Common People: Introduction

Oh, dear. I’m enjoying not blogging every week too much. Maybe it’s reached a natural end. And, well, we have plans: more on which later. Perhaps the blog needs ditching or reinventing. I’m also enjoying getting back into music: which is great, but a time-drain. First-world problems, perhaps. Meantime, I shall carry on posting older stuff. For the next month or so, I shall publish the original version of a deep dive into the 19th-century history of Berkhamsted Common. A version went into The Berkhamsted Chronicle this year (March 2021) condensed and edited by Linda Rollitt. It was researched and written in 2019/2020 which is as much to say it is itself a historical document.

I hope both versions are of some interest to some people. I enjoyed everything about the writing. I liked researching at Hertfordshire Archives over three or four Saturdays as people were getting married in the same building and posing for pictures in the car park. What stories were being laid down as I was pulling older ones out of box files? I always made time to walk towpaths and wander around the very likeable county town as well. Archives have always been as much about walking to me as researching. The National Archives are well placed in that respect. It may explain why I have so little to show for years of research except for happy memories and blisters.

It is an autistic thing partly. Berkhamsted is my ‘Pontito’. I think of myself as that patient of Oliver Sacks with a hypermnesic pencil and an eidetic memory: rebuilding the town I grew up in half a century ago, brick by brick, leaf by leaf. The difference – if it is a difference – is that it is not my memories that interest me. It is the memories of people who lived there when I was growing up. I feel part of a chain not of possession or heredity but a chain of belonging. Like other chains, it implies push as well as pull. Most people of my generation who grew up in the town have felt both at some point or another.

But I’m waffling now. For someone who has produced so little, I’ve already written far too much. I have begun to collect some of the voices from Berkhamsted Common online at common-people.uk. So if you tire of my voice, you can go straight to the source. Cut out the middle man.

Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars, 1995, chapter titled: ‘The Landscape of His Dreams’.

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