Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Creating new micro-rituals

A month or so ago we went to visit the FinnFans. They used to live in Swansea, but now they live in Norwich. We used to live in Oxford, but now we live in Ecoville. K and I talked about this a lot, in fact we've been talking about it for years, as we both knew we were moving for a couple of years before it actually happened, this massive disruption on the event horizon that you can't stop and you can't really prepare for, you just know it's coming, and then it does.

And then you're somewhere else. You've left the town where they know what you're like and don't mind, where you know where to buy the right size bin liners (Boswells), or Dr Hauschka Melissa Day Cream (also Boswells), where to get a Thai curry with a pint of real ale (The Old Tom), and which bus to catch where. You emerge, blinking, onto strange streets, and you think 'what do I do here? what am I like here?'

Moving to Ecoville had its own special challenges in the early days of course, including living on a building site, not having a postcode, not having a car or a washing machine or a phone line or internet access, but any big move is going to have some of those. And then there was the shock and awe of the Food Wars and the Parking Skirmishes and the tedious-yet-terrifying prospect of spending the next x years arguing with the vigilante defenders of the two legs better stuff. But I've covered that*. Oh yeah, and my mum died.

K's also had seismic stuff to deal with above and beyond moving city. But we've all been where we are for a while now, and what I'm left thinking about is how hard it is, how long it takes, to feel that a new place is home. Not a new house, especially, I bonded with our new house almost immediately, but a new place.

On a sunny weekend afternoon in Oxford, we would probably go to the allotment for a bit. A while later, someone would go and get some beers, or we'd retire to the Rusty Bicycle. On a cloudy Monday morning between May & September, I'd almost certainly cycle to Hinksey Pool. Afterwards, there would be coffee and one of those little Portuguese custard cakes at the cafe round the corner on Abingdon Rd. I might meet ex-housemate S in town, in the cafe at Modern Art Oxford, or latterly at Zappi's on St Michael's St, and we'd mooch around semi-aimlessly with whichever of her children was of the appropriate age for mooching with. These things didn't feel like rituals at the time, and indeed they were fairly fluid, in that they came and went and changed (no longer does a Friday night inevitably end with after-hours messiness in the Kari King - there are no after hours any more, there is no more Kari King, and anyway I am too old), but they were how we engaged with the city.

And a lot of our friends would be doing those things too, so you'd bump into people, or make an easy arrangement to meet up, maybe. It was a 'this is how we live here' thing. When we moved, we didn't have them anymore, and we were lost.

But slowly, we're making new ones. I call them micro-rituals. Some of them overlap with Project Anywhere But Here, but micro-rituals are more about grounding than escape.

One of the first, and maybe still the best, is walking to Woodies. Woodies is a breezeblock hut in the car park at the Crook O'Lune, where you can get a bacon roll and a hot Vimto, Friday to Sunday, ten till three. Initially it seemed a strange place to fĂȘte, as I didn't eat bacon (though they will do you a beanburger) and hadn't had hot Vimto for many years, and, frankly, it's a hut in a car park which is hardly ever open. But I have come to love it. The bacon rolls are excellent, though I do still go for a beanburger from time to time, hot Vimto is the business, especially in the winter, and it's round the corner from one of the most glorious views in Lancashire, if not The World. You get there by walking down the river, through meadow and woodland, then across a field full of sheep. It's a sad day indeed when I can't be tempted to walk to Woodies.

A much less charming walk, but with a much more charming destination, is a trip to the Red Door. The Red Door is a cafe and gallery that opened almost exactly a year ago in what had for a long time been a derelict pub. The Red Door has changed our lives. Its opening hours are slightly more generous than Woodies', and although it doesn't have the view, what it does have is an Aga and a proper coffee machine, from which flow flat whites and fine, fine food. We love to lunch at the Red Door. There's a dog, a woodburner, interesting things to read, good music, great people. And in summer, a courtyard garden out the back with a little brook running past. Let's just say, when the going gets tough, the tough go to the Red Door for some quiche like their Significant Ex's mum used to make**.

