Monday, 18 February 2013

Genius Loci

taken by Bob Parkinson c 1950

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind." said Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

And when you fall in love with a place, rather than a person, there's so much more evident history and physicality to excavate and obsess you, to occupy mind and body as you connect with it and understand it more. It is inevitable through action, perhaps, to grow roots into the present and history of a place, attempt to preserve those and shape its future. And I suspect I'm more shaped by being in a place than I am by being with someone. There is a larger force/presence there. A greater, more constant physical interaction between myself and place. Is it this physical connection that feeds the deeper one?

I moved here two years ago, and before that cycled here regularly for over ten years, and before that, when I was twenty-odd, cooked up a dream to live in a lighthouse. I suspect this is the nearest I'll get to that. No light except the one in the channel is here now, but the cottage remains on a slightly elevated piece of land, and despite having been partly washed away once, is standing tall, if crooked, still.

Apparently the first keeper, Frank Raby, built the cottage when his family out grew the four rooms below the wooden light. He built the stone walls straight from the inland room, and when he'd gone so far realised he was about to hit the road, so cornered it slightly to accommodate the size he wanted. It was only one storey then. More children (or grandchildren perhaps - the family was here for 100 years) gave rise to the second storey.

I discovered this last year when I met Bob Parkinson, who lived and worked this and then the replacement steel lighthouse until he was 29 years old, for the first time. I'd wondered why it had the odd bend ever since moving in. The solving of the mystery didn't diminish my feelings for the place, rather generated a deeper sense of knowing it, of carrying (if unable to share) its history. Giving me a stronger sense of connection. I grew up in a house that was built by my great grandfather, lived in by my grandparents and parents. I think this experience has sharpened my attachment to 'home', attuned me to wanting to know a home's history.

Bob came round the other day. Maybe the stamina required to live here before double glazing and central heating, when the lights still needed daily tending and self-sustainability wasn't so much a middle class lifestyle choice as 'what you did', has ensured his deep attachment to the place. Exposed to whatever weather whistled off the Irish Sea, bolsters the dependency between whoever lives here, and must increase the value of 'home' faced with such ferocity.

But I think there is more to it than practical allegiance between people and stone and cement. I think it epitomises our animal need for security, our scenting a nest. Out here, in the barely changing landscape (up until the recent drastic change in sea temperature/level), the changes we make remain evident for longer. Bob's life is set in the earth, walls, outhouses, path and imprinted deeper, as I bear witness.

We walked around the house and then up the garden while he pointed out where the garage was; how the fish house was sunk below ground to keep it cool; where the lighthouse ladders hung on the seawall for easy access to the light; how the washhouse was larger then than now and the pig they kept in it; where the well was and how their water pump had pipes into and out of the house, with two troughs to collect water from; the shed he built for his motorbike; the new stones where the house had been washed away, rebuilt and reinforced. 

As we wandered, his walking stick as airbound as earthed, I drank his memories, nodding like some chick being watered by their parent. In the larger scheme of community, he is the parent. I am carrying the (non-genetic) baton of place. While I grow vegetables, a blackthorn hedge, prune the apple trees, wipe the moould from inside the house, I am also learning about the house, the Rabys, Bob's time here in comparison to mine, alongside mine, almost as mine. 

Beatrice Parkinson, Bob's mother, was celebrated by Pathe News (below). Bob's role of lugging paraffin oil and lighting the lamps before or after school was overlooked for the sake of the 'newsworthiness' of her being the only femal lighthouse keeper in the UK, I suspect. But no place can be fixed as one person's. We all have the responsibility to light its beacons.

1 comment:

Bruno Cassidy said...

I like this. Wonderful evocative words. When finishing university in my twenties I went to the careers advice service which consisted of one man: ex navy, nicotine fingers and a kindly manner. He suggested becoming a lighthouse keeper. One of those jobs you could do while reflecting. A job for reflectors....