This weekend, whilst stretched out on my rug, full of collected twigs and sand, I looked to the sky and rejoiced in the spring sun twinkling through the tree and happily, temporarily leaving me blinded. I’ve waited so long to have those little orange blobs sail in front of my eyes again. I LOVE YOU SUN. It is this time of year that I also appreciate our flat all over again. The winter saw myself and Charlie chastising the fact that we we have no bath. Standing in the shower until your fingers go wrinkly is not the same as reclining in a bath of bubbles, with a book in hand. It’s more like some sort of sad, homegrown pathetic fallacy. I put a candle in the windowless ‘shower room’ the other day – I am addicted to candles – then when revisiting the shower room/toilet soon after, realised how utterly pointless it would be to make the space ‘moody’. Atmospheric lighting during a shower is unecessary. The only time it would acceptable would be if we had an enormous wet room. Which incidentally, of course I would love. Not least because I won’t have to have Charlie’s wetsuit in my face/hanging in the shower room for days. Our wet room would be massive. And damp in the good way.
The garden is scraggly. But of course I have grand plans for it. Wildflowers everywhere, scaling leaves and ripe tomatoes and strawberries – lettuces growing on the windowsills. Oh yes. Charlie has a chart for when we should plant seeds in our brick filled soil, and has purchased a ‘fork for life’. But regardless of its state, to me the garden is a sanctuary, and worth the lack of bath (again: see compromise; Phil and Kirsty. Location x3).
But our little bit of greenery is nothing compared to Neil Ansell, who I read about in the Observer magazine on sunday. After travelling for a while, and then living in a squat in London, he was given the opportunity to live in a cottage in the depths of Wales for the sum of £100 a year. He did this for five years, often going weeks without seeing another soul.
You would think this alone time would manifest itself in a huge amount of self reflection and inner thoughts taking over every aspect of one’s mind and body. However interestingly, Ansell says the opposite became true, and his alone time culminated in his focus slowly moving totally outward, to the countryside’s living and breathing. Its every movement, became his.
“What happened to me was that I began to forget myself, my focus shifted almost entirely outwards to the natural world outside my window. It was as if we gain our sense of self from our interaction with other people; from the reflection of ourselves we see in the eyes of another. Alone, there was no need for identity, for self definition.
“The process was a gradual one. During my years in the hills I kept a journal; what birds I had seen that day, perhaps some notes on the weather. By the third year it is no more than an almanac, marking the turn of the seasons by the coming and goings of migrant birds and their nesting dates, interspersed by the occasional detailed depiction of a moment, perhaps the fllight of a single bird. I am an absence, a void, I have disappeared from my own story.”
This is proper, intense country living – not a flicker of the romantic vision of having a jolly old farm. However it was the solitary nature of Ansell’s country living that got him in the end. “I could have stayed forever; becoming no doubt, steadily more reclusive and eccentric. I had the measure of this life now, it had long since ceased to feel like any kind of challenge; this was just me living the life I had chosen. What led me away was a visceral, almost bodily; craving to have children, in a way that is rather expected of women but less so of men.”
He met the woman, the mother of his children, at a wedding, whilst still living at the cottage. After two years as a long distance couple, he left the cottage and the life he’d that had inhabited him. Now Ansell is a BBC journalist and lives in Brighton with his two daughters. “I still get the opportunity to visit the cottage for a little alone time. When I get there I bring the busyness of town with me, and I rush around looking for storm damage, checking to see if the mice have breached my defences and raided my cache of food, checking my wood supply, my water supply. But when darkness falls and I light a few candles for the evening and put my feet up by the fireside, the scales of society fall from my eyes, and time slips away.”
Until I actually live in the real sticks, IF I ever do, I will use my garden as my sanctuary. And although I love sitting there alone, with my eyes closed and a cup of tea steaming beside me, Francois skipping in the weeds (soon to be flowers), I also love sharing my green space and need people as much as I need nature’s liberating, soothing properties. However, I do plan to LOOK OUT MORE, rather than in when I am walking through its world. I think that is where a beautiful form of peace can be found.
Francois being wild cat. He must have seen something to hunt in the sky at this very moment; a bird perhaps. Once again oblivious to his lacking the ability to fly.
“My time in the hills has left me with a core of peace and I was deeply comfortable in my own skin.” Neil Ansell.
My Thai diary – From Stress to Relax – Seven Days, can be found here.