Woods at the beginning of winter. Cold air. The residue of sunset visible between trees. Lights on in the power station, early night in the medieval quarries. Time in arcs like that, invisible layers of time along the side of the hill, time lacing the branches together, in among the leafmould like a hard frost. Three grey lurchers! Running down the muddy hill! Holly. Your own breath. The sense that you still function. The sense of an ending and of someone keeping pace with you not far off.
Category Archives: landscape
Seventeen jackdaws were conducting a meeting in their invisible boardroom between the pub chimneys. I felt a bit thin on the ground that day so I took the green slot up through the woods. My hearing was back in my left ear. Welcome home baby, I said, but I wondered if my affair was over with the binaural world & we were only going through the motions. The pylons made a sound like a bottling plant in the distance. There were church bells. Half-tuned motors snarled up from the garage in the valley like dogs behind a security fence. Sounds of an English village. Later, rain slopped off the front gutters of the closing shops in the twilight. Dark before seven, TVs on before eight; front rooms full of flickering light. The ads don’t even seem to be selling anything anymore, just updating, reprocessing their brand in the light of current consumer perceptions, fine tuning the engines of consumption. It’s less important that you buy our stuff than you buy any stuff. Soon be winter in a strange house.
Nettles grow high up in the bank of the lane, leaning over to head height where the pavement is narrowest. They smell dry even when they’re wet. Shocking orange berries on a shrubby rowan tangled in the hedge. The retirement builds set back from the lane always smell of cleaning and washing. Further along, the woods lean over too. From this point, you can sense the river down there in the gorge. The bridge too, although you can’t quite see it. I turn off abruptly, contour the slope into more open land, trudge up to the Hall, and bring back three kinds of willow leaves to identify. My body, perhaps retaining muscle memories of eight years in the Holme Valley a generation ago, is adjusting quickly to this kind of morning walk, shedding its London weight, leaning enthusiastically into the sharp little hills and grim old weather.
Music drifts past, slows down for the junction, moves off along the street. Otherwise it’s quiet. C has gone to London to work. I’m in the vast invisible Russian Doll of geography. The space inside the house. The space inside the street around the house. The space inside the town around the street. The space inside the land around the town. Inside this vast structure I have relief from density. I can feel all the distinct spaces around me: the space in the loft, the space in the cellar; the space on the first floor landing, which is different not just in shape but in silence and resonance, to the space on the third floor landing. There’s such a difference in the way the air occupies these volumes! I sit on the stairs and read. I’ve got so much silence. I can’t articulate–I can’t get over to you–how much of a relief that is after 27 years in the city.
Late May. Flat earth paths under vast cloudscapes, architectures of rain and sunshine. Blackened spires. GBR Railfrieght low-loaders in rows. Blossom in cream waves; rollers of blossom bursting against fences, rail lines, suburbs; sprays and shellbursts of blossom across fields and hillsides. Someone always gets on the train with a toddler that has learned to make a piercing noise. By Grantham the weather has picked up. The cathedral spire glows in the sun. I catch a fleeting glimpse of Retford. I went to college there for a bit. It was one of the many weird temporary conditions of my life at that time. Short disastrous engagements. Bleak, shallow brushes with life on the part of someone so unformed he couldn’t manage more than an oblique relationship with anything or anyone. I’m surprised I can always talk about them so blandly. I wouldn’t go back to those days if I was paid. They were a nightmare like a Robert Aickman story, but with a lot less happening and a lot less learned. I was barely present. Not to be present at 67 years old is somewhere between a nuisance and a disgrace. Not to be present at 20 years old was to be in danger: so few allowances were made for people who didn’t connect, who didn’t get it. Later, the train waits by an industrial estate outside Bradford, a grim-looking shed with a word I can’t read written high up at one end. Then straight into a tunnel. Half a viaduct, ending suddenly in the middle of the valley it used to cross; not broken, but carefully sealed off with a hundred-foot brick facing. Gritstone houses dot the hillsides, each separated by an exact distance from its neighbours, like people taking up seats in an empty railway carriage to ensure maximum personal space and isolation. Sign: KEEP OFF THE TRACK. Sign: ASTONISH. Sign: REVERSING TRAINS STOP HERE.
I bought a set of cheap cast iron dumbells. They arrived in the kind of plastic case you associate with home drilling equipment, which smelled strongly of whatever compound the manufacturer had used to keep the iron from rusting. It was an intrusive smell–not quite mineral, not quite organic–so, since I intended to store the weights in the case, I put it out on the balcony & left it to the cleansing rain of Suburb Barnes. It’s been out there ever since. Internally it has the shape of a set of dumbells with the weights affixed in increasing rather than decreasing size, & it opens flat. Within hours these graded rectangles were full of water. A few days later the squirrel turned up &, after an angry look around to make sure nobody wanted to make anything of it, took a drink. She’s been visiting the new pond daily ever since. If I keep still I can watch her suck it up, an act she performs with as much aggressive, whole-body physicality as she does everything else. Chemical residues don’t seem to have turned her into any more of a monster than she already was. I’ve had a lot of use out of the weights and now the squirrel has too. I was wondering: if I introduced a few small fish, would I perhaps attract a heron.