"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light..."
So wrote Charles Dickens more than a hundred and fifty years ago in A Tale of Two Cities. His words have been echoing in my mind this weekend.
This time last year, as long-time readers of this blog will know, we lived in the best street in the best village in the world. And as the last Saturday in November dawned, we were up early, donning our warmest clothing for the best weekend of the year, the weekend when the residents of Crown Road put up the Christmas lights.
But six months ago, knowing that we couldn't go on renting for ever, and having given up hope of ever being able to afford to buy a house in Shoreham, we moved along the valley to Otford. This year, there was no slip of paper through the letter box confirming the date or time to assemble, there was no bustle and noise outside as the boxes of light-bulbs and wheels of cable were placed at strategic points along the street.
Instead, a few days ago, Philip received a text from Keith, our old landlord and ex-next door neighbour, inviting us to go along and join the annual ritual. Philip knew straight away that he wanted to go, I took a little longer to set aside my grudging sense of disappointment that our new village has not yet entwined itself into our hearts, and finally agree that it would be a good thing to go back and join in.
So yesterday, instead of just opening the front door and stepping outside, we jumped in the car and drove along the valley. And when we arrived, all was just as it should be. We slotted straight back into the roles we'd been assigned last year. Philip in charge of the Christmas tree at the end of the road, me the queen of the WD40, making sure all the bulb sockets were liberally squirted.
Nobody was surprised that we were there, though many asserted their pleasure that we were. Some things had changed - different window frames on one house, a new car outside another, but so many things were still the same. We chatted and worked, exclaimed with gratitude at the coffee and flapjacks as they appeared and praised the choc-chip biscuits made by Imogen, who wasn't even born the first year we were there to put up the lights.
There were some new neighbours, joining in for the very first time, and about to find out the wonder of those bright lights in the darkest month of the year. There were others who, like us, have moved away and were spoken of and remembered fondly.
At the end of the morning, as always, we made our way to The Crown, the pub at the top of the road, the pub that had been our very first visiting place in the village and the venue for our wedding reception. There we all squashed into the small front bar, recently decorated by the new landlords who are slowly and quietly working their way into the affections of the village.
And it was only then, as we all raised a cheer to Crown Road and its lights, that it really hit me. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We've moved along the valley, but my heart is still living at no 13.