LOVE IS.

I love the cold. I love the night sky. I love the stars. I love the way that the longer I look in to the dark, the more I see – just as life is and always will be revealed to us.

I love the owls calling in the still silence. I love the lazy half-moon reclining, throwing it’s weak reflection on The Tower. I love the thick ice touching its beauty and leaving the land sparking with hidden diamonds.

I love coming back in to the warmth of a fine Maderia, sipped from a perfect, if tiny, cut crystal glass.

I love life and I love where I live.

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THAT NEW YORK MOMENT (AND A SAUSAGE ROLL)

It was one April, striding through Manhattan’s buzzing SoHo streets when I noticed it for the first time: the perfect ice-clear separation from people and the vibrant activity of life as I had known it but hours before.

I was with the editor of a luxury life-style magazine, a PR magnate and a super model. We were being led on an adventure in to the unknown by an ex-Vietnam veteran called Batman, on and in to the streets of New York to discover ourselves and what being homeless really felt like. To bear witness to the experience.

We were to live as hobos, sleeping rough for a week. We had nothing but the clothes on our backs and our wandering, fearful, minds to sustain us as we set out in to the complete unknown amongst unfamiliar damp streets.

The glass wall between us and the rest of life came down suddenly and imperceptibly.  Reality had shifted with the merest of silent flickers.

Now on the outside looking in.  Like CGI characters overlaid on a film, unseen to the human actors who were clinking glasses in bars and chattering; busy and alive with their own evenings.

We walked, unnoticed, with our heads often down looking for treasures of half-smoked fags and silvery change dropped on the sidewalks, in a cloak of invisibility, quite alone and distant from the cinematic projection of the world going on around us.

So it is with my depression.

One moment I am with the throng of life, feeling alive, wonderful and blessed. Then a stumble…

To others, this may look as though this is caused by a trip on one of life’s many obstacles: an unpaid bill, an argument, perhaps the loss of a job or worse.

The imperfect truth is that I cannot say what triggers my own fall from reality.  It is a whispered thought within me, whose words I do not catch fully. In an instant I feel as I did back then in New York: separate and unseen.

These times, however, I am alone.

There is no laughter, no thin bravado of companions and shared treasures of dimes and butt-ends within this place.

It is a total separation from the rest of life. I get up, sometimes can get dressed, and occasionally eat. I see life go on all around me but it does not touch me. I cannot touch it. I am caged without bars but drawn to drink, to find solace in something tangible that will match my contradicting feelings of wanting to numb myself and yet feel alive.

Perhaps this is why depressed people can turn to alcohol, drugs, eating and self-harm disorders: to find some way of both numbing and feeling at the same time. Anything that helps escape the open prison of thoughts and feelings.

I count myself lucky that the worse I do in such periods is to make a large gin at possibly an inappropriate time and  a tendency towards my favourite pyjamas. I also put clean sheets on my bed and exile myself within them.  So I rest, resist the gin (at least until after the sun is past the yard arm), take a bath and wait for life to flicker back again.

More recently, I’ve started recognising these dark episodes as a part of me and embracing them with real love, as a parent would embrace a child who had run away from home and returns fearful and shaken.

Accepting myself more wholly, with kindness equally for my twin brothers of light and dark that drive me, has brought me greater peace and happiness. This easier friendship of my different feelings also means less tangled arguments inside my head over which gets to play with the Action Man tank of life next.

Now these periods of self-imprisonment are far less and at most last a couple of days. I have learned that taking simple care of myself and letting my feelings (or often lack of feelings) flow their course, helps.

But the stumble in to this last period of depression seemed to deepen, no matter my kindness to myself through it.  This fall from grace felt far more serious.

After a full five days, I found myself still falling, freely and with arms outstretched. My stumble has been far worse this time. I had not slipped off that proverbial sidewalk to the gutter, but off a cliff and into a bottomless chasm.

Despite, or rather because of, my fear of heights I have of course taken a free-fall parachute jump. Doing this, I learned that the jolt in the stomach, the feeling of falling that binds us to that fear, lasts but seconds. After that one feels free and as though one is flying, not hurtling downwards.

So too this period: the falling feeling stopped and I felt static, silently free within; I felt neither happy nor sad; everything seemed utterly perfect and yet nothing was real. A dangerous place if one has no rip-cord to pull.

There was only the dull thud of me hitting a bottom lower than I had been before.  Only a few things remained tangible from my life left so far above.

