2nd May 2020. A new month and a new theme for our discussions, The view from my window, which Jolene started by reading us a poem. Then followed a visualisation in which we closed our eyes, reflected on the view from the room we were in at the moment, and remembered views from other windows in the past. We also imagined looking through the windows at ourselves. It was a powerful exercise, prompting much discussion and the written pieces which follow.
What a lovely session today. I was paired with Alberto, who showed me pictures of the view he has currently and other views he remembers with affection when he lived in Spain.
My view was of my garden from the small room I call my Breakfast Room. Apart from the bathroom, probably the smallest room in the house, but the one I spend most time in. It is very conveniently placed for the kitchen, and where I have my computer set up. I can sit at the table and look out onto the garden and watch the birds, and the antics of the squirrels. I back onto a large local park so am not overlooked and can see trees across the park, so there is a feeling of freedom and air. This contrasts very much with the view from the kitchen window of the house I grew up in where you looked out onto a brick wall and then the house next door.
Alberto and I had quite a philosophical discussion of how ones state of mind could be reflected by, and reflect in turn, on ones surroundings. Growing up I always felt restricted and restrained, whereas looking at my garden now I feel I can breathe and feel free. Although it has changed over the 40 years I have lived here, the garden brings to mind other times when my husband was alive and my children were young. I am happy to think hopefully that, having fun and games in the garden with us and with their friends, they felt freer than I did in my own childhood.
Alberto Velázquez Yébenes
During the meditation, I found the reverse exercise of picturing the view from inside and outside our room particularly fruitful. I think it was Ben, who commented that all these views are a metaphor for the current moment in our lives. Striking.
This sent me automatically to Spain. These windows to my previous life are so present nowadays and I could show two of them to Jean. My family’s flat in Madrid, with the Los Alesiano church in the background. Funnily enough, like Jean in her childhood, the church in the view from my family’s flat is also a brick building which is not very common for a church, especially in Madrid. Just a small coincidence in the canvas of both our past perspectives.
The second picture I showed her was of a painting from Gus’s house in La Torre, Alicante, where I have spent no less than 30 summers with my best friends by the sea side.
In these days of the Lockdown, and the one hour allowance for exercise, I run through Longford Park not far from Jean’s area. Jean showed me how her gorgeous garden looks from inside the house, with the explosion of Spring, and how this connects with her thoughts about freedom. I didn’t say so, but it made me think of the symbolism of the brick wall in her past compared to the flowers and squirrels.
Then we touched on what we consider freedom, about whether we are freer now than we were before, and we would probably agree. However we did also share our perceptions of the quietness of current days, compared to how life used to be. Then she said the most powerful statement I have heard since the Lockdown, “ I feel for younger people”. Not the elderly. For Jean, who lost her husband 12 years ago, the young were the truly vulnerable. They must be worried about the rest of their lives, their careers, expectations and fears.
One thing you understand from this group of brave adults is that all they have lived through gives them strength. She called that acceptance.
Before lockdown I used the back of my house, which looks out onto the garden much more than the front which faces the road. Since I have been confined to the house I have enjoyed looking out of the front room window much more onto a beautiful crab apple tree that the city council planted in a tree pit. It is now ladened with small crab apples following delicate white blossom. In autumn the leaves of the tree will turn a lovely shade of orange, and the birds will come to feast on the ripe apples.
Now I enjoy watching people passing by. Exercising their dogs, jogging, or returning from the shops with very heavy shopping bags. Some are supervising children, often on bikes. There are rarely cars driving along the road, so people meander down the middle of the road.
Each Thursday my neighbours have come out to clap for the NHS and essential workers. I’m the only one on the road who can not go out, so I stand in the front bedroom window and clap, and many of them come to give me a wave, which makes me feel very emotional.
My childhood home was at the top of a very steep hill out of Holmfirth. I remember spending hours looking out of my small box room window onto a panoramic view of Holmfirth and the surrounding countryside. I especially liked it at night when I could see ribbons of lights marking where the roads were, when I should have been tucked up in bed!
