Today I took friends to the village where I grew up and, despite not living there for 8 years, consider home. I wanted to show it off to them because I love it so much. My parents had surpassed themselves: we had a fire burning, warm bread out of the oven, and soup bubbling on the stove. After a delicious lunch we went up Bredon Hill, wading through piles of crispy brown leaves under the dappled cover of woodland. Getting to the top of the hill was no mean feat as by now the rain was pelting down and the view I had so badly wanted to show off was shrouded in mist; but the Elephant Stone was there in all his glory, and after a rather brisker walk back down we came home to find my parents had put the kettle on. We had pots of tea by the fire and I held my damp toes up to the flames to be cooked. Curled up on the shabby old sofa in the sitting room, my toes – “fingers on your feet”, as Carol called them – toasting and my head on a cushion, I could quite easily have fallen fast asleep. I always feel this way when I’m at my parents’ house. In a way that’s all I aspire to: having a small cottage in the village I love with an open fire that I can lie down in front of, perhaps on a big furry rug. But without wrestling with Oliver Reed on it, a la Women in Love (which I haven’t read).
Bugger! I started writing this 2 weeks ago, and then forgot it and lo, here I am again remembering everything that I meant to write in this. So I hope you don’t mind me writing it now. Well, if you do mind, it’s not really like you can do much about it…
So. The point of this post was to pick up ‘points’ in your life which aren’t spectacular, or madly glamorous, but at which you feel complete and utter peace. I don’t have them often, as my life isn’t what you would call tranquil. But that afternoon, in the house I love most in the world, I felt it. The warm glow of the fire. The flickering on the glass in the photos, and the gentle tickle of the flames on the coals. The feel of the sofa – not too soft, not too hard. The people I cared about around me. Most of all a sense of utter contentment, not wanting anything more, not caring about money or weight or work or cleaning or any of the things that normally occupy my life. Just Being was enough.
Another of these Moments was when I went to Greece this year. Work had been hectic and I was panicking and stressed on my flight out. It didn’t help that I’d booked the hotel ‘right next to the airport’ – the old airport in Athens, which is the other side of the City. I got dropped off by a bus at 0300 and walked through the dark, rubble-strewn streets with my rucksack on my back and a big sign saying Tourist: I Don’t Know Where I Am above my head in neon lights. I finally found the hotel, and slept for about 3 hours before jumping out of bed to make it all the way to Piraeus port to catch my boat. I got tea spilled all over my brand new pink shorts. I was cross, wretched, tired, and with a persistent knot in my stomach.
I got to the port, slumped into a cafe and ordered an orange juice. Then my friend George rang me, and told me he was “on his way” and then arrived at the port. I cancelled the juice and hopped aboard the speedboat my friends had hired for the week, and we set off to the beach. I stood on the boat, blinking as the sun hit the waves in gold flashes and not quite believing I was there at last. The wind tugged at my hair and pushed tears from my eyes. It was warm and smelled of salt. The boat lurched carelessly against the sea, tossing up swathes of spray which hit the backs of my legs with a playful smack, and the sun soaked into my skin warming me from the very tips of my toes (fingers on feet) to my ears. I felt filled with a very simple calm, as if I were a pot filled with liquid honey. I knew that everything was going to be alright – because I was finally on the island I love with dear friends whose company is simple, and honest, and loving; with whom there are no expectations and no requirements beyond be yourself.
That is perhaps when we find peace, innit … by being ourselves. It’s taken me 32-odd years to understand there is no point being anyone else because you fool nobody! The way you speak, the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, the things you like, embrace them and bugger whether it’s not fashionable, or you don’t Fit In, or whatever. Most people are rubbish at being anyone else, but if you practice, you can be pretty good at just being you. It seems a dreadful waste of however much time we have on this planet trying to do otherwise.
ANYWAY. I’m not peaceful at all right now, because I’m watching The Strangers and I get the feeling it’s really not a film you are supposed to watch alone. But I tend to follow Magnus Magnusson: I’ve started, so I’ll finish. I will join you, gentle reader, on the other side… if I get there…