In particular was my obsession with not letting food go to waste: so some rather special Chorizo sausages (semi-cured from pedigree Welsh pigs) that needed to be cooked were made into a pasta sauce that I didn’t have the appetite to eat.

I also had an overwhelming desire to conquer my mountain of laundry, having used the last set of clean sheets a few days before.

It was then my brother rang, urging me to stay with him, after he read my cry for help in an email I forgotten I had written. He even promised to pay for the fuel to get there. It was not the petrol which made me go, though it helped. Rather, I had to do something, anything, to change what was happening to me and where I was.

Or perhaps it was my pile of laundry and knowing he had a washing machine that got me packing and moving from my bed. I am not really sure.

So in the early evening darkness I packed an odd combination of one clean shirt but three types of shoes, my steam iron, a cocktail shaker, some pear liqueur and a sausage roll.

My special sausage sauce was left behind in my sole courageous aim to get myself to where help lay (with my ironing) or at least away from where things were not getting any better.

Tired to the core and my body aching  painfully during the drive, I was not sure whether to check myself in to A&E or the nearest mental ward. I dismissed the latter, if only that I thought they would not quite appreciate the greater importance of my special iron as I did.

Back on those New York streets we took great joy in the smallest of things: a whole unsmoked cigarette, a dollar bill, a bunch of grapes or a toothbrush given to me by someone who had even less than me.

I remember then a simple kindness I gave a huge and frightening chap who was in great pain and anger: a half-smoked cigarette. It was unexpectedly repaid a few days later in a food line with a smile and a nod of thanks to me. We then chatted a little, a hug was exchanged and tears flowed from both our faces. In the first time in over a year he had human touch, my heart was blessed in return by a simple connection. In that small moment both our lives were improved. Mine forever.

So at my brother’s house I unknowingly hoped some small detail of life would act likewise, as a touchstone: perhaps a tear; perhaps a moment of laughter; perhaps just a walk with his dog.

Reality is a delicate perception. Like a dew-kissed spider’s web it can be beautiful, strong and flexible through the worst of life’s winds and storms.

Yet, if a supporting strand is broken the whole web collapses in on itself.

We marvel at the spider’s resolve to rebuild its web, seemingly so perfect and so essential to its survival. It will make the web over and over in the same place. The spider knows instinctively which gap between two walls is just the right size, the right position. It has the patience to wait.

I like to think that eventually the spider will move on from a place where the web is broken daily by human activity, such as a door way or window opening. Or does it stay, with no awareness of its futile actions, until it starves to its own destruction?

As much as we admire the spider’s work, most do not like to see its form: dark, silent, moving too quickly to corners and hidden places for us to love it.

This is how I felt about myself now. In truth, it’s also often my first instinctive reaction to those I have seen go through their own agonising periods of depression.

We shy away from what we do not like to acknowledge within ourselves. It’s a natural feeling. As much as we wish to free the spider in the bath, we do not wish to touch it.

I am not sure what spiders think or feel, but for us, who are both blessed and cursed by consciousness and self, there is always love, always hope.

However, these were two treasures I’d buried and forgotten where they lay; I now scrambled half-blind trying to uncover them.

I could see my friends fervently exhorting where I should look, but I only saw silent words from my bubble below.

They had not seen me slip and sink to where I now lay, but they immediately reached out desperately to help me. I saw their friendship and their care: the deep passionate love they had for me.

But I could not feel it.  Their life rafts of help floated uselessly above.

As much as most serious accidents are caused by a moment of inattention and a little bad luck, my rescue came from the good luck of noticing something at just the right time.

It happened at the kitchen table with my niece and her friend next door. Lunch was a selection of Bath cheeses and expensive farm-shop accessories bought by my brother to cheer me up.

I had brought a lonely sausage roll as well as my laundry from home; so my meagre meat ration was added to the fare.

We tucked in and I offered some of the ‘Shropshire Blue’ sausage roll to both girls. They suspiciously agreed to try a bit.

Now, I am not sure how many sausage rolls girls eat before they reach their fourth birthday, so cannot reliably ascertain the accuracy of their critique.  However, to see unrestrained joy in young eyes as mouths both munched in unison, “This is the best sausage roll in the whole wide world!” did something magical.

It was a simple, innocent, beautiful moment and I smiled.  It was just enough to make me feel again.

