December 2022

December couldn’t quite make its mind up with the weather, dreary, misty, rainy, snowy, with only the odd few hours of sun. It felt like a time to hunker down, get the blanket out and sit reading books, writing, sipping tea, eat hot spicy noodle soups to warm the bones and the mind. Maybe, the incoming Christmas was nudging me towards hibernation.

Something niggled away at the back of my mind, and I couldn’t quite get a hold of it and that gnawed at me. I’d been looking deeper into myself over the last few months, trying to figure out how my mind was constructed, what my life was made up of. I had a recurring image in my mind of atoms passing down threads, eventually realising the atoms were moments in my life, which connected with other people, sometimes immediately, but often time would pass, years even, before the atoms came to a junction on the threads and sparked a memory, a feeling, a connection. I hadn’t worked out what I was meant to do with this knowledge, but felt it had some significance, a resonance.

Various events came together in December that drew me to the Chatsworth Estate. A meditation retreat at Dukes Barn in Beeley provided an opportunity to step out of daily life and focus developing my exploration of the mind and hopefully begin to answer some questions. And it was near Hob Hurst’s House that I had visited with Scout in November, so a leisurely walk there, connecting with people 3000 years ago would be very much in order. And a friend from America, who I had met in a writing group, was travelling to Beeley to meet up and wanted to do a little exploring, again Hob Hurst’s House and the Bronze Age people featured. Everything seemed to be something to do with time, and connections, and the moment, and an ancient site.

There are over two trillion seconds that have made up my life so far, ten seconds added whilst tapping these words out. Most pass unnoticed, the moment unseen, unremarkable, each second pushed into the past by the next from the future. I guess the most important two seconds we never see, birth and death eluding our senses, perhaps the weight of those two seconds are too much for us to hold, our minds refusing to look. There are seconds we remember, that first look, the first kiss, the YES. Some seconds hide away, I have no memory of the last day of school but do know I was glad to be free of that place. Most seconds are mundane, the drive to work, shopping, weather, words, but they are there, the seconds travelling along the threads of time, making connections in other people’s lives, the driver you let into the line of traffic having a brighter day because someone did them a good turn. We live our life in between, each second a page in our life, words and events marked, the atoms of life travelling through our time until they collide again with the present.

Consider these two events set almost a half century apart. The first, a summer walk along gritstone edges, a boy on the threshold of adulthood, the last day of school two days past. The walk ends at Hob Hurst’s House a Bronze Age burial chamber, in 1976 just a mound with some carved posts at the end of a long ridge, looking out over moor and rabbit warren to a small village. Nothing much to see, but for some reason the boy, me, has been drawn here. The next day, another walk, down Deadman’s Hole Lane, supposedly the site of Roman burials, now a steel mill. A man’s world, with work and friends and community to come. The moments, the seconds, move seemingly unconnected through these places and through time, and through a single life.

Winter 2022, almost a half century gone, and I have a need to walk, to escape for some solitude. The high moors are out now, the lungs no longer work as intended, small fibres of asbestos clogging the airways, keeping the breathing short. On retreat I take leave of meditation and walk up to Hob Hurst’s House and sit and feel the two worlds, the Bronze Age and the Anthropocene, mist drifting through trees, a gentleness of time to sit and absorb the seconds that have passed through this place. The next day a reunion with the men I worked with all those years ago in the steel mill. I had not seen them for thirty-seven years, a working lifetime almost. Many had given statements to help my case against the former steel mill for the harm they had caused when using a material known to be bad.

I didn’t recognise them at first, saw a group of old men and then realised it was them, and saw what time had done to them, and knew then what it had also done to me. As I sat there swapping stories of times long gone, bringing back the laughter of those good days, I saw the connection between the walking, and the working and the consequences of all those moments. The boy, the man. Sometimes the atoms of life reconnect and help make sense of it all. That was the resonance I felt, the moments where life had happened. Place and people make up a life.

Christmas Day came, and we had our traditional walk out. It was a cold windy day but dry. We walked around Ughill, following our well-worn route. Alison had made coffee, and egg banjos, and toast with jam. The dogs feasted on treats and whatever they could con from both of us.

Home and Alison cooked a dinner. Aloo Tikki, a potato cake with a paneer and spice filling, with some pickles, and raita. Some years back I booked Alison a course in Indian cookery at Leith’s with Atul Kochhar, and since then Alison has explored the cuisine to greater and more exciting depths. We ate it on our Christmas present to ourselves, some new tableware from the Jars factory in France, along with our David Mellor cutlery that people bought us for our wedding almost twenty years ago. We are more conscious of the things that surround us now, how each object should enhance our life. This has meant divesting ourselves of a great deal of unused items to people who could make better use, and putting thought into anything we wish to add to our life. It is all part of our appreciation of the times we have together, and the easing down of our time, bringing more gentleness and beauty into each day.

Then it was present opening time, and I think we are getting old. Handkerchiefs, scarves, slippers, warm clothing, diaries, and household implements featured prominently. There was a time in life when Christmas involved two pillowcases, now we spread the present opening out across the day to prolong the excitement. The dogs get excited at all the crinkly wrapping, thinking these are treats to eat.

We’ve had a good year, full of happiness and meaning. Travelled to new places, eased our life down to a pace we both feel is more in step with our outlook on life, taking things slower, being more interested in the moment, appreciating people, and the natural world.

This month I have read Bruce Chatwin (On the Black Hill), Nicholas Shakespeare (Bruce Chatwin Biography), Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), John Berger (Ways of Seeing), Martha C, Nussbaum (Anger and Forgiveness), Amina Cain (A Horse at Night. On Writing), Margaret Attwood (Hag-Seed), Ian McEwan (In Between the Sheets), Werner Herzog (Of Walking in Ice), Richard Skelton (Landings).

In the days running up to Christmas I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, completing the concluding chapter on Christmas Eve in bed. It is something I have done since childhood, and signals to me that Christmas is here. I like the story of redemption, that people can change, and there is good in the world. I like my rituals and habits.

I really enjoyed On the Black Hill, in fact probably the best book I have read all year. Chatwin was born not far from where I live in Sheffield. The city really should do something to commemorate him. The story is about time, and threads and consequences to actions, back to Hob Hurst’s House for me, seemingly everything I did in December had a meaning to my life.

I also enjoyed his biography by Nicholas Shakespeare and wonder how a boy from Sheffield ended up leading such an exotic life with such striking people.

Landings was a surprise and a joy. Richard Skelton details time on the Lancashire moors of the South Pennines. A place I am familiar with. He traces the threads of the moors inhabitants, the derelict farms, the long-forgotten communities. It is a study in place and brings a richness to place writing.

2 responses to “December 2022”

  1. Happy New Year. Heart felt writing Paul. Still sounds like you when I first came across your descriptions of Alport Dale. I remain interested in walking with you and Alison, as long as it’s not too fast.


    • Thank you Alison. Seems such a long time ago since I wrote of Alport Dale. We would be lovely to go for a walk. Perhaps when the weather is warmer and drier.


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