I was browsing through some old files on my laptop, when I stumbled across this piece I wrote for the Ashdon village magazine back in the summer of 2013. They say ‘it takes a village’ and Ashdon was my village. It was where I spent the first 18 years of my life. I still regard it has ‘home’. Anyway, I thought I’d publish it here, along with a few pictures of the village which did so much to make me who I am today. It’s located four miles from Saffron Walden in north west Essex, just two miles from the borders of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Around 900 people live there. The primary school I attended is still going strong.
Last June (2012), my darling mother Jane died. For six weeks or so my two sisters and I had been doing our best to help our Dad care for her. It was a very emotional time for us all. One day I said to them: “Do you realise this is the longest period we’ve all spent in Ashdon since we were teenagers?”
I well remember the day I left home. It was in late September in 1980. I remember looking back at the village sign, realising I was leaving my comfort zone. I was off to spend a gap year in the German town of Bad Wildungen, which I had got to know on two school exchanges. As I walked up the escalator at Harwich Ferryport I was in tears and so was my mother. She told me years afterwards that at that point she truly believed she would never see me again. She was wrong. When I went to university in Norwich I would return home most weekends. The apron strings weren’t cut that easily.
But what is it that makes Ashdon so special to me? I may now have homes in Kent and Norfolk, but whenever I come back to Ashdon to visit Dad and Sheena it always feels like I am coming home, and the car can almost steer itself.
Those who live here know why Ashdon continues to have a pull on me. It’s partly due to the special features of a beautiful, rural village, but it’s also the people – people I have grown up with. Edgar Moss, the Bidwells, the Marshes, the Bartrams, the Daveys, the Everitts, the Furzes. I could go on. Ashdon made me what I am today. The school (pic above) has a special place in my heart as do the teachers who sent me on my way in life – Dorothy Porter, Mrs Homewood, Arthur & Norrie Kemp. I could not have asked for a better start in life.
I am not a religious person, but Ashdon Church is embedded in my heart. The harvest festivals, the Christmas carol services were a joy to attend. It’s where the community comes together. You don’t have to do God to do Christian things.
Of course, the church is also a place of great sadness. Last year I had the honour of giving the eulogy at Barry Marsh’s funeral and then a few weeks later I did the same at my mother’s. It was heartbreaking to do, but looking out at the hundreds of people who were there, it was then that I realised what a special village Ashdon is. Not just a special village. My village. You can take the boy out of Ashdon, but you’ll never take Ashdon out of the boy.
Last year I went to a quiz night at the village hall – the same village hall we used to have school dinners in. The same village hall my sisters did ballet in. (I too learned how to do a Padesha, but that’s another story…). The same village hall I went to whist drives in. And the village hall I first met a politician in. (Alan Haselhurst, since you ask).
I was a bit reluctant to go because I didn’t think I’d know anyone, but Sheena had seen to that. I couldn’t have been made more welcome.
Ashdon has been home to my parents and our family since 1959. I’d like to think that will continue for many decades to come. We are lucky to have been brought up in a village which gave us so much. Hopefully, we have given something back too.