They decided that the mountains would be perfect. They rode horses along the dust before they got near to the steam topped peaks. Lying on the blanket, they looked into the eye of the sky, then galloped up a storm; sandwiches in their rucksacks, homemade rose lemonade with a twist of spirit in their flasks. Before the sun set they made an open topped den, and snuggled in layers made of sheep. Closing their eyes after a brisk dance around the fire and naked sprint to the stream, they lay back and saved the day for retirement’s dreams.
All taken from my SVPPLY account.
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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.
This will be my last post on Thailand. Just because.
Dreamt of spiders touching and crawling over my face. Stroking my face, with one of their eight legs. Or a dual stroke, with two legs at the same time. URG! Don’t they just move hideously, uncomfortably fast? Has anyone in the past raced spiders? I think they’re faster than mice. And mice are fast. Although are they? Because Francois manages to catch mice, and he’s not terribly agile. For a cat.
Anyway, we overslept again. Of course. Before I’d even opened my eyes properly, I found myself in the back of an open top jeep, bouncing along like billy-o, with Charles doing an Easy Rider impression behind the truck, on his beloved scooter – ‘Jake’. Neowww! He clearly loved this and was stopping himself grinning continuously.
Once in the main bit again, we wandered along the beach and found a beachside bungalow. We wanted to stay centrally this time, so that Charlie could do his freediving course easily and not have to taxi/bike there. There we sat, minced around, read mag’s and books – and luxuriated in the immense heat. A Thai photo shoot was happening next to us on the beach. People were slowly warming themselves to boiling point, and the sea was 30C. What can I say? All I can say, is that finally, real, proper, hardcore relaxation took us over.We watched people behind the cocoon of contentment, were amused by the mating techniques of the beach beauties and flolloped on the wooden decks of bars, with the puppies. We drank gin and tonics- and danced in relaxation’s rosy haze.
Whilst I could write more on Thailand, with further stories, everything became blurrier the further we reclined into the bliss of freedom and home’s worries became distant. Home, more vague. It wasn’t unstressful continuously, obviously, but it was nice for what nice is. The word you shouldn’t use in essays/reviews etc. but sometimes fits. No superlatives here, just mmmm, nice. And time has moved on, we’ve been back for a while. I have *new* ideas for this blog. But rest assured, if I even go travelling/abroad again I will be netbooking, so I will. And I hope you’ll read it, because I think I like travel writing – in my own way.
If you want to see a little piece on our Sri Lanka holiday last year, you can find it here, on my old blog. Here’s a bit of it:
The colonial styled, wrought iron and rusting, ‘off white’ chairs sit proudly on the lawn of the Icebear. The enormous German Shepherd patrols the area and fights his instinct to demolish one of the arrogant ducks mincing about the lawn. He’s so incredibly furry that dog, I wonder if the Swiss owner was craving some mountainous chilly thoughts when he purchased the hound and neglected to think of the Sri Lankan imposing heat. Perhaps when he ambles upstairs to his large wooden room, he flicks a switch and there begins an intense air conditioning system, and a fake fire. By the orange glow, he sits and contemplates his land, moose haired hat donning his head, his nose slowly turning pink.
There is an enormous dog living in the wooden shack/bungalow bit next door. Then a smaller one that tries to bite objects that are too large for its mouth – ‘ang, ang, ang’ , he goes. The big dog has a metal chain around his neck, and a swollen face because he is sick. Not sure why he is, but we’ve been told, he is sick and his wriggles under a blanket.
When we decided to have our breakfast in el wooden shack, Mr Big Dog decided to pop along too, and joined us on the wooden deck. Bless his heart. He was quite scary initially – as he thudded onto the deck – but entirely loveable. While the cat’s away… (not really Francois!). There followed fruit in abundance, and homemade yoghurt. We lay back on the triangle pillows – already knowing that the day would comprise of bike ‘discoveries’, as opposed to anything slightly bordering on safe.
However, I sat on the beach and attempted to read, before Charlie tumbled along like a small puppy, with his key in hand and a map thrashing about in the wind.
“So, where do you think we should go?”
“This place! View Point. Look, there’s nothing there, just a little beach.”
About five minutes after we mounted the bike and drove off, monsoon rain started and we had take refuge in the bosom of cake and coffee. Controversially a Costa type place on a side road, with a topless, action man from Brazil I imagined, listening to music loudly on his netbook outside. It was a thoroughly not Thai experience, but the apple crumble cake was delicious of course. We watched the rain and heard soft Yoga music from the yoga studio across the other side of the side road, mixing with Brazil’s music. You could just see the sea through the trees… All very relaxing – in the way it was like home, but just NOT either.
Rain stopped. There followed the hottest, sketchiest scooter riding ever. Scaling massive mountains, falling down enormous hills, bumpy, bumbly, jumping road surfaces. Wahooooo! Also ARGHHH! It was intense. It was endless. I was off the bike as much as on it. Running beside, snakes hissing, cicadas humming the soundtrack. I couldn’t hear Charlie speak through the insect/bike noise. BRAGHHHH!
We were going for km’s before we eventually found some water- not View Point, but some other point. Immediately after reaching the vision of beauty, we slid/slipped/anti-delicately fell from the bike, and jumped into the nectar water, feeling the coolness on our tinged skin. Charlie incidentally was not remotely exhausted, as he had been playing off road boy the entire time. He was dismayed I dismounted as much as I did, when some Italians (they were!), whizzed past us up one of the mountains. Peh! This meant though, that I stayed on the bike most of the time on the way back. Neooooowww!
Once we returned, and showered, I Iooked in the mirror to see tens of tens of little freckles returning to my nose, and my cheeks alive with the sun on each one. Ahh alive, alive.