In very cold weather, as we had no central heating the window would freeze over with beautiful “Jack Frost” patterns as the room had two outside walls exposed to the bleak Pennine weather. Our house was called “Park View” as the window faced toward the park which was up another steep hill at the opposite side of the Holme Valley. I pretended to go to my small box room to do my homework when really it was to spend time gazing out of the window to daydream and escape from the family and chores.
This week’s theme instantly resonated with me. In the coronavirus age, I spend much of my time seated at the window at the front of our first-floor flat, with its excellent view over the street below, and so I have a new appreciation of (or nosiness about!) the daily life of people in our street. As time has passed, I have unintentionally noticed that many of the people walking up and down the street do so at quite regular times, and that their journey down our street is very much part of their routine. Many of them are surely key workers of all sorts, and although I know no more than what their clothes, age and appearance reveal, I feel a sense of appreciation for them, certain that they have got somewhere important to be and a vital job to do.
I also reflected on other “windows” and recalled another fantastic – albeit very different – view I had fifteen years ago. I first came to Manchester as a student and in my first year, I lived on the sixteenth floor of the Owen’s Park tower in Fallowfield, with an excellent view of Platt Fields and Wilmslow Road as it snakes through Rusholme towards the city centre. The window only opened a couple of inches – for obvious reasons – but, sitting in my room on an evening, that was enough to hear the sounds from the streets below (primarily traffic and drunken students!). Having grown up in the Pennines, I was eager to go to university in a city, and this window consolidated my feeling of being part of the hustle and bustle of Manchester. It felt just right.
A conversation with Susan Baker by Ben Jewell
I love my garden. I look out the back, and there is so much to see. The front isn’t so nice, it’s a busy road, so we grew shrubs to shield us. Here, behind the house, there’s much more space.
Every time I look at it, I think of my husband. 50 years ago, Jack drew out the plans on a piece of paper. But then, it doesn’t matter how much you plan, does it? Nature takes over! Things evolved, as time went on. You learn about which plants like to be where.
We started off growing some vegetables, but we ended up with too much of the same thing, stuff bolting everywhere! So it’s mostly flowers now. Azaleas, camellias. I don’t know if you can see them from where you are, but they’re beautiful.
My husband wasn’t really a gardener, to start with. Jack was an RAF pilot. We worked on it all together. Well, most of it. I had to take charge sometimes, like with mowing. His lines just weren’t straight enough!
It’s nice having more time for the garden now. When we first moved here, well, there were my children to look after, and we had a shop in Chorlton. So there’s more time now. Jack’s been gone 7 years, but I can look out of my window, and remember him, and what we have made together.
My garden is more than just a view. It’s my life.
As a result of the meeting on Saturday I became conscious of the contrasting emotions engendered by the views from my windows.
From my rear window the vista is of the grounds of the old Chorlton Cricket Club now used by a local football club Chorlton Sports F.C. Looking through this window tends to evoke feelings of sadness and regret over the cancellation of all sporting activities and anxiety over their future.
My front windows look out onto a main road and the tram tracks and provide views that induce more positive feelings. The sight of many people doing their daily runs and walks and the more than half empty trams passing is somehow reassuring. People so obviously keeping to the new “rules” that it affirms the hope that the country will overcome this epidemic. Additionally I am able to join in the “Clap for Carers” every Thursday from my window and have an aspect up and down the road of neighbours coming out to share in the show of gratitude. A particularly poignant moment was when a tram ran past with the passengers, some perhaps on their way to a shift at Wythenshawe Hospital, joining in.
Also looking through these windows I can see the new trees, planted by Manchester Metro to compensate for those cut down during the construction of the Airport Line. Spending much more time than normal at home I have observed the transformation of these trees through the blossoms of spring into the full leaves of early summer. I noticed too, for the first time, birds resting on the upper branches; an indication of their growth into more established trees. These observations led to reflections on the resilience and steadfastness of nature, reassuring in these troublesome times.