Caught by the River

Over The Border #6

Jude Rogers | 26th July 2017

Words and pictures by Jude Rogers

Somehow, out of nowhere, it’s becoming late summer. The stitches of pale, clear lime in the farm fields next door have suddenly become tough cores of corn, their leaves flowering out flamboyantly from the stems, keen invitations for hard hands. The field beyond that is a giddy, golden blonde, its sheaves of wheat calling out gamely to conversative rebels. I walked through this field last week, but on the advice of the farmer, our neighbour, followed the deep tracks that his tractor takes through it, like a girl lost in its sea. No trampling. No running. I’m not a monster.

We first came to this house at this precise time last year. We came on two or three visits again soonafter, and the sun was always shining, brazenly and bright, like a particularly unsubtle estate agent. I kept getting lost in the sky above the hills we could see from the garden. Its blue was the deep blue of posh china, scuttled over by perfect white balls of clouds, like cartoon cotton wool. I fell for that sky, hook line and sinker, and I did because the sky, and those hills, somehow felt like home.

But why were they home? When I was a child, the same sky sat above semi-detached pebble-dashed houses and roundabouts, then working men’s clubs and chapels. Hills were in that setting too, but in the background, further away in the eye and the mind. There was too much in front of them – the pace of childhood life and learning, endless internal diversions and distractions. Also there is no peace, as such, in the sprawling, chatty villages of the formerly industrial South Wales.

I remember coming home for the first time from university at eighteen, and being staggered what I could see for the car while I was driving – my tertiary college, the 3M gas tower in Penllergaer, the Mayhill estate, high on hills. These hills had always been there, but I hadn’t noticed them, as if they weren’t meant to be noticed…maybe because they were elsewhere, in my bones, perhaps, in my cells, in my synapses. So to see hills so boldly, so dramatically, twenty years later, in this new place where I wanted to be, where I was trying to do something bold, dramatic and new…those hills were finally saying, hey, look, we’re here. You’re here. It’s you. It’s us. We’re all good.

Those hills are also in the radio series about my old homes which I’ve made for the BBC, which broadcasts next week on Radio 4. My old childhood home is in the first episode, and this new one is in the last, including the moment we moved in, the former owners kindly staying behind with the keys for this peculiar woman to record them talking about it. Listening back to that moment of moving in now, I hear the excitement in my voice as I look down the drive at that huge, unreal sky, but I also hear nerves, and fear, about what this all means, in the very moment when I’m finally realising that everything was changing. But I know now that everything changes, all the time. You just have to keep to your tracks when the things that change surround you and overwhelm you, and remember to keep your eyes open, wherever you are.


Jude’s series, Door Stepping, airs at 1.45pm daily on Radio 4, from Monday 31 July to Friday 4 August.

See previous Over The Border posts here.

Jude Rogers on Caught by the River / on Twitter