So that watch that I purchased for 127B was totally useless and whilst we were supposed to get up super early to get the taxi, ferry – new exploration of new island Koh Phangan, we didn’t. The time on the old tick tock was an hour and a half later than that in actual reality. The only thing to do in such situations – early morning, scuppered plans – is to eat breakfast. Charlie and I are evil to each other without it and there was no point in really discussing anything/talking until we had something in us. Plus, there was that amazing breakfast place down in the main bit.
Taxi to main bit.
Coffee, juice, fruit salad; papaya, pineapple, mango, banana, yoghurt, museli, hunks of toast, butter and jam. We didn’t decide anything. Then a Canadian boy (I know he was Canadian!) whizzed past us on a scootery type scooter, singlet, sunnies and trucker hat back to front. Then another, another, another, another… They all parked round by the side of the breakfast joint and then sat down and ordered enormous sandwiches and lassis. Charlie looked at me with yearning/joy/elation/i will do this regardless in his eyes. “We could get a bike Hels? Yes? A bike? BIKE!”
Thoughts of injury, roads that avoid being roads at all costs, dogs in roads, whizzing, fun, wind in hair and injury came to mind. “Where is my adventure Hels…? C’mon!” He knows this annoys me, he is blackmailing me with my own desire/need to want to try things and avoidance of his mocking me and telling me I’m “scared”.
Then as if by magic, Charlie’s adventure fairy popped out of the coffee cup I was stirring. Well, he was seated next door. I’d already clocked him and thought he was a diver. 30 ish – probably quite large lungs. “Where you headed guys? Have you got a bike yet”
Me: “He quite wants to do the freediving course… errr, we aren’t really sure where/what we are doing yet.”
“First thing you really should do is get a bike. I was like a little boy on mine. There she is, that blue one over there. I did the freediving course too. It’s incredible, best thing. The meditation part of it is fascinating.”
WHAT a coincidence! Well, indeed. What’s more, the lovely man is cycling around the world. From Australia to – the whole, entire world. This is basically Charlie’s life objective and his eyes were gleaming with the reality of it.
We got a bike.
Looking at the map of Koh Tao, we saw that the top bit is the most remote. So we popped on the old scooter and zoomed off to St Remote. We found a gorgeous bungalow there with a super view of the sea. Well, it was basically in the sea it was so close. After scampering about the rocks and sand, reading and sitting in the sun, the lure of the bike was too much and we went for a ride.
MASSIVE fun. Sadly there are no helmets on Koh Tao, as they aren’t enforced, adding to the risk of injury factor, but this did not stop any of the scooterama, and I was treated to many sketchy situations. Often I had to jump off Cedric Scoots, as it moved – to run beside C as he did some like, super fun off roading. I had a rainbow paddle pop (I was addicted to the banana paddle pops in Australia), as we flew through the busy main beach bit and explored the wilds of Koh Tao. Loads of girls on the bikes looked ridiculously cool; sunnies, vests, bikes – YES. Incidentally, I did drive a bit, but not as much as I wish I had… it was my first time on a bike – but that’s no excuse. Must prise the beast off Charlie and fight ANY fear!
Sunset, bike, wind in hair, island – heaven.
Once we got back, in the middle of a downpour, me running beside on a dirt track – we had some Hong Thong whiskey on the balcony. Then some delicious rice in a wooden shack and more Hong Thong, before bed- riding the waves in our sleep.
Today was a really beautiful day.
Early morning, dark blue, grey and orange skies. Warm rain saturated the wooden balcony, the wind transforming our washing line into a fluttering sail. I stood at the helm of the ship and considered all that regularly consumes my thoughts, pointlessly. I looked out to sea and felt the tug of the blue water’s infinite capacity to provide clarity. The pithy, ridiculous fillers of my mind slowly dispelling. The rage that sometimes finds me, surprises me like a ball of fire inside the part of me I don’t recognise, liberated by my lack of ‘everything’ I believe myself to need.
What do you really need to be a writer anyway? Apart from the main thing I hold dear to me; my imagination. It allows for the posts that I really like. When I feel vulnerable writing them, but similarly, nonchalant. It’s when I hit somewhere I don’t want to be, that my mind is filled with creation. It’s the numbing of being somewhere repetitive and alone that manifests itself in the mundane loveliness, that feels nothing. I long for the ability to write what I want; a book- but I am terrified of the ultimate, and balk at the indulgence. I also feel choked by all those doing more and better. Everyone of course. Until then, I stare out to sea where the possibilities are endless and my ambition is given the nod from the skies.
In my diary for day four I have found myself shocked by Charlie calling us ‘flash packers’ again, as was mentioned in my previous post. Mortifying, and yet true in many ways. We want the experience of the backpack, in a blast; to feel the joy of your ‘home being where the backpack is’, as opposed to an ever growing household contents. It’s the need to travel, have babies and a career that once again strikes its mighty whip. At the moment I am fulfilling none of these triangular achievements. A quick stop shop to Thailand is literally like popping to SPAR for your weekly shop, when there are acres of fresh fruit, wines and homemade breads just a hop skip beyond it.
But I’m lucky of course. And it’s beautiful. So, so beautiful. The colour surrounds us, vivid and intense, the sound of the cicadas chirp in unison and the birds holler from the depths of their throats. It’s what you dream of when you’re cycling up a hill in the rain, or slipping your arm out from under the duvet at 6am in November. But mostly, being on holiday is time. The luxury of devoting the seconds to whatever and whoever you wish, and whatever and whoever takes you at that second/hour/day at the whisper of a hint.
Today we walked in the rain. We drank coffee by the beach and ate cake. Then we walked along the beach for miles. Sat in the sun. Snorkelled. Swam. Read. Then ate coconut soup with white rice and drank tea. And talked or were utterly silent throughout. And that was absolutely perfect.