“Why isn’t our village mentioned on television more often?” asks my small daughter, Laura, as we’re watching the weather forecast. “They mention Bristol all the time.”
The swooping BBC weather map has just reached the city where her grandparents live. Our airspace, as ever, they have passed over without a mention.
For Laura, rural Gloucestershire is the centre of the world. Now and again she seeks my reassurance that we will live here forever. She worries that I may sell the house. When I gently suggest that she may one day want to move away to university, or in pursuit of a career or a husband, she gives me an old-fashioned look.
I understand. I still feel a gravitational pull towards my own roots in London suburbia. I was born not far from the Greenwich Meridian, by which the whole world set its clocks – proof, to my childish mind, that I lived at the centre of the world. Any mention on the telly of Sidcup still makes me feel proprietorial, even though it’s likely to be in the context of a comedy show. “Porridge” and “Rab C Nesbitt” both used Sidcup to raise an easy laugh.
In my subconscious there lies a world map. A large pin marks Sidcup as the focal point. Radiating out, in pastel colours, are the territories I’ve explored, while large tracts of uncharted land remain dark. Even today I take pleasure in visiting places I’ve never been, so that I can mentally colour them in. My map looks pretty colourful these days, but Sidcup’s central pin remains in place.
Few people feel no pull towards their roots. We are all like tethered goats, though some have longer ropes. My Scottish husband, an economic migrant to England at the age of 20, has lived and worked in many English towns and travelled as far India for holidays, but every summer he heads north, as compelled as a homing swallow, to conquer another few Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet high). Avidly he records his conquests on a vast mountain map that fills our kitchen table. If Laura had been a boy, he’d have insisted on naming her Munro. Both she and I are very glad she is a girl.
About the time I was busy being born in Sidcup, a Tetbury-born friend of mine left home for university. His career took him all over the country before he eventually settled in Norfolk – about as far east of his roots as he could get without leaving England. Yet in retirement, what should be at the centre of his thoughts but the area in which he was raised? He’s now penning a series of whimsical stories1 based on the tiny territory of his boyhood, meticulously remembering every hill, every field and every lane.
Laura’s personal map is already of conquistadorial proportions: not many seven year olds have travelled as widely. Before she was four, she’d been to Albania: her first kiss, at the age of three, was from a small Greek boy in Athens. This summer she added the Outer Hebrides to her empire. She’s now set her sights on Mexico.
“How many countries are there in the world, Mummy?” she asked the other day, wondering how many she has yet to visit.
“194,” advised the internet.
“And which one is the most popular?”
For a moment I’m stumped, till I consider a democratic approach.
“If you asked everyone in the world, the most votes would probably go to China,” I suggest.
She frowned disapproval, patting her “Team England” t-shirt to indicate where she’d cast hers. (Later, doing the laundry, I check where her t-shirt was made. No prizes for guessing its country of origin. I decide I’d better not tell her.)
But no matter how far Laura travels, I’m sure her rural Gloucestershire home will always be her favourite destination. And now, as the autumn nights start to draw in, we are both very happy to be here.
(This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, October 2010.)