The funny thing is that I still think of myself as a writer. Because I think of writing nearly every day. Because I think of this blog –of the handful of people who read it and the things I want to put into words and the chemistry that occasionally arises between them– and my heart beats a little faster in gratitude. Because I remember the day that I called it ‘a very nice wall indeed’ and I smile proudly. My little corner of the world.
And so I went to Derbyshire and on the way there I saw the sun setting over fields, between trees and factories, through the mist Ã¢â‚¬â€ and it looked so perfectly round and orange-and-pink, a sight ever so unusual and wintery, that for a moment I just had to hold my breath and be thankful for the six-hour train journey from Exmouth to Derby, without which I wouldn’t have found myself there in that moment in time.
And then I spent two weeks walking through Shipley Country Park, one-and-a-half mile either way, twice a day, always early in the morning and often late in the afternoon, and it was mostly a chore, except for the morning when there was frost on the ground and (what looked like) frozen airplane trails in the sky, or the night when we saw the night sky reflected on the waters of the reservoir and for a moment it looked like it was raining stars. And there was also a long conversation under a tree, and Ilkeston market on a windy Saturday, roast parsnips and sweet potatoes, and a ten-year-old that held my heart like no child has done before Ã¢â‚¬â€ a child that felt ferociously, inexplicably mine, and who said “I want you to stay forever and ever” on my last day. Which still breaks my heart when I think about it.
And yet, I left; of course; gladly even. The words ‘Tiverton Parkway’ on the departures board in Derby station on yet another Saturday morning made my heart rejoice, just because Tiverton happens to be on the right side of the Somerset-Devon border, and Devon feels, strangely, inexplicably like home in a way nothing has before. Back in Devon the rain fell softly as I walked through the big park and the big trees in the opposite direction this time, and I got to sit in the middle of somebody’s kitchen while they were cooking and chatting to me which, really, is not far from my idea of heaven.
And then I went for a walk on the beach and I picked up three shells and I came home to put one on my bedside table, one on a bookshelf, and one in my coat pocket, where they proceeded to spend the following month looking and feeling utterly at home. And the sun shone on some days while heavy clouds weighted down on others, and there was even a day when the wind blew and the sea shone in a metallic blue, and the sky was so grey it made the yellow leaves on the pavement look positively bright. And despite the horribleness of the weather and the sleeplessness of the nights before I bounced down the street in the wind and the rain, almost singing that “we’re everything brighter than even the sun/ we’re everything righter than books could plan”, because there was something that glistened and shone inside me too, something like happiness.
And there came rainy days too, and sad days, empty days, and days full of tears; days of feeling lost in the world and wondering what went wrong and whether I will ever get my happiness back; days when I didn’t even notice the weather. But then the term ended and with this a fine mist descended over Exmouth, turning it into a poem about winter. And on Friday night, two days ago, I stood on the edge of Exeter’s Cathedral Green, and said “I’m glad, too,” to somebody at the other end of an invisible phoneline, and then I looked up, at the Cathedral shining in the light and in the mist, and two things happened: Exeter seemed like the most exciting place in the world, and winter started.