19 March 2005

Do you remember where you were on July 20 1969?

Do you remember where you were on July 20 1969, as Neil Armstrong planted his foot on the moon (conspiracy theories aside)? I was watching in the sitting room of a little white farm house in Wisborough Green, Sussex. My parents and I were living in Nigeria at the time and had rented the farm house for a UK holiday. It had sounded idyllic—a perfect little house in a perfect little English village.

I was only 4½ at the time, but I remember it very clearly. It was a time of firsts for me—the first time I was ever woken up by sheep at my window; the first time I ever sat inside the car, goggle eyed and giggling, while Dad hosed it down. And of course, that moon landing thing.

35½ years later I was back in the UK and determined to visit my childhood haunts. That determination wilted when I was actually in the car and heading west across Sussex. I realised that if the reality of today were not consistent with my starry-eyed recollections of childhood I would likely be deeply distressed; that a small brick in the foundation of my self-definition would be shaken irreversibly.

St Peter ad Vistula church at Wisborough Green

I need not have feared. Wisborough Green is still the quintessential lovely little English village. Shops and houses line the village green and look over games of cricket, and the whole postcard view is overseen by a stunning Norman church complete with tidy but somehow still ramshackle cemetery. Standing by the church, as the waning sun cast dramatic shadows through the mossy gravestones, I was overcome with emotion. It was as if my childhood perspective and aspirations for the future were colliding with my adult memories of the past in a moment I had both longed for and dreaded. Yet the collision was soft and uplifting, like returning home to a huge hug after some time away.

If you’ve ever had such an experience, or can remember what you were doing on July 20 1969, I’d love to hear from you.
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