There were other moments that came after that. Each giving me help I was now able to receive, pulling me up word by kind word, or just their quiet love that I could now sense.

I am blessed by truly exceptional friends. Everyone, but everyone has reached out to me. We are never alone, as much as we might feel like it or, in my case, wish it.

It is a struggle and I am still some way from the surface, but I am heading upwards to somewhere brighter. Sometimes one really does need to move towards the light.

So through all this, I have borne witness to a week on desolate streets within myself: damp, often dark, cold and self-isolated as I experienced then, in that New York April.

I’ve had to see my reality collapse. I feel I’ve survived only by letting go of my own web, beautiful as it has been, of what I had built before.

I have had to go to a place where nothing is possible, to learn that anything is possible.

I moved to Hay-on-Wye earlier this summer, driven with no plan and no idea what was in store, but a trust that it was absolutely what I must do. My unthinking actions still feel the right choice. This is my home and others see the joy living here has brought me.

What I must trust now is my friends and my heart. To catch the silvery threads of love that float around us but we are too busy to see. It is time to build another beautiful web, this time in a window with a new light shining through it.

This will not be easy. It feels it could be the biggest challenge yet.

For me now, it is not about giving up; it is about giving in. Surrendering to life.

To mirror what a dear friend often says to me: “I’m all in.”

Half Light

The half-light makes the billet walls creep closer.
White: the colour of everything and yet nothing.

This time, grey: mundane, meaningless.  Claustrophobic.
Tighter, like the pain in my heart. Pushing, pressing…

“Escape, run!” cries my mind. My heart pulls me back.
“There is hope in new beginnings”, it shouts, “fight on!”

Like a jilted lover, my heart cries in pain. But it know there is
Hope. There will soon be light and beauty in the chaos.

Another dawn. New light: the hope of something different.
My spirit guides me. But yet, tells me not where we go.

My body is tired of the fight. Too many times over the top.
Beyond what would have destroyed other human forms.

Luck: the arm of a brother lifting me from the mud. Helping,
Loving without question every time I fall and fail in my duty.

I’ve fought with courage. The whistle blowing after the tin cup.
A mug filled with the rum deal of luck that has forsaken me.

Left alone in no man’s land. The wire is broken, like my spirit.
My comrades’ lives too, as they fall. I love them more than me.

I have saved them all, in small ways, lifted up with small kindnesses.
And they too have saved me in return with a simple smile of courage.

There is no them, there is no me. No enemy. We are one. Always
Connected in our heart and spirit, lending love where it is needed.

Love: brothers have shown me shown me its nature, pure in form.
Here angels, unsung and unseen, walk among us as we fall.

Friends and strangers now join and become my spirit. For now,
In this bloody battlefield of life, we are but numbers uncounted.

We are many, so different, disparate, but connected as trees in
a forest. For only those that have fought, know this comradeship.

So where on this now deserted battlefield of life am I now?
The mud is silent, but soon the guns will let loose again.

The shells will rain; each shattering crack breaking my will.
Racked side by side and sent skyward by fear, each kills more.

Bodies rot amongst the shell holes of life. Yet here life persists,
In a much-torn field of lies of others that we accept as truth.

All of us with duty and driven by love fight on in desperate tiredness.
We wait for the summer poppies, blood-red and delicate to flower.

Their petals arise so quickly and fade so fast, dropping easily
In the slightest breeze, or in the touch of heaven’s early dew.

Drops of water that, so small, mirror everything at once: in this
We see all hope and despair. All at once in timeless measure.

So many accusations of what we should have done. The guilt
Of a soul who has fought his best, but whose will is broken.

And so, to life’s great question: “What is this for?”  For duty?
For what, for whom do we soldier on? Our broken nature reveals all.

Here alone amongst endless destruction we see nothing but death,
Though we are dead already. Uniformity gives false idols of faith.

Beyond the orders, the fake news, we love ones we will leave.
Behind the lines, in front of the lines: lost and but not forgotten.

For we have willingly signed up for God and country.
Though, where is he now? Nowhere, but in simple touches.

God is in all of us. Yet we fight him at every outpost. Choosing
To see only the devil in those we never will truly know.

But the devil is the angel in us all, giving up eternal bliss to
Give us the greatest love of all: granting all that we wish for.

And for what do we wish? Love, Kindness and faith in others?
Or a battle to never be won with pain and inhumanity for us all?

We have no enemy but ourselves. For the soldier on the other side
Looks like me: his eyes are mine, his heart beats in mirrored time.

