Home for Breakfast
I returned home from my early morning walk today to see a soft glow coming through the kitchen window of my cottage. Mrs H-to-Be was up and had lit the oil lamp on the kitchen table while she readied the AGA for our breakfast. She’s not always up at this time (it was 6.30am) but today, inspired perhaps by the first proper dawn chorus of the year, she was about her business and keen for an early start. She saw me through the window as I crunched along the gravel path to our front door. As she did, she smiled and raised an empty tea cup into view, then wobbled it and raised her eyebrows. A not-so-secret code that always gets a positive response.
I love returning home, especially to a warm and cosy cottage such as this. It has an almost human character that makes it part of the family.
I’ve lived in town flats and modern boxes on soulless estates, but an old cottage down a country lane, even if it is small and ramshackle like mine, wins hands-down over its breezeblock cousins. It has earned its place in the landscape and contains within its bricks and timbers the memories and dreams of generations who have lived there. They whisper to us in the creaking of floorboards and rattling of windowpanes and beckon us with warmth when we open the door in cold weather. "Welcome,” they say. "Come in and put your feet up while I get breakfast on.”
The whisper was louder than usual this morning. I didn’t get chance to lift the latch of the door before Mrs H-to-Be opened it and said the magical words. She’s good like that. No wonder I plan to marry her.
"It’s an English morning today,” said my intended. "I can’t describe why, but I’ve decided it is. It’s not cold enough for porridge and is too fresh for fruit or cereal. So I’ve lit the AGA and raided the pantry. Today, we shall have a proper breakfast.”
I entered the cottage, removed my boots, then walked into the kitchen and sat at the table while Mrs H-to-Be put the kettle on the stove and prepared breakfast.
A hearty breakfast, by the look of it. Six Cumberland sausages, eight rashers of bacon (dry cured), a handful of field mushrooms, half a ring of black pudding, four fried eggs, a tin of baked beans, four rounds of toast (with local butter), and a bowl of sliced potatoes. All made their way to the AGA. As I sat and listened to the kettle boil, I considered what I’d learnt during my February walk.
The Priory to me has always been a quiet and peaceful place, a natural sanctuary, far from the fumes and din of towns and cities.
It only ever existed in my mind, but now it is real. But how real could it be? How complete and absolute could escapism be in a life determined by the rules of society – that tells us to have jobs, mortgages and status? It was the latter of the three that caused me the greatest bother.
Status. The perpetual carrot that entices us from the front and prods us in the back if we relax; society’s number one drug that sees people (including me) borrow more than they can afford to buy things they don’t need. New cars and clothes, overseas holidays, fancy food at expensive restaurants, latest televisions, mobile phones, and a multitude of labour-saving gadgets. We’re told that we need them, and that we are somehow inadequate if we don’t have them. I started thinking about how the Priory combats these pressures. As Mrs H-to-Be handed me a mug of tea, I reached for the notebook in my pocket and wrote down four words, each with a message of its own. I’ll share them with you now. In doing so I will be laying the foundations of all that will follow.
The first word that I wrote in my notebook was "Stop”. This is the first message of the Priory. Take a step back and view the world through your eyes, not someone else’s. Listen to your heart and decide what you really want.
The second word was "Unplug”. Disconnect from society’s pressure to conform. Do things your own way. People might consider you eccentric for being different, but this is good. Have courage to go your own way and fulfil the dreams that are unique and important to you.
The third word was "Escape”. Away from the bustle of towns and people, we can find quiet corners surrounded by nature. Once there, we can savour a sense of freedom in our newfound isolation. The natural history author ‘BB’ had a name for such places. He called them "The Quiet Fields”. When living this quiet existence, we can blend more naturally into our rural surroundings and become so much more aware of wildlife. I’ll add to this by saying:
"Study the nature around you, but also within you”.
Isolation encourages introversion, where we may discover more about ourselves and help strengthen our ability to champion message number one. I’m not suggesting that we should all quit our jobs and live a Thoreauvian existence in the wilderness. Quite the opposite. (Though a short stint could work wonders.) The Priory is a way of staying sane amidst the pressures of a hectic life.
BB’s description captures the essence of the Priory. But there are extra layers to be revealed, should you wish to probe deeper. The Priory is also about adventure. Not necessarily adventures to far-off lands, but to remote or wild places closer to home. When we look at what’s around us, it’s possible to enjoy an adventure in our own gardens, seeing all the tiny details that we once took for granted. Everything from the humble woodlouse to specks of dust moving through a ray of sunlight. Each tells a story.
The Priory is also about traditionalism, celebrating the customs of an earlier time. You can interpret this how you like, applying it to whatever area you choose.
I’m not suggesting we all eat bread and gruel and live in mud huts, but there’s so much sentiment and educational value to be found in our inherited traditions. To cherish and learn from them is to enrich our lives.
The fourth and final word that I wrote down was "Enjoy”. A culmination of small or large pleasures, enjoyment has an ability to help us to endure or forget our woes. Laughter can cure ailments. Happiness fulfils us. How we enjoy ourselves depends upon our interpretation of message number one and how long we choose to step out of the fast lane. For me, I know that as a gardener, writer, angler, artist and countryman, it is doing and being these things that brings me the greatest enjoyment. I am happiest sitting against a tree, with my notebook or sketchpad on my knee, capturing the moment. How I get there may involve walking across fields, through woods, along rivers, or up mountains. Of all these routes, the watery one is most special. It creates so much beauty, life and mystery.
My original image of the Priory had a pool of pure water at its centre. Now that the Priory is real, that pool has overflowed into streams and rivers and collects in ponds and lakes. I feel drawn to them, not just by the fish and wildlife they contain, but also by knowing that they are life-giving places. Organic life cannot be far from water. The Priory, therefore, is about life. Quality of life, on our terms.
There. The Priory is defined. Just in time for breakfast.
"Stop – Unplug – Escape – Enjoy."
There's a better world, a better life, out there, waiting to be discovered.
This is a sample chapter from A Meaningful Life, Fennel's Journal No. 1
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