Northampton in Fragments

The lingering smell of must has to be one of the most ghastly smells out there. I could make a list of the ones that get my goat but here’s one that aces the list. Since morning I have been trying to rid my hands of the must from a malodorous dish scrubber – with generous dabs of lavender soap and cream – yet the whiff of it. As Italians sum up such emotional situations in two voluble words, mamma mia… enough of my diatribes, I should get on with collecting my thoughts and putting them down here before the must of time takes over them.

Like that cold and grey day in early 2013 when we stepped into the fresh market square of Northampton. The prelude to it was a warning from Adi: ‘Northampton does not have much going for it’. Now the joy of my life has a tendency to undersell places. When I went to Lincoln with him, he had warned me similarly. That there was nothing much to it till I chanced upon the cathedral city that can live only in a quaint English dream. The crux of it is that busy as he gets with work, he leaves it to me to be his eyes and ears until he finds time to double up as my fellow explorer.

The wind was whistling in our ears when we saw the rows of stalls in the ancient market square of Northampton with their stripy red and white awnings selling fresh vegetables, aromatic coffee beans, books, antique somethings, sizzling reindeer meat, hot dogs and burgers all coming together to add the perfect sensory touch to that day when we were shivering under the onslaught of an icy wind, the lingering aromas of meat frying luring us for a bite. The butcher on his podium hawked slabs of meat over the microphone.

The beauty of the old square lay in the traditional way of tending to business. The grocers engaging you in banter, my favourite of the lot being the bespectacled grocer with his shock of white hair and hair sprouting out of his ears, going about his job with plain ol’ vocal cords at his disposal, no microphone needed there. ‘Strawberries for 2 pounds, come ladies and gents, come one, come all’… stuff like that. The boom of it reached your ears across the far end of the square. During the course of our many conversations in the future it would turn out that he was a travelling hawker who put up in Travelodge hotels around the various counties. I had never met a travelling grocer before.

Then there was the woman rustling up spicy noodles in a food truck by the square – who eventually became a friend, announcing with pride to her customers – that why ‘here is my writer friend’; the white-haired man with the stoop, one of the noodle guzzlers, executing the funkiest jigs you have seen and appropriately dubbed ‘Dancing Joe’; clumps of teenage boys and girls dressed in Goth make-up, funky hair dos in place and wearing ominously long leather coats, kings and queens of darkness perchance in their own heads; the 18th century Shipman’s Pub in The Drapery famed for its in-house poltergeist; bunches of men holding their pints, spilling out of The Auctioneer pub in the market square. And capping the bustle of it, the small turquoise dome of All Saints’ Church at one end of town.

Northampton on that day was engaging.

I remember turning to Adi and exclaiming, ‘Whatever did you mean?!’ Anyway, we scouted a few beautiful houses and started putting together home in a condominium about five minutes’ walk away from the town centre – the central delight of it was that we could see the spires of four churches from our cosy living room. The one right in front was the spire of the round church, one of the few left in England and a legacy of the first earl of Northampton after he had returned from his crusades in the 1100s. Where I wandered around in the cemetery one evening, a disgruntled Adi in tow because he does not get my fascination for reading epitaphs and found a particular commemoration that made me go misty-eyed.

‘..et a little while and all shall be fu…

And then we shall meet our beloved who is gone before.’

There I became a recluse, learnt to find bliss in my own company and my lover’s, and yet made some unlikely friends. The concierge who sat at the entrance to our building who prompted me to take Adi for a run too because he liked pumping iron himself, the guys at Costa Coffee who along with coffee handed out words of kindness for my changing hair styles (in those days I was experimenting with a pixie look with gusto), the golf shop owner near the park where I jogged and who executed a little salute as I ran past his shop, the joggers with whom I shared the perimeter of the park’s soothing green stretch, irrespective of the season. Soon we had a group of friends with whom we partied in Wetherspoon every weekend almost for a year till we were wrung out of energy and the band gradually dispersed. But oh what stories came out of those nights – the kinds that would make my mother do double flips. If one can execute those out of alarm.

So many memories couched in the town of cobblers. Where I came upon the famed shoe makers and their old factories quite late into our stay. In fact, the first time we set eyes upon the fine leather shoes of Northampton was in the Swedish city of Malmö where we both fell in hopeless love with their expert craftsmanship. It was hopeless because we did not buy them. The price had to match the skill that reflected off the leather pairs – they started somewhere above £800. Yet there it was. A piece of home in Sweden.

