The year was 1963, and we were caravanning from the Midlands to East Anglia, the caravan consisting of a removal van with all our furniture, and the entire family with both our cars. If I recall rightly, by that point we had a green Austin Cambridge mainly distinguished by a propensity to break down and a white Ford Anglia. Our family comprised four children, three adults and two cats, one of whom temporarily escaped when we stopped at a layby. Several of us were in tears, unhappy at leaving our old life in the beautiful market town of Melton Mowbray. We had been half-dragged out of empty rooms, weeping hysterically.
After the momentous journey, we pulled into the drive of a red brick house built in 1901, formerly a boarding house for schoolgirls. Boxes began to be unloaded, cats were let out in a closed room and the neighbours came over with lemonade and snacks to welcome us to Park Road. A new life was beginning in Ipswich, Suffolk--and for my parents it would last more than fifty years.
Both my parents were born in London, Mum in Southwark, near the Elephant and Castle and Dad in Muswell Hill. After their marriage they moved to rural Leicestershire. And now we had come to the county town of East Suffolk, where Mum would be working in the public health service. Mum claimed that as a cockney, she only knew two bird species, sparrows and pigeons. Nevertheless, my parents were to indigenize themselves in Suffolk, with its saltmarshes and rich bird life. They watched Ipswich, once the greatest port between the Humber and the Thames, be superseded by the roll-on roll-off container port at Felixstowe. They saw a mainly white provincial town of 75,000 become a multicultural city, home to 300,000.
There are many ways to make a place your own. My parents tended a beautiful garden with magnificent old roses and a small greenhouse for Dad's tomatoes. They also grew vegetables in their allotment (community garden plot), at one point insisting on being self-sufficient in vegetables during garden season. They made key contributions to many aspects of community and parish life and formed close bonds with neighbours on Park Road. They took the time to know and appreciate Suffolk's unique ecology, walking the seawalls and footpaths and spending many a weekend on their yacht, the Wild Rose, moored on Shotley Peninsula. They reached out in their own ways to the disadvantaged, Dad by being a reliable source of odd jobs for men in need of a little cash to get by, Mum by helping start a counselling centre and, after her retirement, serving as counsellor.
Dad also made Ipswich his own in the same way that Van Gogh claimed Arles, a place far from his native Holland. Dad's urban landscapes of snowy days and rainy nights on humble street corners illumine the quiet beauty of a provincial East Anglian town. He saw the Ipswich people walk past every day and never really notice, capturing the radiance of a traffic light on a wet street or the cheerful colour of a garage door on a snowy day. It's because my parents made this place their own that it continues to reflect them, even after both of them have passed on.