Fences

Halloween is the day when there is neither past, nor future, only between.  Before the year turns, I have a notion to re-visit the green places of my past.  I step out into a breezy day, leaves rustling in spirals on the pavements, rays of sunlight bursting through grey cloud.

My past has been fenced off, built over, locked away.  We were urban children, grown on a Council estate, but there were always patches of green, hints of the wild.  The ‘res’, the ‘cut’, the ‘back field’, these were the edge-lands on our doorsteps.  Our lives as children were lived along these tracks and in these spaces.  The walk to school and back, the trails between each others’ houses.  The green spaces for playing, exploring and hanging around.

The first of two reservoirs, at the top of the street where I used to live, is a trapezium of grass tangled with purple clover and dock.  The gate is locked.  Perhaps it always was, but we got in anyway.  I always found the reservoirs puzzling and slightly mysterious.  How could a field contain a reservoir of water?  I never quite believed they were what they were supposed to be.  There is an old stone building, stamped 1901, which must have been some kind of access or pump house.  It is boarded up, painted with graffiti, art deco railings rusting around its roof, rubbish and weeds littering its steps.  There is talk about building houses on top of the reservoir, squeezing yet more dwellings into one of the last green spaces.

There was a park once, where the newest houses on the estate have now been built, an open space with swings and climbing frames.  The ‘back field’ is still there.  It was once just a ragged patch of land behind houses, with waist high meadow.  Now it is a water-logged square of shorn, vivid grass.  I disturb a posse of blackbirds in the shrubs at its edges.  I wonder how much it is used, and for what.  It seems unlikely that it is ever allowed to become as overgrown as it once was.

But my sycamore is still as I recall it.  The only tree I remember as an individual from my childhood, it stands on the corner, arcing over the road.  When I first read To Kill a Mockingbird it was this sycamore that I pictured when I read about the gifts left in the tree.

The ‘cuts’ were narrow paths between.  Each was the length of a street.  A narrow lane beyond the back garden fences.  A pathway between houses and the reservoir.  Small slices of nature, bordered by trees and plants.   But no one will be travelling those paths again.  They are blocked at each end, locked behind spiked metal fencing.  I stand looking between the bars, yearning to walk the old path again.  But within the fencing, nature has taken advantage.  Brambles, grasses and small saplings have reclaimed the path.  They have become liminal places but not human places.  On this still autumn day, they are peaceful pockets of green behind the bars.  Who knows what happens within the fences while the people aren’t watching?

The bordering reservoir has been fenced off too, metal spikes above the wall.  Fences and fences.  Adjacent, my old school has been demolished and re-built with yet more of the ubiquitous railings.  There was a time when a farmer’s field lay opposite the school.  I still remember the feel of the ploughed furrows under my feet.  The old hawthorn hedgerow is still there, now backing onto houses.  It is a reminder of a past when there were spaces to explore and everything wasn’t locked up tight.  It is half-term and the children are on holiday from school, yet I haven’t seen or heard a single child during my walk, only the ghostly footsteps of those who have left childhood far behind.

I cross the busy road to get to the cemetery and leave the fences behind.  Here there are meandering paths scattered with leaves.  Tilting headstones rooted with ivy.  A laburnum like an umbrella sheltering graves.  The foliage is still mostly green, but maples appear like pools of light in the distance.  A large leafless hawthorn has berries like fairy lights.  A giant beech is a beacon beckoning me along the path.

My ritual tonight is all about stripping back and letting go.  I am letting go of the year just gone, and all the years that have gone before.  The past is a familiar place, but not always a comforting one.  I have witnessed again the way the world never stands still.  The fences represent a changed world – one in which it seems necessary to fence children in and fence others out.  But fences are no barrier to memory.  Once, small feet traversed this landscape without impediment, and the imprint of their passage is part of the landscape still.

96 thoughts on “Fences

  1. Beautiful and compelling. I can’t help but think if I revisited the green spaces of my youth and found fences, there would be a certain sense of loss. Though you’re so very right that those places are still as they were in our memories. I still like to think of other young feet running the trails along the creek like we used to, laughing along the way.

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  2. How amazing and wonderful that the tree of your memory still stands!! I have one tree, too, that resonates in my memory banks–a maple across the corner from my kindergarten, up the street from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Always a brilliant red every October. Oh, and then the plum tree that my dad planted. He liked to take our pix next to the tree as the tree grew.
    Thank you for providing such fertile ground here for the imagination!

