After months of isolation, I’m staggering after the social contacts of the past few days, although it’s a good feeling so stagger is probably the wrong word. My head is full of stories about new people I’ve met and images of elegant eighteenth century Bath and the Cotswolds.
I’ve been sniffy about the Cotswolds; the limestone hills felt bare and the tourist trail, Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold overrated and I was alienated by the lurking presence of royalty in the south and east, with the vast open professional horse country and the threatening presence of the air force bases.
I’ve nibbled at the area many times; to William Morris’s Kelmscott in the east, his beautiful Thames retreat with the story of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s opaque relationship with Morris’s wife, which moves me in contradictory ways, admiration for Morris’s ability to rise above conventional Victorian morality and dislike for the idea of women as muses and the narcissism of the creative bemused. And visits to my mother’s house in her brief life at Stonehouse near Stroud, from where I made long meaningless under-researched trips to the Forest of Dean on tortuous nausea-inducing buses.
But now, more systematic and armed with Pevsner, I’ve seen the small intimate, at times almost Italianate ravines, with their mill buildings, weavers and clothiers houses, as reminders of the once intensive economic activity, with associations to the East India Company, an important customer for the village where I stayed, and the mute memory of eighteenth and nineteenth century hardship underlying the creative idyll.
It makes me feel whole, like a real English person when scattered memories from way back are rearranged into a new larger more complex whole.
I want to go back and learn more.