Nobody wants to be the type of person who lives life as if looking through the rear view mirror of a car – always looking backwards and missing what lies ahead in the process. But sometimes you really do need to look back on things to make sense of what you’ve seen. The paradox, as Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard knew, is that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
As you know, I don’t usually visit Tankerville on a Monday, nor after work either for that matter. As it transpired, this wasn’t destined to be a ‘normal’ week in any way. I know that now, but I didn’t at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a mould-breaking week as far as the blog was concerned. All I knew at the time, however, was that some unsettling, unexpected things occurred towards the end of that week and the start of the next, that took a while to make any sense. And why I had my camera with me that day, I can’t recall at all. It may have been something to do with catching the cherry blossom at its height, but I do remember that I was feeling strangely ‘blue’. When I felt like this, I’d always head ‘up the road’ to the trees.
As I write this, we are about to start the 12 day count-down to staff returning to work again in the renovated Newcastle High building, but, way back in May, it could still feel like that was a million miles away. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Taurean and my birthstone is an emerald, but I always feel soothed looking at greenery – even more so if it’s framed by a bright blue sky. I doubt I’m alone in feeling like this. Other than my night visit in January when I stood at the gates, this was the first time I’d been on site when everything was so quiet. It felt a very different place as Peter was starting to ‘do his rounds’. Very calming. Very relaxing. Very green. All still except for the birds.
On my way back from doing research in the archive last Thursday, I stopped by the site to say ‘Hello.’ It had been a long time since I’d been there and lots of things had changed. A new Wates manager called Ken was now on site – had been for about a month apparently – overseeing the last ‘Big Push.’ The external landscaping is now getting underway and he told me the trees were proving to be a nightmare. Logistically, at this point, I could see this might be so, but the trees have always been the main asset of the site which is why tree protection fencing has been in place throughout the project. The variety of trees is key to Tankerville’s charm, of course. That day, as I sat in late afternoon sun breathing in fresh air on the bench outside of Peter’s cabin, the little apple tree planted by the Junior School was just coming into blossom at eye level on my left, whilst to my right the flowering cherry tree so beloved by the Senior School girls looked truly splendid outlined against the New Build’s copper.
Do you know ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order? That yellow tennis ball in my last post marooned high up in the Sports Hall roof gutter reminded me of the video the group released to go with the song. At times over the past year, it’s been disorienting moving backwards and forwards between the past and the present, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s been more a help than a hindrance and I’ve felt privileged to follow progress up so close. It’s been very bitter-sweet on a number of occasions, of course, and at times New Order’s ironic lyrics have felt scarily apt: ‘Tell me how do I feel/ Tell me now how do I feel …. Those who came before me/ Lived through their vocations/ From the past until completion/ They will turn away no more …. And I still find it so hard/ To say what I need to say/ But I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me/ Just how I should feel today …’ However, with my exam class load now gone, sitting marvelling at the exquisite bright blue and green hues of the reflection in the windows of the new addition to the Church High old building, I felt my low mood lifting.
I actually got some of my favourite shots of the new buildings that day. Stepping off ‘the permanent way’ of my routine paid off for me. WH Auden’s poem ‘A Permanent Way’ begins surprisingly for the modern reader comparing ‘self-drivers’ unfavourably to those who ‘jog/To the dogma of the rails.’ Unbeknownst to me on May 16th, the latter would soon become my lot. But it did have its advantages.
As Peter closed the site gates behind me that night, the flowering cherry tree nearest the old Sixth Form kitchen in front of Tankerville House was spread out before me in the sun like a huge pink parasol.
And as I framed the copper with as many different trees as I could find in a beautiful tonal palette of green, I didn’t feel blue anymore.