And here we are miles and miles across the Atlantic, trying not to be overwhelmed by the preoccupation of fitting in. Not letting the memories of Northampton go because how can you and why should you let go of home, your first home together, quite so easily. It is a cacophony of emotions, you realise, that descend upon you when you travel. As one of the best writer-bloggers I know, Osyth puts it, ‘the world is a double-edged sword for those of us that travel it a little or a lottle’.

As I carry on with the business of life, moulding myself to this environment that slowly grows upon me, I leave you with a few (sometimes grainy) images of Northampton which holds my heart in its clutches.

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In silhouette: The cupola of All Saints’
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The haunted pub which has shut down now. It used to be a place of frantic poultergeist activity. One of its owners/managers, Harry Franklin, about a hundred years ago had slit his own throat and bled to death. Poor Harry was discovered after a week. His spirit was said to have chucked pints off the counter. We did not meet Harry. Adi did a Scooby Doo on me.

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The Racecourse
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Nights out with the crazy gang in Wetherspoon 
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Primping up for New Year’s Eve
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The Victorian poorhouse that stood encased in an ivied, abandoned quietness across us.
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Catching clouds from our window
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The round church from our window
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The round church of Simon de Senlis
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The market square
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Sights from the Northampton Music Festival
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Reflections of the Guildhall
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All Saints’ Church on an evening when hot air balloons speckled the sky
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Intricately carved cupola and All Saints’ 
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The Wig & Pen, the other haunted pub in town
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When fairs came to town and left us giddy
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Halloween parties
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…and birthdays
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The Brutalist piece of architecture that was eventually demolished with great fanfare: you can see just the blue roof of it, the old Greyfriars Station. There cannot have been a more depressing bus station as this.
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The day it was brought down billowing clouds of dust hung heavy above town.
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Chinese New Year

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The old man with the flowery hat roamed around with his shopping trolley, quoting Hamlet.
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Spring days looked thus
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Pimms and English summers
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Abington Park
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Coveted buys at old book shops 
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Conversations with shaggy residents of pastures by the Nene
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By the River Nene
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When the world turned white outside
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I found bliss in baking chocolate walnut cakes…
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…rosemary foccaccia
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pecan pies
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…and boozy Christmas cakes

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I have missed out many memories and places and people, and yet there it is, years of our life fitted into a long drawn-out post, as if tucked into one scrapbook for life.

63 thoughts on “Northampton in Fragments

  1. Lovely photos ( and you look stunning in that New Year photo!)…reading this really made me feel nostalgic for you! One thing about changing so often is that it almost feels like you leave pieces of yourself in all these different places xx

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  2. Wonderful photos, thanks for sharing. It certainly looks lovely. I also have some experience with moving frequently (between different countries, but also to different areas within cities). You do get attached and nostalgic!!

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  3. A lovely scrapbook of memories! What a bunch of lively characters in Northampton. They must miss you too. I do like the haunted pubs. Perhaps you could have enticed Adi to meet Harry with a Scooby snack 😉 Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories. BTW, you look stunning in the dress with the gloves – very chic! – Neek

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    1. Neek, I keep thinking I will walk into the market tomorrow and be greeted with the words, ‘Where had you disappeared darling?’

      The haunted pubs looked so haunted that the heart quailed and when your partner in everything lets you down, you know you gotta back down too even if it be ungracefully, tail curled between your legs. And thank you for the last compliment. The dress lies in a corner of a drawer waiting to be loved again. xx

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  4. “Northampton” sounds and looks so utterly British. I couldn’t for the life of me place it on a map. Midlands maybe? But your rendition has just put it on my travel to list.
    And compliments on the black dress. 🙂

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    1. Thank you! That is generous. It is in the East Midlands, an hour’s away from London by train, and with quite the claim upon historic events which includes the Battle of Northampton between King Henry VI and the exiled Edward, a Yorkist. But that apart, it is a charming town. You might consider buying a pair of shoes from the factories there…they are top notch!

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      1. Best of luck. Americans may appear to be “strange” at times, but once you decipher the local customs, they are very straight arrows. I’ve always enjoyed all my stays in the US and dealings with them.

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      2. A bit impersonal but there are certain sparks of craziness here and there that appeal to me. I think I have finally figured out the obsession with straight lines and big everything – including the people, portions of food and cars and trucks.

