Autumn was bursting with gold and browns. The amber tree leaves, glowing, lit by pure sunlight is a snapshot in my mind.
I was wearing too many layers and had to peel off my waterproof jacket and under jacket. There was no sign of rain, the sun was out and shining so warmly you could almost believe it wasn’t autumn at all.
The English countryside is a gentle thing – rolling hills, rising and falling dotted with stone walls, clusters of trees, farms houses tucked away in corners, winding roads, old churches, all of it spread out like a quilted blanket pinned to a tumbling earth … I adore it.
This walk reminds me of Sutcliff’s writings – the way she summons a Britain that is both familiar and unfamiliar, an echo of a long ago time and also a glimpse of a hidden one you can still discover.
I spent some time requesting my best friend listen to the audiobook of The Lantern Bearers. ‘It’s just like this!’ I told her … in rather more words than that.
In November, you see, I finished The Lantern Bearers again and it was just as good – I ended it with a lump in my throat and a burning in my eyes. It’s my book; I’ve read it as a girl and I’ll continue reading it until I’m an old woman and sometimes – when I wander out into the countryside, on my own or with friends, I’ll catch sight of the Britain she describes.
So I went to London and I saw (1) dead squirrel and (3) mice.
But I didn’t just see the glorious, native wildlife. It was time to see The Phantom of the Opera again, and then – The Lion King. It is difficult to describe with mere words just how much I adored watching the Phantom. When the organ first thunders its notes, if I was a dramatic soul, I would surely have fainted away.
I am a very, very serious being, so I silently battered my niece’s arm to express my joy instead.
The Lion King was very creative but I think it was unfortunate that I’d so recently seen the Phantom. It suffered in comparison.
And then, of course, it was time to hang out with my dear friends in the British Museum. Someone had to check my bag; to make certain I wasn’t smuggling priceless artefacts into the Museum, obviously. They didn’t find any artefacts, but they did find my change of clothes. One day, I swear, those will be artefacts too. My gosh, I’m ahead of my time.
My main squeeze, Marcus Aurelius, was looking fine but couldn’t spend lots of time with me due to scheduling conflicts. Meditation, and all that.
I went to see my dude, Ramses, and but many, many people rudely interrupted us by staring at him. Guys, he’s shy. Have some respect. (He tried to do his whole stony gaze thing. It didn’t help.)
I hung out with some mummies too and we had a nice little chat about life, death, and how their internal organs were out, and mine were in.
The Elgin Marbles weren’t able to be seen, so perhaps we’ve finally given them back to Greece.
Afterwards, of course we had to visit St James’ Park and Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. You know, my extensive research in Regency novels had led me to believe that there would be eligible dukes and earls everywhere – left, right, and centre. I had concluded that you could barely take a single step without tripping over them.
Well guess what?
There were none.
Disgusted. I was disgusted.
Believe it or not, there was also time to browse two or three bookstores. I bought The Witness for the Dead, which is the sequel to my favourite book – The Goblin Emperor. I have finished it now and it was good, but, like The Lion King – it suffered by the comparison with its predecessor.
In Convent Gardens, it rained and rained and rained. I crammed myself into a little shop and queued to buy an umbrella. It was, I suppose, a very British visit to London.
I’m in a busy coffee shop because the computers in the library are down and I can’t write the perfectly thrilling sci-fi novella series that is currently filling my brain.
(An integral part of my work day – nipping into the library and writing during my lunchtime – has been horribly disturbed. No one asked my permission. I am bitter.)
But, in a smooth segue, another part of my work day has recently ended – listening to Astronaut Scott Kelly talk in a dry monotone about space for 11 or more hours as I drove to and from work.
At first, I was dubious. Wasn’t sure I could last. Wasn’t sure I even liked the audiobook. Reader, I was very, very wrong. Not only did I enjoy it, I may have loved it? I like the dry monotone now? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME?
Also I know so much about being an astronaut now. I feel fully prepared to strap myself to a rocket and shoot to the ISS.
(NASA? CALL ME. I’M READY)
Endurance flip-flops between Kelly’s one year stay on the ISS and the life journey it took to get there. And you know what? It is, to borrow a phrase from Spock, fascinating.
It was a difficult road and it is told in meticulous detail. The grit and determination it took can’t be understated. The perseverance required was inspiring.
It also sounds exhausting – the one track, driving push to reach your goal. But Kelly did it. He managed it. And he wrote a book and read it to me, personally, in the car. For two weeks.
I’d better vamos, the lunch hour is almost up. There is a couple on a lunch date sitting at the table next to me. My coffee waffle is eaten. Ice cream for lunch? Yep. That happened.
Also I tried to take a picture of my lunch and the flash was on and I can never come here again. The end. Have a good day.
Wait. Forget that. There is a man cradling what can only be a chihuahua in a jumper on his lap. I must come here again. Always. Forever and ever.
My life has settled into a routine and let me say: I accept.
However, just because it’s routine doesn’t mean there isn’t time for going on adventures. (Unless, of course, we have another lockdown due to the Plague.)
REREAD DOPE BOOKS
I reread the Silver Branch and I adored it. Some things don’t hold up from your childhood and should never be revisited lest they be found to have feet of clay. (Just go with me on this analogy.) However, other things? Absolutely should be revisited on a regular basis.
The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff is 100% one of these. I loved it.
SUPPORT THE ARTS
I went to see The Play That Goes Wrong and giggled/cackled/chortled/guffawed the whole way through.
(I should probably assure you that this was a comedy.)
After the highs of this dizzying experience, I went back to watch Merlin: A Ballet.
My dear pals, comrades, and chums – I forgot that it wasn’t a comedy and when the two dancers (they were gods, apparently, and the parents of Merlin) glided on stage with a slight squeaking of dance shoes – I was *this* close to giggling.