But we fight in different uniforms, with anger stirred by lies.
Yet we know the truth as we fall. Desperate, we cry its despair.

The shouts for the mothers that gave us life; the cries for lives filled
With untruths we believed, that took our humanity and our soul.

Yet our spirit knows no such borders. It walks among us,
Picking up our broken bodies; and together we join again as one.

One army of hope, of love: returning to walk silently among all those
Left behind in pain of lies, deceit; to lend a hand, to lend hope.

The hope of love and faith that, through hell, we will find  a heaven
That is here among us all, on a mountain or stormy coast. Always.

Pain is temporary, yet overwhelming, unbearable hell at times.
But we signed to it willingly and with trumpets and drums and pride.

Rejoice in our fate. For we are all dead until we learn to live!
Seek solace and heaven in the love of the man next to you.

Fight on. Fight the fear. Trust those that stand beside you. Trust that
In the end we are all one, without banner, without uniform.

United in love, we lie in a field of birdsong and poppies knowing
That every death brings a fragile beauty that flowers year after year.

Breakfast Martinis and Battlements

After a happy summer of house guests, tall tales and long evenings that have, on occasion, drifted through to first light, there are two alcoholic creations of mine that have never failed to sustain the laughter and merriment at any hour.

But before imparting the secrets of these treasured gifts, it’s essential to understand a little of their character and temperament; as one might take time to find out a little of a new friend before inviting them to one’s weekend house party.

It’s important that everyone gets on; or you’ll find need of the rarest of things in the country, a taxi on a Sunday afternoon, when someone gets over-tired and needs to go back to London early.

The first thing to remember when making any cocktail are the words given to me some years ago by the head barman at Claridges, after several gin and tonics infused a conspiratorial conversation on what makes a perfect drink:

“A good cocktail should be very alcoholic with something strong, something weak, something bitter and something sweet, combined so that you don’t taste the alcohol, thus ensuring drunkenness ensues quickly”.

This sage advice has stood me in good stead. It should you too. Memorise those words to heart and life will get a lot better from hereon in.

Indeed, I’ve found that understanding the soul of a cocktail and sharing its love, will open doors and take you places others might only dream of.  Invitations to dine on yachts, recording hip-hop tracks in South Central LA at 2am or even being served home-made pistachio ice cream by a clown on a bike in the middle of the Nevada desert, all become very real possibilities.

To this end, on my travels I always, but always, pack a small travel cocktail set consisting of a shaker that once belonged to Evelyn Waugh and some small silver hunting cups that didn’t. They don’t take up too much space nor attract unwanted attention when one’s hand luggage is searched for nail scissors the umpteenth time at the airport.

These essentials can be matched with local liquor and ingredients any time needed; once shaken and presented I guarantee you will make new friends instantly and usually the right sort of friends.

One of the few advantages of the modern age is that ice can be purchased from many shops or, if you must, a supermarket. A cocktail and especially a martini MUST be served ice cold. This applies equally to the glasses. So keep them in the freezer if you can. One can always replace the frozen peas, but it’s hard to come back from the gathered frowns of serving warm cocktails.

The silver hunting cups are thus ideal as they seem to chill instantly with cold liquid without warming one’s elixir. A scientist can likely explain why. They also hold just the right amount for impromptu tastings in deserts or country lanes.

Now strictly speaking a martini is not a cocktail. A cocktail is shaken, whereas a true martini is stirred. Unless you are at a bar in an Ian Fleming novel, in which case the only acceptable drink is actually a Vesper (a martini with the addition of a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of sugar syrup or gomme as the French call it).

However, I think it’s as much the style as the literal definition of a martini that counts.

So mine tend to be referred to as martinis, with plenty of additions to the base of gin or vodka and vermouth. Noel Coward would likely give me a very hard stare as his method for making a martini was to fill a glass with ice cold gin and wave it generally in the direction of Italy (where they make the best vermouth).

A note on the ingredients concerns the garnish: there seems to be an airborne virus, no doubt being spread by affordable air travel from the Americas, which makes people think accessorising a martini with olives is a good idea. It isn’t. Except perhaps if you are celebrating your arrival in to New York on the QEII and even then I am not so sure.

Stick to a twist of lemon peel (unwaxed) or something similar, ideally from one of the ingredients you’re using.