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  5. This is definitely a fitting little scrapbook of your time in Northampton. It was your home for five years, so it’s no wonder you guys miss it so. Especially considering your recent move to another country. One day, you’ll be able to fill up another post with your memories and ponderings of Bayonne 🙂

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    1. You think? I do wonder about it, you know. If I shall fall in love with Bayonne over time…it is a challenge 😛 Northampton was easy. We had been prodded by our friends to move to London. Yet we could not leave it behind even though London would have been more peppy and filled with nights of partying. I liked that quiet life tucked away into the Midlands. xx

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  6. Yeah, it’s the curse of travel; all that moving about is so bittersweet. Sometimes it hurts so, to leave what has become familiar behind, but there is always the pull of moving on, the thrill of discovery of the next familiar. I love all those little details that made Northampton home for you. You reveal it from the inside out, and in the telling you reveal yourself. A post as snug as a bug in a rug!

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    1. Hah I love that! The last line clinched it for me as it was meant to, Tracey. Thank you 🙂 I wonder if I will ever say it for Bayonne. Just wondering. And you know I do it a lot especially when I am out in the evenings for a saunter to the nearest coffee shop.

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  7. Ahh the town where you first lived….always special. A typical town in the UK with its haunted pubs, friends to meet, quirky locals with their accepted habits, the local shops, the deserted past…..each town has them and that’s what we love about them. Sometimes we don’t see the beauty in the things around us. This post is as beautiful as the far flung places we visit to see beauty and treasures that perhaps, are just on our doorstep or in our hearts. Lovely, lovely post. Xxxx

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    1. Thank you Sophie. I cannot tell you how precious it is and I feel it even more now when none of it is at hand for the heart and eyes to soak in. Before we left, I remember thinking ‘how can we possibly leave all of this?’ and that feeling has not left me since. I am happy but the ache is not be driven away so easily. Hope you are having a lovely autumn. xx

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      1. It is and I know it comes and goes in waves. There are days when I love all the adventure and days when I go gah. But that is life. We gotta make the best of the hand we are given and I shall do my part. Thanks again for reading and commenting 🙂 xx

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  8. My departed Aunt Denny would tell you that the changing seasons are the hardest part of fitting in to a new place. She was a wise one. I do feel your ache, that nostalgia that bubbles in the belly and ferments in the heart. I promise it does get better but meanwhile, as I sit in Grenoble (which I love) I find my head full of irrepressible images of Cantal and they fill my eyes with tears. Strength, dear Dotty, I send you what strength I have xx

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    1. That is a saying that makes sense. It explains why it is not easy to shake it off. Neither can Adi. Nostalgia does sit strong in the heart and mind and every pore of the body. But I shall take the strength and send you a hug filled with equal fortitude to love Cantal and Grenoble with the durability of steel. xx

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      1. She lived in Madras (as it was) for several years, her first child was born there and she never forgot what it felt like to be far from that place that niches in your heart and feels it is home. Thank you for the strengthy hug. I really appreciate it. Xx

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      2. Madras hmm…did it grow on her? I visited it once for the purpose of interviewing an actor for a newspaper’s magazine and I had a ghastly time in the heat and humidity. It did not help that the people were staunch about sticking to their language…which is a great thing but not quite kind when you are faced by a visitor who has no idea of Tamil.

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      3. She always spoke fondly of her time there so I suspect it did grow on her in some way. She was born in 1919 so she had that old fashioned British Spirit and Backbone and I am certain that helped her. Sadly she has bee dead over 20 years so I can’t ask her. Language is a huge barrier to really liking a place – it makes everything so much harder if you really can’t make yourself understood particularly if it is a refusal of the locals to bend in any way. Hopefully that is less of a problem in New Jersey 😉 xx

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      4. I read a novel recently by a writer I like very much called Dinah Jeffries who tends to focus on times of great change and challenge in historical settings in the East. This one was set in Rajastan in the 1930s. I was captivated but cannot imagine what it was like for Brits in the heat – no wonder they made so many foolish calls 😉 xx

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      5. I shall look her up. The novels look enticing (I googled her). Rajasthan in the 1930s… that land of many kingdoms and beguiling traditions, traces of which still can be seen today in the Rajput families. Adi grew up in Rajasthan for a number of years as an army kid and he is incredibly fond of it. Have you been to Rajasthan?
        As for the Brits roasting away slowly in the heat of the desert and making decisions – it is the favourite topic to wallow in in India right now. There is a former diplomat-politician called Shashi Tharoor, a handsome man with a silver tongue, who is whipping up national passion with his recent book release.

