Where am I?
You know the feeling when you wake in an unfamiliar bed and for a minute don't know where you are - which house, country, continent? 'Where am I?' I asked, waking in the middle of the night.
In the opening page of his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, defender of freedom and historian Winston Churchill answered -
Our story centres in an island, not widely sundered from the Continent, and so tilted that its mountains lie all to the west and north, while south and east is a gently undulating landscape of wooded valley, open downs and slow rivers. It is very accessible to the invader, whether he comes in peace or war, as pirate or merchant, conqueror or missionary.
I am living in that gently undulating landscape, near the ancient city of Winchester. The great novelist Hardy writes -
. . .that fine old city, aforetime capital of Wessex, lay midst its convex and concave downlands in all the brightness and warmth of a July [read September] morning. The gabled brick, tile, and freestone houses had almost dried off for the season their integument of lichen, the streams in the meadow were low, and in the sloping High Street, from the West Gateway to the medieval cross, and from the medieval cross to the bridge, that leisurely dusting and sweeping was in progress which usually ushers in an old-fashioned market-day.
There is no sweeping today. As shoppers walk around them, men are laying pale stone and cobbles in the High Street, carefully and slowly, on their knees. I am a few miles south and west, in the village of Shawford. Izaak Walton, fisherman, biographer and advocate of religious tolerance, writes in The Compleat Angler, Chapter 5 -
The Angler's wish
I in these flowery meads would be:
These crystal streams should solace me;
To whose harmonious bubbling noise
I with my Angle would rejoice:
Sit here, and see the turtle-dove
Court his chaste mate to acts of love:
. . .Or, with my Bryan, and a book,
Loiter long days near Shawford-brook;
There sit by him, and eat my meat,
There see the sun both rise and set:
There bid good morning to next day;
There meditate my time away, . . .
The Izaak Walton window in Winchester Cathedral,
the gift of the fishermen of America and England.
Curiously, those who know this area best have not yet told me where Shawford-brook is.