“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charms and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open” (Jawaharial Nehru).
That is how John viewed the world; he loved nature, he loved the countryside, he loved birds and animals, he loved the peace and tranquillity of open spaces, he loved going in search of the unusual.
When I embarked upon this journey (I’ve been watching too much ‘Strictly’) of tea towel blogging, of telling the tales of my various tea towels, I knew that some would be simple descriptions of places I had visited, some would be memories of gifts I had been given, some would bring back happy or quirkey reminders. I hadn’t thought through the fact that some would conjure up some painful times, things I had put to the back of my mind. If I am true to the quest, I can’t completely avoid those tales; but sometimes it takes longer to work out exactly how I am going to write about those tea towels, to gather my thoughts and not be melodramatic.
These two tea towels from Sutton Park are just such an example. I bought them at the same time, in the Visitors Centre. I wanted to have a reminder of the visit because I knew I would never visit again. They are not the sort of tea towels that I would normally buy because they are very non-specific; they are just scenes from nature that could be about anywhere. Together they create a memory. The Visitors Centre did not have a nice touristy tea towel with ‘Sutton Park’ on it. I knew these tea towels would come to the top of the airing cupboard pile soon because it wasn’t long since I wrote about Birmingham (and they are connected) but it still comes as a bit of a shock. I just wasn’t sure how I would write about them and then Kenneth Grahame came to the rescue. I have been re-reading ‘Wind in the Willows’ and have been ‘blown away’ by the quality of the writing style, the characterisation of Mole and Rat, the description of the landscape in its many forms, the adventures of its main characters and, in particular, the restlessness Grahame describes the migratory birds, and even Rat, feel as they are building up to their journey. Pondering on this, it reminded me of something. There have been all sorts of theories about the inspiration for the setting of ‘Wind in the Willows’, from the River Thames to the Crinan Canal; but it could have been Sutton Park, with its myriad of features: from 2400 acres of heathland, wetland, marshes, seven lakes, extensive ancient wooodlands, a Donkey Sanctuary, a childrens playground; there is also preserved section of the Icknield Way, an old Roman Road; prehistoric burnt mounds; a railway line with its own railway station; there were wartime camps, association with scouting and a history as long as your arm (but nothing about the Dissolution of the Monasteries).
“I see you don’t understand and I must explain it to you. Well, very long ago on the spot where the Wild Wood waves now, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there was a city – a city of people, you know. Here where we are standing, they lived and walked and talked and slept and carried on their business…….But what has become of the all? asked Mole. Who can tell? said the Badger. People come – they stay for a while, they flourish, they build – and they go. It is their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I’ve been told, long before that same city ever came to be…..” That is what Sutton Park is like – now the 7th largest urban park in Europe and the second largest outside a capital city. Until November 1996 I had never heard of Sutton Park. On John’s desk I found a note, written in pencil, saying that Radio 4 reported a large flock of Canada Geese (although it may have been Barnacle Geese because I have lost the note) had landed on one of the seven lakes at Sutton Park on their migratory flight. This was apparently unusual. I found the note after he had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in Sutton Park on 18 November 1996. I didn’t know he was going there but worst of all, I didn’t know he had died for nearly 2 days. John worked as a nurse on nights and I had an evening meeting on 18 November so we saw each other in the morning; he should have come home after I left for work the following day so we wouldn’t have expected to see each other again until that evening. The police called at 3pm, having tracked me down. This was not the days of mobile phone and ICE numbers.
I made the visit to Sutton Park to see where he died, with Fee. I hadn’t expected it to be so large. I had no idea where he died. My second visit was after the inquest in May 1997 when I found out where exactly he died. In many ways I wish I had not returned because it seemed so real, so horrible, so isolated and in November so cold. But at least my questions were answered and I knew I would not visit again, shame because it is a lovely place. I bought the tea towels as a reminder that I had been there but when I use them I deliberately do not recall any memories, I blank it out. The tea towels are functional but do not provide happy memories. I am glad I have written this blog because I don’t think I have any other miserable ones left!
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