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      6. I haven’t been to India at all and I will some day. It has been my wish since I was 17 and we know how seminal 17 is … I know, however that I need time and probably multiple trips to do her justice. For starters I would hit the North. Oh ouch, I think I need to look up Shashi Tharoor. Do order Dinah J’s books – I can’t recall the titles but the Rajastani, the Ceylonese and the Vietnamese stories all grabbed me in the way that some of the greats that I know you and I hold dear in our hearts grab me. Xxx

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      7. That is recommendation enough. I am heading to the library in some time to arm myself suitably. Tharoor is certainly easy on the eyes and a prolific author, so you might not rue it 🙂

        India is too vast for just one trip, I agree. I have not seen her well at all except in bits and starts. She can overwhelm you even now. Let’s say, she lives in contrasts. But yes, Rajasthan exudes a certain charm that envelops you, whisking you into another time and place. xx

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      8. Yes, my eldest daughter travelled in India several years ago and the first 6 weeks was a routine of 3 calls a day telling me she hated it, crying, longing to come home. But in the end, she gave in to India, realized that the only way was to go with her not resist and loved the rest of her time. Pushkar was her turning point (mind you I think falling in love with a Jain Jewellery maker who looked like Johnny Depp may have had an influence) … she has been pleading with me to go to India ever since. And I will. It seems Rajasthan is calling to me perhaps xx

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      9. I can gauge her feelings. I started living in India for the first time when I was 8 by which time Oman was home to my wee senses. In a way I have been an outsider and yet the roots were, are and will always be there.

        I can picture the Jain fellow with his hollowed cheeks and eyes lined with kohl. And the Depp image 😀 When you do end up in Rajasthan, do let the forts and food of the land woo you, it is unlike any I have seen. The food though can be fiery even for an Indian like me, as your daughter would know if she has not had her senses seared already. The people of the desert know how to notch up the heat.

        I did look for Dinah in the library and she did not turn up so I shall take myself to the city to borrow it from the library there. I hope you have a chilled-out weekend. xx

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  9. oh such a lovely article as usual 🙂 …brought back so many memories ..Northampton does have a special place in our hearts too 🙂

    BTW i didn’t know Wig & Pen was haunted !!!!

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    1. Yeah it is supposed to be haunted 😉 As was the Grosvenor Centre where a grey monk was supposed to have been spotted when the mall would shut. Derngate too by a grey lady. They clearly had a something for the colour grey 😀 Thanks for reading Kanika. xx

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  10. Many, many years ago we started off married life just north of Northamptonshire and your lovely photos bring back happy memories of the area and its surroundings.

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      1. Sure Dippy, I am sure one post cannot fill in all the memories and there are many more, the readers will definitely enjoy reading and relate to it one way or the other !

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  11. “The lingering smell of must has to be one of the most ghastly smells out there.” – oh, how I can understand that feeling…some smells are just ghastly, and they seem to linger, long after one has attempted to banish them. I remember reading somewhere about the nature of aromas, being scent molecules that get into one’s nose (a good thing), but then I think, perhaps that’s why some seem to stick around even after you’ve left the area or after you’ve cleaned the item. It’s irritating and frustrating! For me, there is a certain type of perfume that sometimes does it for me, that seems cloying and overwhelming, and I can’t get away from it soon enough. And other things, too. I remember at times it seems to take all day for the smell in one’s nose to finally disappear!

    What a lovely love letter to Northhampton. I can see where you brought your own energy and engagement to the community and it responded to your liveliness and interest! Another person would have sat at home – maybe in an apartment far on the outskirts and not in the city center, grousing about the lack of this and that, and how noisy and congested that city center market is, etc. They would never have been open to the friendships and the interactions that you made by seeing and greeting people on a regular basis! I love how the food truck vendor called you “her writer friend,” – so wonderful. What one would give to be known by that moniker!

    Thank you for a lovely look into your reluctantly-forsaken home. I’m sure you’ll go back there and enjoy its charms again soon, as it has such a warm place in your heart. ❤

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    1. Oh how beautifully you wrote this comment, Theresa. Touched me right away. Firstly, I can do a long list of smells but I shall content myself with this that cloying perfumes can gnaw at your senses. Quite terribly. I remember how I loved Estee Lauder’s Beautiful and once sprayed it too generously, then felt sick to the core. Learning curve. Now I dab perfumes sparsely. I do not want the person next to me wanting to make a beeline for the hills.
      Secondly, it was easy to love Northampton, you know. Just one of those places that required no work in loving them, as effortless as the water that flows in the stream, you could say, or the child making little bubbles on an afternoon of carefree play. Those people I left behind, they had such an air of informality about them. After all, people make all the difference don’t they? xx

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