Flamstead High Street (image: Fine and Country)
Flamstead is a beautiful English village, situated north of London in the rolling countryside of Hertfordshire. It was my home for the first sixteen years of my life. Quaint, safe, surrounded by bucolic fields full of horses to ride and hayricks to climb, it provided the backdrop for my childhood. So why don’t I think of it as home?
I was born there, went to Brownies there and entered the beauty pageant there in my Spanish dress. I danced around the Maypole there and rode my first pony, Bridie, along every lane and bridle path for miles. I kept score for the cricket club on Sunday afternoons, held all my birthday parties, complete with rabbit-shaped blancmanges and homemade fairy cakes, in the back garden of our house on Singlets Lane.
St. Leonard’s Church (image: Geograph)
I walked to tiny Flamstead Junior School through ancient St. Leonard’s churchyard. I competed in the school Sports Day, which comprised of the three-legged race, the egg and spoon race and the mother’s race. For a grand finale, the most adventurous of us would run a lap of the entire school property. It took about forty-five seconds.
I acquired my life-long sweet tooth at Bell Candies, about as Disneyfied a sweet shop as you’ll ever find. Nestled in the bay window of a tiny cottage were the jewels of childhood; white chocolate mice, Blackjacks, Flying Saucers, jelly babies, gob-stoppers and barley sugars. Jars and jars of heaven lined the walls. I stopped on the way to school to spend my pocket money, the owner shooing me out the door if I stayed too long.
I played in Jacks’ Dell, an old crater of unknown origin on the edge of the village. I climbed in, hid in, made forts in, pushed friends in … (Sorry, Paul, about tying you to that dustbin lid and sending you over the edge. Looking back, not one of my better decisions.) I told ghost stories there about Jack the Ripper, who supposedly hid in the dell when he wasn’t busy in London.
The Spotted Dog (image: Thespotteddog.com)
I listened to Sunday evening bell ringing practice, hung out on the bus stop bench with friends, dreamed about being old enough to drink at one of the local pubs …
I grew up there.
I knew everyone. Everyone knew me.
I left my idyllic village to train to be a horse riding instructor on Exmoor. And I never went back to Flamstead again. Never even looked back. I found my soul drawn to Exmoor like a moth to a flame—in a way it never was to Flam-stead.
I don’t understand why. I have no control over it. It is what it is.
Almost forty years after leaving my birthplace, I offer my thanks and my apology. Nothing personal, Flamstead. You did nothing wrong. You were perfect.
You just weren’t Exmoor.
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