A reflection from late autumn finally posted in the chill of early January. Call it late, call it a symptom of these new year days and pandemic years, when time seems to slip and slide and leave you grasping.
I’m not sure if this moment is full on autumn, or the first bite of winter. We left town for the hills one Sunday. Clocks claimed it was mid-afternoon but the oncoming dark made it hard to place, hard to shake the sense of enclosing night. Given the hour, I say ‘hills’ but really it was ‘hill’. One hill. Height enough to let go every sigh and find the corners of ourselves that the countryside seems to guard in our absence. Our feet found one hill, but maybe it really was ‘hills’. One folds into another, a ridge that you could follow on your way to the Cotswolds, or turn the other way to skirt the edge of London. We stay where we are. On one hill. Eyes resting on another, and finding the pocketed fields below.
We left. Left the warmth, encased ourselves in winter coats (should have been washed before this first wearing?), scarves, hats that didn’t quite keep out the gnaw of the wind on one side. An ear bore the brunt of this foray. Pass indifferent flocks, turn right at the trees and enjoy their shelter before heading up again. A slope that felt gentle but, on turning round, had opened up the sunset sky. Stop. Breathe. Exchange humble notes on this messy and beautiful world.
When I think back on 2017, I remind myself that this is the year that we carved out a new life in a bigger, bolder city than before. A place where our community means more travel time with strangers on trains than with friends in their homes. A city that is not, in truth, a natural fit. That shades out the stars and puts miles between us and the sea. But we have learned how to do life here; how to not just make it work but embrace the opportunity and privilege that, as well as being all those other things, it truly is. It seems unlikely (though who knows) that it is forever, so we want to make the most of it while we can.
When my parents set off on their greatest sailing adventure* over ten years ago, our belongings entered a storage unit. This summer they opened that repository, and a couple of weeks ago, my childhood was returned to me. It turns out my childhood fits in seven boxes.
Well, two hours fifteen minutes but that doesn’t have quite the same pith to it. And what a two hours fifteen minutes it is. I’ve done some long train journeys in my time – 55 hours between Ulan Ude and Khabarovsk in Russia being my record – and it’s left me with a real taste for this form of travel. The trip on the Eurostar was no exception. I love the way train travel reinforces a sense of connection between destinations – you see one slip away and another emerge out the window; a contrast with the cloud-covered ascent and descent of flight.
One day’s work would be enough. Enough to transform the garden at our previous house from ramshackle to haven. It was essentially a blank canvas: a square patio edged by an empty bed on two sides. Turn over soil, dig in compost, two hours planting – and it would have arrived. A garden is never finished, but this one would have at least become a coherent entity. Time would only improve it. That ‘Rome’ was built in a day.
There’s nothing like seeing all your belongings parcelled and packed into a lorry to make you think about your relationship with the things you own. We were paying people to transport these things across counties. I had to ask the question: were they worth it?
We were meant to be buying a house. My intended handful of months in this city had already grown into years. We were planning to set down roots indefinitely. Instead, a new job was offered, and we began to listen to a whisper of adventure that stirred our previously hibernating hearts. We’ve answered that call.
One of my 2016 aspirations was to look at the chemicals in our home. The European Environment Agency recommends prudence when it comes to the chemicals to which we expose ourselves and the environment. The blame cannot be laid on a single chemical; it’s the range of them and how they interact with each other that’s the real problem. The thing that challenged me is: I know very little about the cocktail of chemicals I purchase, apply, spray. It’s time to change that.
I headed off to university accompanied by a newly bought laundry basket, a fabric symbol of soon to be tested self-sufficiency and independence. It was perfect for my transient life – just material and a spring, it folded down flat for storage during the weeks outside of term-time. Ten years on, my life is a bit more settled but that laundry basket is looking pretty tired.