From Nowhere in Particular
"One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”
I am writing this from my study during a rain-drenched and altogether soggy afternoon at the beginning of January. I ought to be outside, looking for the first snowdrops of spring, but instead I am indoors. I have a cup of tea at my side, and the window is open – just enough for me to hear the rainfall. Amongst the patter and hiss of raindrops I can hear the songs of blackbirds and chaffinches that shelter in the trees next to my house. Soon the rain will end, and the scene will change. It is but a temporary image. In fact, all this is about to change.
In two months’ time, Mrs H, Little Lady and I will be moving to a cottage in the heart of the Cotswolds. It’s been a dream of ours for many years, and soon it will come true. A proper country life for us: living amongst fields, woodlands and streams, miles from the nearest main road and immersed in a timeless scene of rural perfection. But for now, I am in my usual study. I am staring out to a line of horse chestnut trees, whose bare branches house my friends the birds. They provide little shelter from the rain or screening from the urban abyss that surrounds my home.
The weir – over which cascades the River Windrush two hundred yards from my front door – normally provides a constant roar of nature’s energy. But today it is silent. The river is swollen and has flooded the valley. It glides smoothly over a sill that provides no drop or resistance. All that is there is a bulging, swirling, muddy pool of water and debris. It makes me want to retreat and grab some sandbags. But my house will not flood, at least from river water. (Sewers are a different matter.) We’re too high up for natural flooding, and too ‘looking down’ on what we don’t much fancy. Which makes me stop and reflect. For I am a countryman, who experiences the good and the bad, who ‘makes do’ where needed, and who always strives to remain humble. So why, then, does this place no longer draw me to it. Why doesn’t it feel like home?
It's this listening, rather than seeing, that makes me feel different.
I have one of those ‘Gramopod’ devices in my study. Hardly the real thing, or as pleasurable, beautiful, dark, textured, evocative or infinitely superior-sounding as vinyl. But it’s there, filling my room with the sounds of one of the world’s best blues-rock guitarists. Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Live from Nowhere in Particular’ is playing. The song ‘Bridge to Better Days’ has just ended and has left me, as it always done, with a sense of amazement that someone so young can be so talented (he opened for BB King on tour when he was just 11 years old). But given my current mood, I’m mindful of the title of the album, with its message that genius doesn’t need a specific location for it to exist. It can flourish anywhere, because it comes from within. So why then have I just published a Journal all about the importance of place, and how it enables a certain quality of life?
Fennel’s Journal, A Gardener’s Year, was published in December. In it I talk of my love of gardening and tell a selection of stories from my twenty years as a gardener. But it’s not really about plants, flowers or green spaces. It’s about returning to a simple rural life, one that allows us to ‘be’ who we always dreamt of being. For me, that’s about being a writer living in a country cottage and having a natural ‘self-sufficient’ lifestyle. (Where the self-sufficiency isn’t just about growing one’s food, more about doing the sort of things that nurture and maintain one’s sense of ‘self’.) Where the ‘place’ one feels is not where we stand or sit, or walk or run, but rather where inspiration sparks in the bright light of true existence: where we can breathe deeply and say, honestly, that life is good. It’s where I, as a writer, find the most meaningful words: where I don’t have to think about what I’m writing, because the words just flow. It’s a lifeline – something that draws me close to real things and asks merely for ink and a pen for it to be captured – in all its wonderment – upon paper and shared with others in a way that makes me, as an author, immensely proud. It’s life, from nowhere in particular, just that the place is specific: it’s where our destination is found, and we gain a new way of seeing things. As Joe Bonamassa would say, "it’s my bridge – to better days."
And so, with this in mind, I begin the start of a new year. It is one that promises great things – from the house move and rural retreat that Mrs H and I have sought for so long, to a return to having more time to do the things that matter most.
It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in ‘busy-ness’ and in laying foundations for the future.
The last few years have been ‘blissfully productive’ –writing the Journal, building a website, and deciding where to take The Priory. All of this has come to fruition, but it’s been traded for other things – like time spent idling, or fishing, or getting out with my camera. That said, when I look back on 2013, it’s the short but intense trips that stand out for me. Things like the filming I did with the BBC and Wilderness TV, the Priory River Wye Weekend, the interview with Infinite Pie, and writing a countryside diary for William Powell Country; they all helped to make me feel alive, which made all the graft elsewhere seem so rewarding. But to have more time doing these things. Well, that will be brilliant.
My priority is to live some more, and enjoy what I’ve got. If I remember correctly, I have a motto to follow. It’s time to ‘Stop – Unplug – Escape – Enjoy’ – and keep going! Because, at the end of the day (and at this wet start to the year) we are defined by our actions and our beliefs. I have some letters to write to my friends and then, when my cup of tea is finished, I need to get outside and explore. So, if you fancy a trip somewhere, please drop me a line. I’m up for an adventure!
This article is extracted from The Lighter Side, Fennel's Journal No.10
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