Real life

From a solar-powered bin to HS2: the destruction of my childhood home

16 March 2019

9:00 AM

16 March 2019

9:00 AM

My mother is a classy lady. I have always known this, but it still affected me in a way I can’t quite describe to see that her handbags have bags.

I was helping to move the folks into their new home when I discovered this rather wonderful fact about my mother.

Praise be, by the way. HS2 finally played along and the sale went through. We packed up the house in which my parents have lived for 50 years and on the morning of the move the builder boyfriend and I took the spaniels for our last ever walk in the fields at the back of my childhood home.

The shape of the high speed railway is now carved into the land. A vast ploughed tract runs for miles across the fields in which I used to picnic and ramble.

It was an idyllic childhood, I now realise. I remember walking with my father and mother in these fields, picking blackberries. I remember sitting in the grass with my first boyfriend — the boy next door. Young people went for walks then. The boy next door would call for you and you would walk out the back of your garden over the fields.

Lately, a cycle network lobby group tarmacked a path through the fields. I got quite cross about that. But no matter. The fields were still there.

Some misguided soul then put an ugly metal solar-powered bin next to the path. Next to that sprang up a piece of ‘art’ consisting of two metal cycles. Further on, in a water meadow, they chopped down a tree and built a tree sculpture with the wood. I don’t know who did this. I was too worried about what I might do if I found out to find out. An organisation called Sustrans had a lot to do with the tarmacking. I rang them a few times and got pretty heated.

But the fields were still there, until HS2 came along. It took years to get to the stage we are at now, where the diggers have started carving the route of a railway into the landscape, a brown scar running through the green. A brook is being diverted. Nesting birds are being taken elsewhere, if you believe that.

We walked for the last time past the solar-powered bin in a field, past the metal bike installation to the tree statue made of a tree. This was the countryside in the process of being made suburban. And now it is being made urban.

When I think of how this place has changed in my lifetime the words of the country singer Mary Battiata spring to mind: ‘The trees are all cut down./ They pulled the last one from the stars./ I climbed above the blackbirds, way up beyond words./ I used to see so far…’

We walked back to the house and the removal vans arrived and two hours later that was that. The builder boyfriend took my mum on his arm and walked her from the house. I took a picture of her leaving. My dad told a rather funny joke about how they might have found him behind the front door with the barrel of a shotgun poking through the letterbox. But as it was we were all ready to go.

As the removal lorries pulled out of the drive, I saw that a digger had appeared in the fields at the front of the house, carving a progress-shaped scar through the farmland.

At the other end, things were too busy for us to think much about what we were leaving. The new house looked pretty as a picture. A wave of relief went through me as we directed the placing of the boxes. The builder boyfriend hurried back and forth joking with the removal men in his best banter.

It was going to be all right. My mum and her best friend had gone off to the estate agent to pick up the keys but when the rest of us got to the new house the previous owners were only just leaving and they gave us a set. With my mum and her friend phoning to say they were now lost in a strange town centre, I decided to make use of the time.

Upstairs, I set about unpacking my mum’s boxes so she felt at home when she arrived. And that was when I found an entire packing case of her meticulously housed handbags.

About 20 of them, each one tucked inside an immaculate white handbag bag.

I decided to take each one out of its perfect casing and arrange them all in the wardrobe carefully, in order of size, large to small, left to right, so that she could pick which one she wanted.

I wasn’t crying for the old house.

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