We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time. / Through the unknown, remembered gate / When the last of earth left to discover / Is that which was the beginning . . . TS ELIOT Four Quartets: Little Gidding
|Burnham Mill in 1947|
I was born on 13 November 1954 in a remote and obscure corner of Lincolnshire called The Isle of Axholme. Before the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden drained the area in the early seventeenth century, the wild and inbred natives clustered in low hilltop settlements on an archipelago of small islands surrounded by bog and fen. Even when I was growing up there in the 1950s and 60s, there was still a strong feeling of isolation and apartness. And you couldn't get more isolated than my childhood home. Burnham Mill stood on its own on the high ground between the hamlet of Burnham and the village of Haxey — many miles from the nearest town, Gainsborough, where I later went to grammar school. My father was the miller, my mother did the bookkeeping, and my father's unmarried sister lived in the mill house and kept pigs and chickens and a small herd of Jersey cows.
So, as you can see, I had a rural childhood. Because I grew up in such a lonely spot, I was used to my own company, and would quite happily entertain myself for days on end — walking the fields, watching birds, reading voraciously, writing poems, banging a tennis ball against the brick outhouse wall. I was independent, but did have a small and valued circle of mates (I always preferred a few, close friends to a knockabout crowd, and still do to this day). With my pals I did all the things that country-bred boys did then: climbed trees, made dens in the woods, went birds' nesting, fished the lakes without a permit, camped in the summer, biked everywhere — and later fantasised about taking girls (that strange and exotic species) into the long grass of the overgrown, disused railway embankment. Though what we would have done with them there I don't think we had the faintest idea.
This all sounds idyllic, and, looking back, to some extent it was. However, above the sun-kissed cornfields and red pantile cottage roofs of my country childhood, dark clouds permanently drifted. An authoritarian and manically religious father had brought about in me vague feelings of fear and guilt which were almost paralysing at times. And I was also stricken with an acute self-consciousness which took many years to subside. Nevertheless, by my mid to late teens I was growing into myself, becoming a lot more confident — and getting ready to rock and roll.