And there's the allotment, of course. The allotment is a source of pleasure, exercise, glut-based creativity (rhubarb and lentil curry, anyone?) and easily accessible escape. It takes work, both physical and mental, and taking it on was a commitment I was not sure I was ready to make, but actually it's been a sanity saver. Five minutes walk away is a different world, where there's always stuff to do, and you always feel better for having done a bit of it. We go up there together, and spend an hour or two working on different things. We may barely say a word, but we come away happier.

Sometimes we go for a pint on the way home from the allotment, as our local pub is at the bottom of the steps in the far corner of the site. I'd like to say that going to our local pub is one of our micro-rituals, but it's never quite made it. I'm grateful to *have* a local pub, don't get me wrong, and we went through a phase of having our dinner there every couple of weeks, but it was just a phase. The vegetarian main course option is lasagne with garlic bread and chips, or as my vegetarian friend M puts it, carb with carb and carb. As I say, please don't close, local pub o'mine (and to be fair I am sure I give it more business than most of my neighbours), but I await your discovery of the pea shoot, the avocado, and the playlist that stretches past 80s greatest hits.

On the other hand, the local shops have revealed their micro-ritual charms, albeit slowly. Central to them (charm-wise, not geography-wise) is the butcher, who we know as Pete the Meat. Pete the Meat sells good meat (fell-bred beef and lamb, free range pork and chicken) but also vegetables, salad, bread rolls, pies, potted shrimps, and other local delights. If only he sold wine. The newsagents has good ice cream. The fish and chip shop has good fish and chips. The general store is very much at the Happy Shopper end of things, which is something of a disappointment (terrible wine), but it does exist. Likewise the pharmacy, the very part time Post Office and the ultra part time library. We are at the edge of viable walkable provisioning, but once you have the opening hours memorised, if you don't work on Mondays you can get a fair bit of it done.

This all sounds like it's stretched a little thin, compared with the delights of Oxford. And to be honest, it is. But living here is a fair bit slower, way, way cheaper, and I spend a lot more time outside, or inside looking out, at the trees and the birds and the river. I tell M that I would like to spend a year reading the London Review of Books and making art. That would have been unthinkable five years ago, in that I literally would not have thought it, but now it feels only a small (mostly financial) stretch away. Who knew? And we have friends who live next door, who come round to watch Orange is the New Black with us in their pyjamas. I haven't done communal pyjama-based television since we used to get stoned and watch Morse in a companionable heap at Cambridge. It's wonderful (though I am yet to convince said friends, or indeed M, of the merits of Endeavour, sadly).

So I can't say it's always existentially comfortable, and when I'm down I struggle being so far away from the easy pleasures of urban living, but I am getting something from re-casting those same needs differently. I"m not sure it's better for me yet, but I have some faith that it will turn out that way. If I can only handle the neighbours.


* Well, kind of. I have more to say, but the next Ecoville update will be positive, in the interests of balance.
** My own mum did not have an Aga, and rarely made quiche. Her mum also did not have an Aga, but made a lot of quiche. Unfortunately, it being the 70s, she used to put it straight in the deep freeze, to be defrosted months later into something resembling an egg-based jelly with bits in. Never freeze your quiche, kids.

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Blogger Miles said...

Those neighbours. The breadth of the gamut they run is remarkable. They include some of the very finest people I have ever met or even know of, plus a huge swathe of perfectly decent individuals doing the best they can, yet it is the tiny number of intolerant, extremist, judgemental and narrowminded ones that on a daily basis leave me unable to see Ecoville as a place that I should be singing the praises of to its oh so impeccably insulated rooftops. I wish I could pretend they don't exist and remind myself that they don't speak for the whole community (despite their believing that they do). But I can't. They've got inside my head and I can't get them out.

1:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lovely post! Very lyrical.

7:24 am  
Anonymous jonathan said...

Hi Joella- lovely to hear from you again and to learn how you are coping (and sometimes, at least,thriving, which is all any of us manage, really) in the postcodeless land 'at the edge of viable walkable provisioning'. That's a great phrase by the way (have I ever told you have a great way with an arresting phrase? Of course I have..), and I look forward to seeing it as the subtitle to your published memoirs of the Escape to Ecoville (I was going to say I didn't know what the main title would be, but you know what, there we may have it: Escape To Ecoville!

11:48 pm  

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