Oh dear, my feelings are as mixed as a tin of Quality Streets.
When we got here I was surprised, even disappointed, to find how alien I felt in England. But in the last few days, things have been changing. As I said in my last post, the town centre notwithstanding, Hemel Hempstead has it's moments of real beauty and its a beauty that seems to speak to me. When we first went to Australia, someone told me that what she really missed about England was the sense of history, and I remember thinking that I, brought up in the modern city of Riyadh, would not notice it. but it turns out that, in the ten years I spent in England, plus, I suppose, the holidays we had there before that, the country and its history obviously got under my skin more than I thought. Now I am revelling in being here; old brick walls bearded with dank smelling moss, lopsided buildings with bumpy, ancient slate roofs are beautiful to me. My cousin told me a wonderful story the other day - she used to own a house on St John's road in Boxmoor, a part of Hemel, and found that, with the house, as with many of the houses along that road, she had also gained grazing rights to the moors - stretches of green marshy land adjoining the Grand Union Canal. Though she considered taking the family tortoise down to the moors, she chose instead to sell the rights, for a princely sum of £2 a year, to a woman who wished to graze her horses there. I'm guessing that that arrangement comes from a very long time ago, possibly since before Australia was first colonised...And this in a town which is famous for nothing more than its magic roundabout and the hideous Kodak high rise.
We have left Hemel now and are staying with my parents in law, in their house in Naphill. It is a beautiful old farmhouse with a converted barn, a mish mash of oddly shaped rooms, low beamed ceilings that lower themselves at your head when you stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night, stone flagged floors. This morning we went for a walk to a pub 3 miles away, down winding, muddy roads, where the cold air was full of the scent of manure and leaf mould and the bleating of sheep, past thatched cottages, crooked houses with walled gardens, and all under a grey sky shredded with clouds and full of cawing rooks and the Red Kites which are apparently making something of a nuisance of themselves in the area, but are beautiful to us. And all the way, the thoughts were churning away: did we do the right thing by leaving this country? Should we have stuck it out, and stayed here? Should we make the move again and come back - leave the sun and our house which now seems like a mansion compared to the houses here, leave our animals and the blue sky and all our friends? Leave my students and my ladies choir and all the orchestras and people I play with? Because, you see more than anything, more than any beautiful old buildings or soft green grass, more even than the joys of being able to eat real Cadburys chocolate, has been the joy of being reunited with my sisters, seeing them nearly every day, seeing the kids playing with their cousins and laughing with their aunts and uncles. I just have to remind myself that this is, after all, the Christmas holidays.
And if we lived here, we would not be able to afford a thatched cottage with a walled garden - it would more likely be a tiny terraced house in Watford and we would only see the sisters on the occasional weekend. So, feet down to earth please...