My husband is away for the weekend (doing a long bicycle ride somewhere up north – I really should listen more carefully…) and so I have awarded myself a mini-retreat for writing. I have turned the dining table into my desk, and am spending two days – one and off – gazing out into the garden while enjoying the company of Sam and Martha. And it strikes me that I am rarely happier than when retreating into the past.
The signs were always there. As a little girl, my favourite book was “The Little White Horse” by Elizabeth Goudge – I still re-read it once a year. The religious symbolism of the story quite escaped me (indeed, I saw it only when I shared it with my book club and they hated it for its religious overtones – the lesson is never to submit a beloved book to this sort of scrutiny!) but I was enchanted and captured by its setting: the west of England in 1842. When my mother allowed me to stay up and watch evening television dramas with her, my very favourites were “Upstairs, Downstairs” (London, 1903 to 1930), “The Onedin Line” (Liverpool, 1860 to 1886) and – of course – “Poldark” (Cornwall, 1783 to [eventually] 1830). When I went through the inevitable teenage girl phase of reading overblown family sagas with occasional scenes of torrid sex, I eschewed the modern Jilly Cooper and Judith Krantz in favour of anything by Susan Howatch – particular favourites being “Cashelmara” (Ireland in the late nineteenth century) and “The Rich are Different” (London and America in the interwar years). As an adult with my own money for television boxed sets, I wallow regularly in “Cranford” (Cheshire in the 1840s) and “North & South” (Manchester in about the same period). In my everyday life I favour dresses with a 1950s cut, and drive a car from the 1980s. And I must say that in today’s current political climate, the past seems much safer place to be. Now, I must head back to 1828 – Sam is attending a religious meeting on the City Road and cannot believe his ears.