Move away from Suffolk? Not likely, says Tony Redman
PUBLISHED: 11:30 02 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:30 02 September 2014
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Our recent ruby wedding prompted an exploration into the memory drawer in the chest in our bedroom.
Among programmes for long forgotten theatrical performances, embarrassing old photographs of friends and vaguely remembered holidays, lay the letters I wrote to my girlfriend all those years ago before she became my wife.
“I have just spent a day in Suffolk with Uncle, who asked me if I could ever see myself earning a living in Bury St Edmunds and living in the village where his cottage is,” one of them said. “I wondered why anybody like me would ever want to move into this boring county with a dead church at its dead centre full of old people I can not understand . . . so I said I thought I could.”
I was 21 then and wondered how I would ever manage to do anything with my life, let alone up sticks from suburban London and move to, well, another pile of much older sticks in rural Suffolk. In suburbia my friends and I used to send messages on string telephones from neighbour to neighbour across the concrete yards, the houses being that close you could hear your neighbours arguing and making up through the party walls. The cottage my uncle was referring to was hardly overlooked and had something called fields all round it. Several years later we married and moved in and my love affair with Suffolk began and has continued ever since.
I have always been intrigued by what makes anybody want to move or settle into any particular area, unless they have roots or family living close by. What do they look for? Is it the house itself or the proximity to work? I suppose for some it will be the life of the community and the availability of local amenities. For others the opposite, the ability to be isolated and anonymous.
I was fascinated by that classic work of social anthropology Akenfield, by Ronald Blythe, which through a series of interviews sought to build a picture of a typical rural community. It happened to be in Suffolk, the county Ronald knows so well, but I suppose it might have been written about anywhere. I saw the much acclaimed film of it made by Peter Hall, also Suffolk bred.
Assuming it was a work of fiction, extraordinarily well crafted, but fictitious in the way Wordsworth eulogised about the Lake District, it added immensely to my love of this county.
But time and time again I come across characters from its pages in the villages I visit as part of my work. Although less common than in the 1960s when it was written, they are still there, salt of the earth and woven into the very warp and weft of what makes this place so special.
Recently I visited somewhere to look at a building. Two residents met me. The first was a lady, dressed in crisp summer linen with a straw hat bedecked in summer flowers. Her colleague was straight from the farm and in his working clothes, with a face the colour and texture of a well oiled walnut and a mouth full of teeth that appeared to be rejects from somebody else.
Judging by her accent the lady had probably moved into the village in recent years and he probably had not moved out all his life. Together they painted a picture of what I think is quintessentially Suffolk – something about acceptance and about rootedness.
This reminded me of a conversation I had with some friends and neighbours about 20 years ago. One of them, born in the 1960s, had not travelled out of the county until she was 18, and then only as far as London by coach. Her parents, Suffolk born and bred and living in a market town, did not own a car. Railway travel was an unknown quantity and air travel something she had only read about, assuming it was the realm of film stars and pop groups.
Another was a game keeper, born and bred in the same village. I asked him how far he had travelled. He answered that Bury St Edmunds was as far as he had ever been in his life. He caught the bus there three times a year to have his hair cut.
I asked them both if they ever missed travelling. From both came the same reply – why would anyone ever want to move away from here? Such characters are no longer typical, life has moved on and so have aspirations for travel and the ability to do so.
But 50 years since I was first given the opportunity to move here, I am beginning to understand why folk might find it difficult to move away.