Early March and my friends flat is a chaos of boxes, bags, scissors and tape. We have borrowed this studio for six months now and filled it with everything we think we wont be able to get in France, or if we could, we will be so busy when we return, we wont be inclined to find alternative favourite hand creams, English books, linens from London and a huge box full of charity finds – props for photos and winter jumpers and jackets. The French are not English shaped, they seem to be able to stay slimmer than me, and are far, far shorter in the area I am moving too. The villagers of Auge are tiny, with sand coloured hair. I feel Amazonian and have to dress accordingly. No frills or flounces for me or I look eccentric.
But before I finally go, and this time without running back to Old Blighty every six months to keep my residence, I visited my child hood playground – Epping Forrest. At the bottom of my friends garden through a gate hidden behind the overgrown shrubs, like accessing Narnia through the think fur coats, was the forest. Our forest, endless and secret.
The hunting grounds of the Earl Of Essex, yes the one that Elizabeth I adored, are a pleasant respite from the bustle of East London and pass from where I was born, Wanstead up through Loughton and Epping and then into Hainault Forest, heading into Essex.
This was my summer playground in the early 1970’s, and just before I started big school at eleven, 1976 was hot, so hot that parts of the forest burned. Many years later I would ride across these open spaces and jumping from the saddle, stomp out the little sparks before they could rampage. The horses would snort at the smoke, but were used to this weekly routine.
But now the forest has changed. We no longer have such hot summers and the riding school was sold many years ago – a shame, as my army instructor was tough, authoritarian but a master, and respectful. I liked her a lot and learnt to have a “good seat”, which is good for both your behind and the horses back.
I had a fine day back in February and although chilly, the sun was out and the light warm. I normally have a lot of problem photographing forests, but this time, maybe with the benefit of having at last a good lens, it was an enjoyable day. I explored all my old den spots, and took a turn round the Hollow Ponds, old gravel pits now used for boating. The chocolate Labrador was, like all dogs, finding the water more fun than land, bounding out and shaking furiously, soaking all onlookers.
Its a curious feeling knowing that you may never see this place again, but I know the forests in France will create new memories and playgrounds. I have a small forested area in my garden and we have plans for a writing den and a place to cook out in the Summer. We made a huge table out of found walnut last Summer and will build a cover this year, with a roof of terracotta tiles to hold off the heat and odd summer downpours.
I am writing a book on gluten free bread and this will be a suitable spot for photography given the light and space. Sadly this poor Blog was put on backburner and hasn’t seen a post since 2015. http://www.peppertony.com Time to make amends. We got hit this month by a business partner pulling out, and without him the business cannot be run. This took up three years of my time, investment and a lot of travelling. In just a week it is over. As an accountant I understand very well how businesses fail or as in our case, we decided to close and not haemorrhage any further funds. To walk away relatively unscathed, with little debt is the right way. I am still angry, numb, despondent and somewhat disillusioned, all at once, one day on and one day off, but one thing I know, I am so looking forward to getting in my van this week, tracing the route on my map and saying goodbye. I am moving on and heading for the French Life.