So there I was, frustrated and angry about events at work on Friday last week.
And then I went to Devon.
Collecting my sister at Heathrow early on Saturday morning, I drove west to where I grew up, the leafy, wild and untamed lands of East Devon. I’ve written often of the effect this has each time I go there, failing each time to do the landscape justice in my descriptions. This time, I shall not try. I will merely share my amusement at the brilliance of some of the settlement names along the A303 — Compton Pauncefoot, for example — and confess to getting overly excited at seeing fields of dairy cows. It seems to be mostly sheep and horses up in the Midlands.
My sister shared tales from her three-week trip around the USA, speaking at two conferences at different ends of the country and fitting in some sightseeing along the way. It was really nice to spend time with her and to catch up, for she is rather busy and stressed too, and of late we’ve not had much time to talk.
On arrival in Exeter, where she was due to attend a wedding that afternoon, we ate a late second breakfast in Giraffe — which was very tasty — and then bade farewell. I then returned to my parents house who themselves were about to board a plane and land at Heathrow that afternoon. For now, I spent some quality time with the cat, who, at 20, is now a bit wobbly and probably hard of hearing and sight, but no less lovely. After a brief, unintended yet inescapable nap, interrupted several times as the cat woke up and cried because she didn't know where she was, I then went to visit my grandparents, who fed me and told me far more family news than I thought could possibly happened since I was last there.
At one stage my grandad was recounting, at my request, stories from his army days, shortly after the end of World War II. Until perhaps last year he had never shared with me his experiences, and I am keen to know more. He retold events in Trieste, when riots broke out over disagreements of the ownership of the city between Italy and Yugoslavia. He recalled life as a driver for General Sir William (Bill) Slim and how he got in trouble with the military police as a result – though it was they who were humiliated ultimately.
As he spoke he was reliving the memories, even positioning each character in the room. His eyes were sparkling as he shared; he truly enjoyed the opportunity to relive those moments. Then the atmosphere soured as he and my gran both began talking of being old, of realising that those days had gone by forever. It was suddenly quite uncomfortable, but topics moved on and all was well again as I left. I encouraged him to write down his memories, as he had expressed an desire to do so but believed he wouldn't be able to. Life has changed since his stroke last year and I believe this would be an important project for him.
My parents returned that evening and were equally as enthusiastic about their own trip to Poland. They both lavished their tales with details and reactions, from the bugler of Krakow to a trip around Auschwitz, the latter being a humbling and important visit, ‘enjoyable’ being an inappropriate word to use.
The following morning we continued to talk and I was so happy to simply catch up, my worries forgotten. The sun finally came out and, though I never went for a wander as I had planned, I was content to just be there. On the drive back to Birmingham I was in high spirits, enjoying my favourite bits of the M5 — the plains between the Weston-Super-Mare junctions and, later, the River Avon flood plain, if you’re interested — and listening to some good music. The Waifs I played first, who always remind me of good times while travelling, then The Cat Empire, whose song Hello was our first choice in the band’s interval at our wedding reception. It’s a song that makes you dance. I smiled, and thought back to that day, almost a year ago. I remembered dancing with my parents to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and how the band played some U2 at my request, though oddly, given it was a request from the groom, they played I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For!
I thought of the food, families intermingling and getting along excellently. I remember my cousins and Rachel’s cousins all being mischievous, but in very different ways reflecting their age difference. I remember being happy, even as I gave a speech, and Rachel, too, having the greatest day.
There’s nothing quite like Devon to reset me and restore balance.