Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Green Green Patchy and Irregular Grass of Home

IT didn't matter that I'd been held up at work. It didn't matter that the Tube was hot and sticky, nor that the lady who had tried to put her arm around her boyfriend had missed and stroked me instead. To some extent it didn't matter that I'd just given a small child concussion, as it was his fault and he should have been looking where he was going.

All of my stresses and strains were about to leave me alone. I was at Waterloo, the train was leaving the station, and I wouldn't leave it until I had reached the lovely safe haven and beautiful countryside of Devon, the county I shall forever call home. It was to be a weekend of nostalgia and catching up. First I could enjoy the view - the cityscape from Waterloo might not be beautiful, but for me it always strikes a chord, for this is the view I would always see when coming to London as a child. We only came a few times, but it was always an adventure. I don't really remember it from back then, of course, but no matter. This is what London looks like if you come from where I come from. I sat back and watched the world go by, leaving behind the worries and cynicism of being a resident of London and became a tourist again - that's when I'm happiest.

I afforded myself a brief nap - it was inevitable I would succumb to slumber eventually - as we rode through the commuter belt and then awoke to find myself in the countryside. I tried to read for a while, but as engaging as the works of Gerrard Durrell are I found myself frequently distracted by the world outside. There really is nothing quite like England. Even where mankind has tried to tame the landscape with fields and crops, he cannot conquer the irregularity of Mother Nature herself. No field is ever flat, no plain of grass even. Hedges grow wild, the greens become unpredictably patchy and streams and rivulets simply refuse to go around, winding stubbonly through the middle of fields and meadows making everything that little bit harder for farmers and cows alike. Cities are irregular because of fumes and litter: the countryside is irregular because it's supposed to be, and would be boring if it was anything else.

Every once in a while there would be a rabbit watching us from beside the tracks. Cows would stand up and salute us, and sheep looked thoroughly confused as we roared past. I particularly liked areas of the tracks that were bordered by steep valleys, leading the eye up into the enormous sky and the setting sun. You see, for all of the excitement of the city, its ordered practicality and hubbub of human creativity, the world is so much more impressive when there is nothing but you and the elements.

We passed a ruined castle outside of Sherborne, a boating lake not much further along the tracks, and old engines in the Yeovil Junction train museum - all highlights I'd never noticed before. I suppose I had to go away and become a cynical city dweller to reappreciate my home.

Then I was at Axminster and into the car bound for the house. The following day I picked up Rachel from Taunton, where she was helping at a CYFA camp, and took her to Sidmouth. It was the opening day of the Sidmouth Folk Festival. There to join us were Nelly and Jack, Bradley, Rory and Alex, Emily, Lucy and Liam, and amazingly, Lorna and Owen, who had come down from Birmingham at my invitation. It was a reunion of the home crew and the Birmingham crew, brought together for the first time. Sadly it rained during the day, so we had few opportunities to see the festival, but there was one magical moment when, seeking refuge in a quiet bar, a side of Morris Dancers (to use the correct collective noun) came in to practice. Space was tight, and at one stage Rory and I found ourselves separated from the rest of the group, squashed against the bar by the dancers, having to lean back every so often to avoid being hit by a decorative handkerchief.

Other pubs and other displays were later enjoyed. I regret that I could not see more of the show, and that I did not manage to see other friends who could only come later, as I was taking Rachel back to Taunton. No matter, as the following day I finally got to give Owen a tour of Colyton, after so many years of telling him about the place. I was a bit rubbish to be honest, having to admit I don't really know much about the Monmouth Rebellion, nor of the town's industrial roots, but we jointly enjoyed the community feel and lamented the inevitable loss of individual businesses and town landmarks as the population ages and the younger people move away. I suppose I'm partly to blame for that, although I am not to blame for the loss of the tea shop in Queen's Square.

And then, no sooner had I had chance to relax, I was off again, back to North London and that other life I live - the working, city life. I was really quite sad to leave - life in Devon is just so different from here. By no means is it easy, nor is it simple, but it concerns itself with such different affairs; a fairer pace; a happier way of life.

I refuse to let go of it.

No comments: