Sometimes it is difficult not to be nostalgic. At the end of February I will give up my post with the Friends of Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I was one of the original founders of this charity and have held various posts including chairman and latterly as a fund raiser. The Friends raises money for conservation work in Nidderdale and does sterling work in heightening awareness of our beautiful natural countryside, the importance of local farming and the goodness and necessity of home-grown produce. The organisation, using its charitable status, plays a vital role in bidding for monies to help fund heritage work, drystone walling, habitat restoration and tree and hedge-row planting as well as educating young people through active involvement in the countryside. Run by volunteers plus supplemented by a few hundred paying members, the Friends helps to keep those things that are important to us in good or better shape than we found them. And what is more important to our well-being than the natural environment that surrounds us?
In unison with my retirement from the Friends my wife and I are moving away from our idyllic 16 century farmhouse in upper Nidderdale. We shall miss its moorland views, bendy walls, low timber-beamed ceilings, stone floors and open fires but not miss the coldness, the heavy work of an extensive garden and the necessity to take the car out for a 14 mile round trip for the smallest shopping item. It is time for a change in life-style and to recognise that as old age creeps upon us it is time to find easier-care living and perhaps free up opportunities to travel to sunnier climes, particularly in the cold winter months when my bones tell me they need warmth. Leaving things behind you love is difficult but one must consider the new experiences to be embraced that our move into town-dwelling will bring us.
As part of this upheaval I have been scanning old correspondence and discarding many things that have sat in storage boxes unread for decades. They do bring the past back vividly, particularly letters written to me by my mother and friends when I was away at boarding school. Wasn’t it wonderful to be addressed as ‘Master’ Douglas Adamson on an envelope and have my mother tell me about Robins nesting in the beech hedge back at my home in Knaresborough? These simple stories were a powerful reminder of all things that were bad about being locked away in school miles from your home and the goodness and love of a close-knit family that I was lucky enough to be brought up in
Inevitably, as I root through old correspondence, birthday cards and letters of acceptance from employers, bank statements, mortgage applications and business papers you realise how much you have done over the years. The passage of time is pulled into sharp focus by the packets of black and white and colour photographs of holidays, children growing up and business travel abroad. Poignantly I was pondering photographs of my late Father who was in the navy during WW2 and posted to Alexandria in Egypt. He had an easy war; he was over 40 when he was called up in 1943 and he worked in land-based radar communications. Looking at the photographs of him sitting outside a large canvas tent in the desert, brown as a berry, crewing his naval commander’s yacht with his fellow sailors, reminded me just how lucky he’d been. But for my mother back at home, with no knowledge of his whereabouts on the high seas, she battled to look after her three young children and wondered if she would ever see her husband again. I was lucky too as I was born after my Father returned from the war and wouldn’t be writing this now if he’d been blown to pieces like his own brother had been in the Libyan Desert. How times have changed with our easy-going lives with only the worry of a Caliphate suicide bomber sitting down next to us in Betty’s tea rooms to trouble us.
I was talking to a fellow villager the other day about growing up as a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Harrogate. He was telling me that during the war a family from London had been evacuated and lived next door to him down Starbeck way. He had become great friends with some of the boys and when they returned to a London after the war he missed them so much that he went to stay with them in Walthamstow. He was only around five or six years old at the time when his parents dispatched him onto a train at Harrogate station to be met at Kings Cross, London. He had no chaperone, just a label on with his name, address and destination. He said the train was so packed with de-mobbing soldiers all smoking and playing cards that they put him in the net luggage rack located above the seats in the corridor carriages of the day. He spent the entire journey trussed up in this position. His sojourn in London turned out to be much longer than anticipated staying for over a year before returning to his birth family in Harrogate. He never wanted to go home so happy he was in his newly adopted, southern bolt-hole. The only way to get him home was to put him on a train telling him he was going to visit one of their relatives in Brighton, the lure of the sea blinding him to their true intentions. It was only when he got back to Harrogate he realised he’d been tricked and he wept for days afterwards. It is difficult to imagine anyone today putting an unsupervised five or six year old on a train bound for an unexpected destination.
This past age of innocence is perhaps a misconception; crime was more violent and in the hard immediate post war years, petty crime was rife and extensive racketeering supported a thriving black market economy. Modern communications of today mean we know about everything everywhere through 24 hour TV, internet and social media. In those days people only had the newspapers to go on and I suspect the adage of what ‘the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over’ was the reality. But let’s not remove our rose-tinted spectacles and spoil our image of the post war years as a time of a nation coming together to enjoy a grateful peace.
Anyhow, enough of this nostalgia, I must get back to my packing cases, the end of February is nearer than you think.
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