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  3. Lovely writing filled with haunting memories. It’s often sad to see how the places we grew up in have changed over the years. All those fences – we try so hard to keep our children safe these days but, at what cost to their freedom, imagination, mental health and independence? There are dangers in phone screens too! You are always good at finding the positives though – those fences have created small havens for wildlife. 🙂

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  4. Andrea, this story is great. From the title and onwards. To me it reads like a wonderful setting in a book and the charachter is already there with others sketched. I feel as if I walk with you and feel the life you had there.
    You say:
    ” But fences are no barrier to memory. ”

    How true this is.

    Miriam

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  5. No, the past is a familiar one but not always comforting. I can relate to your feelings of going back to where you grew up and you capture your feelings with your haunting words. May you let go of what you need to let go. Cheers!

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  6. As always your writing paints a beautiful picture for me….taking me back to your childhood and a time of innocence. So interesting how a fence on the one hand changes everything and on the other…simply represents strips of metal or wood….Thank you very much – Janet

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  7. Delightful fall sojourn through your past and neighborhood Andrea. It reminds me how much I loved explored the few wild or natural places in our urban suburbia. Sadly we keep removing, destroying, and fencing off the few places left.

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  8. This haunting post has left me breathless. “It is half-term and the children are on holiday from school, yet I haven’t seen or heard a single child during my walk, only the ghostly footsteps of those who have left childhood far behind.” For a while, my desolate soul had fused with yours, snapping back into consciousness only towards the end when you touched the shores of now, resolving to let go of the past —those apparitions of dried leave swirling in imaginary circles.

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  9. I followed with interest and my own memories stirring as you walked the ways of your childhood. I often revisit the village of my child-days and youth so perhaps I don’t notice the changes so keenly. Housing is the main change, slipped in wherever there’s a small space. Yet the larger play places remain. The village remains green… but you can no longer walk through to the neighbouring village (to south) cos there is a whopping great bypass cutting the paths!

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      • The most annoying thing was to find, in the course of a year, a flooded gravel pit (which was on what was originally common land) which Anglian Water used as a reservoir and for water sports had been closed to the public, now to be used by exclusive club members. But this is marked on older maps as The Common! I fumed. But considering what’s been done elsewhere…

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  10. Andrea, it is always an emotional hazard to revisit the past places of one’s childhood! You describe your young self and feelings of now with clarity and poetry. As you rightly say “The past is a familiar place, but not always a comforting one.”

    A while ago, when visiting family in Yorkshire I went out for a walk, around my childhood haunts. The eerie dilapidated buildings now replaced by houses, rubbing uncomfortably close with each other. My favourite dreamy bluebell wood torn apart by a by-pass, the rumble of traffic disconcerting. Luckily my old cut of the railway line is still there and I even found the tree I carved my name in on 1.1.80 to welcome a new decade – a young ‘Yorkshire’ lass with my first ever pen-knife!

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  11. I saved this overnight so I could read it in the morning and totally savor it. Your writing is THAT good! I can count on one hand the number of writers I will do that for…..the truth. Thank you for lifting up the quality of writing. It is always a pleasure.

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  12. Beautifully written, Andrea. Times do change and fences pop up here and there… Sometimes it is hard to have to let go, other times it is welcomed.
    Thanks for taking us down your memory lanes 🙂

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  13. Thanks for sharing your childhood neighborhood with us, even though it’s not quite the same. Interesting to learn how you pictured that Sycamore tree in the novel. It’s fun to picture a little-Andrea playing on that street. It’s sad how children aren’t allowed to explore like we did when we were kids, at least that’s how it is here in the U.S.

    The neighborhood where I grew up is about 25 miles from where I live now (since I returned back to Illinois). I’ve been back to that childhood place once or twice. Many of the small homes on my street have been knocked down and replaced with mansions. So far, my childhood home is still there, but the trails where we used to ride our bikes have been filled in with strip malls.

    Always pleasant taking a virtual walk with you.

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  14. I know for certain that the town I grew up in is virtually unrecogisable now, (I belong to a Facebook Group!) though I haven’t been back there for thirty years. The street I lived in for the first nine years of my life I haven’t seen for nearly forty years. It had a reservoir under a mound of grass just like yours and back paths behind the gardens separating us from a school playing-field. I wonder if the back path is fenced off there just like yours is. I loved that path with its views of the backs of our neighbours homes and its rank grass and weeds; warm and drowsy and sheltered in the summer.
    I hope you will be able to let go of the uncomfortable memories of the past, Andrea. ‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’ as LP Hartley said. Those memories will always be with us but they don’t have to influence how we are now.
    Your beautiful writing that stays with me long after I have read your posts are the memories that I treasure.

