Blog of David Petts, Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University and AHRC/Radio 3 New Generation Thinker
Tuesday, 23 October 2012
Although I come from the south of England, I’ve been living in the North for 13 years now; before that I’d spent three years in York as a student. I’ve married a York girl and my daughter has flat vowels. Despite all these ties binding me to the north I still think of a certain part of west Berkshire and south Oxfordshire as home. Maybe ‘home’ is the wrong word in this context. Of course, my true home is where my family is; that’s the place where I can’t wait to get back to after a long day at work or time working away. However, in recent years I’ve begun to increasingly miss the area where I grew up. Between the age of ten and my late twenties, apart from my temporary excursion to York for university, I spent most of my time in a triangle of land that runs from where the Kennet meets the Thames at Reading, west along the Kennet as far as Newbury and then from Newbury up the A34 to Oxford. There was a wider hinterland that headed west into Wiltshire, where I visited school friends and made early precocious trips with my parents to explore the archaeology. I still return regularly (but not regularly enough) to visit my parents, on the edge of the Vale of the White Horse and to see friends in Oxford. This area, particularly places along the Ridgeway, from Avebury along the scarp slopes of the Downs past Wayland’s Smithy and the White Horse, have evolved over the last couple of decades to form landmarks in my own personal mythology.
I think there are many reasons for this increased nostalgia. Some are connected to the inevitable process of getting older. In recent years, I’ve had children and after years of temporary contracts got a permanent job. After a long time when I didn’t feel personally rooted to the North, I’ve realised that I’m here for the long-haul. There are ties here that go beyond my own personal preferences; I now have responsibilities and obligations. In the past, I always had the sense that work or life might take me back south, but now it’s clear I’m not going anywhere soon. On a wider scale, my extended family, grandparents, aunts and uncles all lived in an area to the south and east of Oxford, particularly along the south coast. However, as the generations pass, we, as a family, have slowly shifted our centre of gravity; the south coast is no longer part of my world and has slipped off the edge of my map.
The Welsh have a word hiraeth, which means an elegiac nostalgia for one’s homeland, which seems to be what I’m feeling at the moment. I’m not sure whether this is simply a process of regret for not visiting an area I love more often, or a process of mourning for a place I’ll probably never live in again.
This is the personal blog of David Petts ( Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University and AHRC/Radio 3 New Generation Thinker). It contains diverse digressions and rambles on English archaeology, landscape and folk traditions with the occasional scenic diversion.