s only a factory,’ said Adrian. But he gave my hand a quick squeeze nontheless. Of course it’s a factory but it’s also my Mum trying on huge sheepskin coats; my Nan wanting to leave so we had time for a cup of a tea and a large cream cake; my Dad sitting in a chair in the corner stoically reading the paper. It’s the taste of honeycomb (not sure why) and the feel of wool between your fingers and the scent of people you loved who died a long long time ago.
So we drove back in thoughtful mode. Retracing our steps, moving back up the layers from childhood through the early days of our marriage until, finally, as we came down Partridge Hill, back into the present day.

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