And then I remembered. And attempted to embrace the drama and the art that was being performed in front of me.
There were some really quite wonderful dances – when Morgan Le Feye enchants Uther, and a Lady Of The Lake sequence – however, I was mildly confused, mistook Arthur for Uther and Uther’s dad for Uther and it was only made clear when I googled it.
I’m not certain ballet is for me and I might not quite be able to follow the story (there was the Tide Kingdom and the Solar Kingdom and the baby could be Arthur. Possibly.) but I’m glad I gave it a go. David Suchet: Poirot And More was my cup of tea. In fact, it was exactly my cup of tea and it was a high I may never, ever come down from.
I’ve been watching him portray Poirot practically my entire life and let me tell you, seeing him in person, talking about how he played Poirot and his career and ‘oh, let’s just do some epic speeches and make you feel things from Shakespeare’ MOVED me.
100% would recommend.
GO TO MUSEUMS AND/OR THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE CENTRE
I kept on telling everyone ‘oh yes, I’m going to the International Space Centre’.
DISCLAIMER: I was not going to the International Space Centre.
I was going to the National Space Centre. In England. We don’t have a huge space thingy (a technical term that I definitely learnt there) here, however, we’ve had some astronauts.
(Wait. It’s ‘space program’. I meant ‘we don’t have a huge space program.’ There we go. We got there in the end.)
It was fun. Jim Kirk wasn’t there which was a terribly tragic disappointment that I’ve yet to recover from.
There was a milkshake in the flavour of ‘blue goo’. This was an accurate description of its taste. It also turned my tongue blue. This is the future of humanity.
HAUNT A GRAVEYARD
It makes you think of your mortality. We have only so much time on this earth; they remind you of those who are gone and to treasure those who are here.
Graveyards are quiet, sombre places – and yet, they are tranquil. You can look at the names engraved on headstones and wonder who these people were, what kind of lives they lived, what their stories were.
STAR GAZE (AT NIGHT)
Notice I clarified it with ‘at night’. You’re welcome. I’m very detail orientated. Look – take a flask of tea with you. Go where there’s minimal light pollution – or just go and lie down on a lawn, any lawn. Preferably, yours. Stare at the stars. Think about life. All those other folks who have watched the same stars. That sort of thing. Also – maybe take a blanket too.
You don’t have to think deep thoughts – you can just look up and be lost in the wonder of it all. And when it gets cold, go back inside, wrap up in a blanket, and enjoy a hot drink. You’ve earned it.
I know, I know, I’m sure everyone has been burning with an intense desire to know exactly what profound thoughts have been rattling around my head and also – of course – which work sector I ended up gracing with my superb skills.
I have a job. And it will come as a complete shocker that it is not one of the three professions I listed in a previous blog post. Gee. Life is surprising. But working on an offshore oil rig – apparently – was a touch too far. As was being an astronaut (though I am working on that, I’ll have you know) and a saturation diver. Life is also cruel like that.
My brother and I were exchanging genial insults the other day – and then he said to me:
I hope space DISAPPEARS so that you can NEVER be an astronaut.
I’ve never been more proud of him. It’s a level of pettiness I can only aspire to achieve. (I shan’t transcribe the conversation that led up to the above quote, but please do me a favour and imagine that I was marvellously witty.)
However, I digress. I’m writing this because it feels as though I have embarked upon what – in certain circles – is known as:
A NEW SEASON OF LIFE
*throws confetti, accidentally pollutes the environment and chokes one (1) rodent, a rainbow appears in the sky and hits the last migrating goose*
No, I’m not getting married. I, I’ll have you know, am clearly going to be a spinster until I’m a withered husk of bones and wrinkles. You’re welcome, world.
Neither am I – as the scriptures say – ‘with child’. See the above reason. I’m not ready for motherhood. My guppies – George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Neil, Paisley and the deceased Nebuchadnezzar, John, and Paul -would agree.
It’s amazing what making a life change does to you. Being able to quit a job that was growing steadily more pressured, and finding a new one that is far less pressured? It has been such a blessing.
And then, there is of course the life crisis I underwent whilst sitting in the hairdresser’s having my hair dyed partially grey. (The life crisis had nothing to do with the colour, I’ll have you know.) I sat there and was still and so withdrawn into myself it was strange that life was still happening around me; hair was being cut, nails done, and conversations were being had.
I sat and stared at myself in the mirror and thought so hard it was surprising I didn’t ruin my three brain cells. I walked into the hairdresser’s a youngish woman with grey hair tips, brown roots, and a vague life plan.
I left with brown roots shot through with grey and an Idea that was boggling me with the simplicity of it. (Don’t ever limit yourself, by the way. There is more to you than you know/remember.) It wasn’t a book/blog related thing – which, perhaps, is one of the reasons I was so stunned.
So, that’s that. Exciting times. Uncertain too, but isn’t it always the case? (For the love of Pete, if you want to maintain your sanity don’t spend too long on the news or social media.)
We hopped in the car the other night – drove into the countryside to crane our heads back and look at the stars. The moon shone so brightly that it almost obscured all other night-sky lights. It shone on the water; made it magical and yet so much more. This was real; an everyday extraordinary sight that added flavour to life.
I didn’t bring a flask of tea with me – an oversight; make sure you have a clean flask with you if you venture out on an autumnal evening.
Anyway, the point – the whole point – of this post is to say: life goes on. What is now isn’t forever. Have a look round – you can do more than you think.
And if you don’t necessarily succeed? Hey, who cares! Sometimes it’s the trying that matters. It’s the journey that enriches. The refusal to stagnate. The decision to keep your eyes open to possibilities and the desire to look for the wonder of it all.