May 05, 2022
5 mins read
I am sitting in one of those countrysides that can only be in England. (We don’t have the May lushness in Scotland: the riotous cow parsley and everything bursting into blossom as if it were a party and the trees all dressed in their singing, stinging green.) I can see a white lilac from where I sit and three vast, leaning horse chestnuts with all their candles out, and a rosemary bush which probably remembers decimalisation, and some kind of lone waterfowl, dreaming in the distance.
It’s very quiet and I don’t know where everyone is. I don’t mind at all.
The lone waterfowl has been joined by a mate. I am curiously heartened to see the two of them together. I have no idea what they are doing. (I slightly wish I knew more about wildfowl and their ways.) But they look serene and happy and that makes me serene and happy.
I left the house a week ago at eight in the morning and managed to drive south without crashing into a mountain, which is a huge improvement on the last time I crossed over the hills. I had thought I might make time for work - broadband, after all, functions everywhere and my fingers can always type and I can stare into the Zoom and say sensible things - but in the end I decided that this would be a proper holiday, a break from all my jobs and the daily responsibilities of life. There would be frivolity and joy and nobody to answer to.
I can’t begin to tell you what a luxury this is. I almost feel guilty, it is so much luxury.
But what interested me was how much the writing went by the board. I mean all the writing - the red mare stories and the musings on Facebook and this Cup of Coffee promise I made to you back in December.
I write something every day because I can’t not. Not out of duty or even habit, but because I love and need words. There will a line in a notebook or an overheard scrap of conversation or a thought I don’t want to forget. But the public writing, the writing for people - that stopped, as part of my luxurious week of pleasure.
It was partly because there was so much life to cram in - so many people I had not seen for years, so many horses to meet, so many drives to take, so much catching up. I was always going somewhere or doing something. I have a thing about not using my telephone or computer when I am with people, so even putting something up on Twitter was not straightforward. I did want to post some pictures of my trip, but this got done late at night or in the early dawn, when I was alone in my room. I was too involved with the people and the places to make a record of the people and the places.
I suddenly realised how much space I have created in my ordinary life for musing and dreaming and thinking. That’s what writers need; perhaps it is what introverts like me need. I do all the pondering and wondering in the silence of my Scottish fastness, and then I write it down. I don’t have a hundred appointments and twenty-seven emails to answer and a load of questions coming at me. I dug out that space, and I guard it jealously, but it’s so much a thread of my daily existence that it doesn’t seem at all odd or unusual or even fortunate that I had not realised quite how precious it is until I was in the busy south. (Even where I live geographically is slower and more expansive than the places I have been visiting. There is no traffic, for instance. I do remember someone once coming to stay and marvelling at the no traffic and I laughed at the time and did not give it much thought.)
It’s always been a part of going away for me - being stupidly grateful about going home. But that is usually because of the blue mountains and the empty expanses and the ancient, glacial glens. That’s why I stayed in Scotland in the first place. I said to someone today my old mantra: ‘I fell in love with the hills like you fall in love with a person.’ Scotland is one of the great love affairs of my life. When I drive back over the border and see the Welcome to Scotland sign I always cry a little, at my sheer luck.
But now there is this extra realisation, of those mental, intellectual, even perhaps spiritual spaces that I have made, hardly even knowing what I was doing. I don’t think I realised how necessary they are to me, and how precious, and how cherished. That’s a lovely realisation.
Especially because when I am in my life, I never feel I do have enough time. That’s getting older. The temporal speeds up, in some strange, mysterious way, and the hours and days and weeks shoot past my ears, and I worry about all the books I still have to read before I die and the books I have to write before my fingers give out and the ideas I want to dig out with a spoon before my brain grows addled. I have four jobs and animals to look after and my posse to watch over. There are deadlines and responsibilities. But compared to the people who live a packed family life with offices to go to and meetings to attend and commutes to do and trains to get on, I have acres and acres of time.
I always say, when I am talking about horses - and you know by now that I spend a lot of my day talking about horses - that one of the greatest gifts you can give a horse is the gift of time. I realise now that time is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. And I have more of it than I thought.
So that, my darlings, is a little day of jubilee for me, and I smile as I type this, and I have another item to add to my gratitude list.
The wildfowl have gone now and the humans in this house are moving about again; I can hear footsteps coming, so I must stop. I’m in a happy house with one of my oldest friends. But I found the time to write you some words, and that makes me smile.
PS. The photograph is not where I wrote this from, but of a part of Suffolk I visited earlier in the day, where there were many, many fine trees.