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  15. Poignant memories, Andrea. Sometimes it is hard to return to places we inhabited in the past, as inevitably they are changed, and seldom for the better. Most heartbreaking to me is when wild land is converted to human use and I grieve for the wildlife that once lived there. So many perish with no other place to go. The wild pathway you showed through the fence was at least a bit hopeful. ❤

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  16. I find it bittersweet returning to childhood haunts in the wild. They remind me of great memories, but too frequently they have been destroyed, built over or changed irrevocably. Times must change of course, but sometimes I feel like keeping the old memories and not the disappointing new ones.

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  17. A beautiful piece, Andrea. So evocative of this time of year. There were many green spaces in my childhood. I know that the one adjacent to our house was built on long ago. I would hesitate to go back to the others. They are best left as green memories, I think.

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  18. “Fences are no barrier to memory.” Have you heard of psychogeography? The definition of it is fluid and personal to those who practice it, but it deals with the changing landscapes of our individual memory, of liminal spaces. Your words and photos conjured up that haunted feeling of going back yet being here now. Thank you for the voyage.

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  19. Hello, Andrea. I know that feeling of visiting past haunts all too well; it can be quiet a solemn experience. Nothing stays the same forever, not even Basil Brush.
    Thank you for writing the post, as always, it was very enjoyable and thought evoking.
    Keep warm and safe, bye for now.

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    • Boom Boom! Thanks Mick, it is always strange to go back and sometimes a little bit traumatic! Right now I’m more concerned with the bungalow on the edge of the local park that has dug out their privet hedge – at least 15 years old and a magnet for birds and insects – devastating!

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      • The lack of thought some folk show toward wildlife is annoying. The consequences of their actions are devastating and heartbreaking. Everything, from a house brick lying in the grass behind a shed to an old watering can, is home for some creature. There are right ways and wrong ways of going about making alterations within our gardens – my philosophy is take a little give a lot. It’s not difficult and we all benefit.
        A good alternative to just ripping out the Privet would have been to have replaced it with a pyracantha hedge…
        Thoughtlessness towards wildlife is a subject that is very close to my heart, and I share in your concern, Andrea. Write a piece for your local rag, inform folk of the errors of their ways.
        Thanks for replying, Andrea; enjoy your Sunday.

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      • Thanks for commiserating Mick. I always thought privet was boring when we had a privet hedge in our garden when I was little – probably because they were everywhere – but since then I’ve seen how great they are for wildlife. I’ll be keeping an eye on the bungalow to see what they do with it….

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  20. Immersive and evocative writing as always. It’s very easy to get lost in your prose.

    Is this North Shields?

    Fences are indeed no barrier to memory, nor to nature. Land doesn’t need to be left untended for long before the wild reasserts itself. When I was growing up, we lived next to an army camp, grass clipped within an inch of its life and chain-link fences meticulously whitewashed. I looked it up on Google maps the other day. It’s all gone – the mess, the barracks, guard room, greens, parade ground. It’s all overgrown scrub now. It felt like a rare step in the right direction.

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  21. I beautiful piece on revisiting the past haunts of youth, Andrea. Some years back, I revisited the street where I grew up. The town was a small farming community, but changing. Many of the trails through the woods are gone now, houses in their place. It is strange seeing remnants of before still clinging to the present, the same but not.

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  22. A beautiful series of photos, which resembles both the changing of life autumn provides us, and also with a great quote you have “The past is a familiar place, but not always a comforting one…” Happy New Year. 🙂

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  23. What a beautifully lyrical piece, Andrea.
    It is so strange when the physical parts of our past are no longer there. We know intellectually that nothing stays the same, but it is always a bit of a shock when something that was so central to one’s life is suddenly no more.
    I love the idea of the children’s footsteps being always a part of the landscape.
    Thank you.

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  24. Oh, beautiful thoughts that take me back many years to my own childhood. I’ve been planning a trip back for years to my childhood lands. I mean, a real trip, not just visiting family and leaving. My childhood home is about a 5-hours’ drive away and I don’t get back very often. My sister lives in our childhood home. I want to go back and stay nearby and be immersed in memory for a while. But not too long. Thanks for showing me your childhood places. And too bad about the fences. What is it with fences and walls and barricades these days? sigh. I hope you are still feeling well.

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  25. Gorgeous writing. It’s good to recall those past thoughts, with all the melancholy associations that are rewarding to muse upon. I always enjoy subsuming myself in your writings.

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  26. “Fences are no barrier to memory” – how true and how insightful! I think it’s a neat idea to return to your childhood place and observe. Learn. Then strip it away and live in the NOW. I haven’t returned to my childhood town/home in a long time, but a high school reunion is planned for next September. Your post is encouraging me to go back and view/review.

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