Sometimes you know what you have to do. I'm not sure what speaks to you. A series of signals become clear and fit together in such an elaborate and harmonious way that it seems almost churlish not to follow the trail of breadcrumbs.
A connection with place has always been important to me. My obsessive love of maps, my desire to walk every inch of a place before I can fully call it mine, observing the lacy patterns of footpaths connecting with each other. I immerse myself in the woods. Immerse yourself, I say. This is what soothes. Today it rains. And so the already glowingly verdant foliage is luminous. Fronds of beech and evolving oak leaves in that just born stage, acid green, feathery, bowing under the weight of the water. You bathe in it, this stuff. The sounds of the birds, the wind through the papery leaves, the patter of rain, it all washes over you, allows you to feel renewal.
You have to be patient. You have to believe that things will happen for you, in a way that is kind to you. You have to know that the Universe is there to help you, to cleanse you, to put you on the path you're supposed to be on. You have to accept that when you find yourself in Wing, or Mentmore, or Soulbury, or in a small village just below the ridge of the Beacon, surrounded by black-faced two day old lambs, that you're supposed to be there. As odd and strange and Merlin-like as it sounds, you wait for the call. Everything feels wrong and then, one day, in magnificent confluence of events, it's right and it's where you're meant to be.
When I'm nervous, I clean. I make myself busy with sweeping floors and doing laundry and hanging a load of navy blue tshirts and black underpants on our clothes line, where they are now soaked. I think of cleaning as penance, as the waiting time, for the idea to come. And then it does, and then you know what you have to do.
Today I walked into a house that I can't buy in a village I didn't know existed, other than as a child, when I remembered the pub there had a great pudding trolley. (Do you remember the bliss of the pudding trolley, piled high with trifles and jellies and Black Forest Gateau, and iced buns, and chocolate eclairs and pink meringues?) And as my mother and I walked in we were greeted with pale grey wallpaper decorated in hand-stamped bumble bees. I have the same paper on my laptop as background. I believe it's made by Timorous Beasties. And a claw-footed tub in a bathroom with painted wooden floors and palest lilac walls. And a picture window, the type you'd want to put a plush bench in, and masses of brightly colored cushions. And, best of all, a summer house, a writing hut, lined with shelves. "Just ready for someone to write a bestseller," said the charismatically challenged yet kind estate agent (realtor). "In the winter, when the trees lose their leaves," she said, "you can see through to the big house; this used to be where the butler lived." The 'big house' is a local stately home, most famously used as the setting for Roxy Music's Avalon music video, and Kubrick's much-debated "Eyes Wide Shut." It's a lovely house in a beautiful village designed by Hannah de Rothschild's architect. And I know I'm only there because I veered off course yesterday while picking up some horse supplies in Leighton Buzzard.
But on the green, there are two beautiful little cottages, with ornamental box hedges, purple wisteria, big, proper windows, elegant doors. There is a little red post box outside one of them, a green and a children's play area next door, and across the road a huge, wide, picture book view of the Vale of Aylesbury, spread out on this green and misty morning like a mythical land, all low clouds and hedgerows.
You can't go back to the place you grew up. Or you can, but you won't find it. it won't be the same as you remember. But there are other strands and fragments beginning to come together. As a child you remember roads or paths, places, special trees but you don't have a map in your head of how they all connect. I have been down this road, for example, only as far as this farm, I have no idea where it goes to past the farm. The joy of coming back home as an adult is the ability to put the pieces together, build the puzzle out of the fragments. The feeling of being in the trees, smelling the dirt, the sound of a blackbird becomes more specific, tied to something particular. The nostalgia is making room for something more tangible, more solid, more sustainable. That's the fun.