Before imbibing your first martini of the day, also take heed of the wise adage from Walter Mitty author, James Thurber:

“One martini is alright, two is too many and three is not enough.”

However, do not be alarmed or dissuaded by any of the above from diving in with heart and liver to making martinis or whatever you want to call them!

The only mishaps that are likely to ensue  through enthusiastic experimentation is a hangover greeted by a kitchen of empty gin and vodka bottles and a lasting, if blurred, memory of happy shenanigans the night before.

I’ve learned that keeping a note on the back of an envelope, as one goes through the evening,  making ever more daring advances in to the drinks larder, saves one the befuddled embarrassment of asking one’s guests “what exactly did we drink last night?”

By now you may be thirsty and dying to rush off and make a martini. I certainly am as I write this in the half-glow of a winter’s morn.

So here is your reward for making it this far, two tower stalwarts that have produced many a smile both at sunset and sunrise here at the castle:

Battlement Martini:

This started off as a favourite when I lived in the city: basically a vesper matching the grass-infused vodka with lime juice and sugar syrup to balance the tartness (and soften the alcohol). It has since evolved in to something that, in truth, barely resembles a martini except in the manner in which it is served. And its effect.

Using mandarin juice, freshly squeezed ideally, should provide the sweetness to balance the limes. My measures are usually the equivalent to a pub-double but vary according to what measuring devices I have to hand at the time.

As you might by now have gathered, cocktail making is an art and not a science. So go with your heart, not your mind and experiment until happy…

6 mandarins, squeezed and filtered for pulp-free juice ( a tea strainer will do perfectly well)
2 limes, ditto.
8 measures of Zubrowka vodka, maybe a little more if feeling cheeky or you’ve lost count.
4 measures of Campari.
2 measures of Martini Rosso.
1-2 measures of Roses Lime Cordial (to taste).

I find mixing everything together and then adding ice is not traditional bar etiquette, but it allows one to get a feel of the taste before the flavours get too chilled . Also, the ice has less time to melt before serving.

Find a large cocktail shaker and pour everything in. Add ice. Shake until the shaker is too cold to hold.

Pour into ice cold cocktail glasses and garnish with circular slice of mandarin. You should get six to eight decent servings from the above measures.

We drink this on the castle battlements as the sun sets and the Brecon Beacons turn a soft pink, then to the exact colour of the red sandstone and the magical concoctions being drunk.

The Breakfast Martini:

The lesser-travelled brother of the Battlement Martini, this variation came from a Sunday morning when going to church was abandoned amidst hangovers and protests from city atheists.

In need of some other form of inspiration and lacking the ingredients to make a full battlement drink (and wanting to hide from my slight shame at missing church by staying indoors) this lighter, easier breakfast cocktail was created.

It somehow feeds the soul better than a Bloody Mary; and restores one’s guests to smiles more quickly. On sunny Saturday mornings it’s rather jolly to serve on the lawn in pyjamas. I find striped ones work best  with this drink.

Try it between first and second breakfasts.

One small note on the Chase Marmalade Vodka: this is distilled locally by potato hero James Chase; so there always seems to be a bottle to hand at the castle. However any reasonable quality, clean tasting vodka will do. You can try adding a dash of Cointreau in this case, if you want a hint of something slightly sweeter and a touch more alcoholic.

4-6 oranges, squeezed and filtered for pulp-free juice.
2 limes, ditto.
4 measures of Chase Marmalade Vodka
2 measures of dry vermouth.
Sugar syrup/lime cordial to taste.

As above: mix, shake and pour in to ice cold glasses. If like me you’ve failed to wash them up and put them in the freezer from the night before, an easy way to chill the glasses is to put ice and water in them and leave them for a few minutes. Throw out the contents before pouring the drink into them.

The above seems to work well for four thirsty hungover souls. Again, remember to experiment with quantities and even ingredients (keeping in mind the words from Claridge’s barman to balance everything).

Now go, shake, drink and make the world a merrier place!

Elevenses and Second Breakfasts

Since moving to the country I’ve learned that it’s traditional, if not absolutely essential, to have ‘Second Breakfast’.

Without  curtains and with east facing windows at the top of a Gothic tower, I wake as the sun rises.

Gently but persistently the day drags me from my slumber, regardless of when I went to bed.

Now, I am not often convinced this is a good thing; least of all after a long night inventing new martinis. But it happens and there will only ever be one result when a sleeping human has clear morning light splashed over its face.

Despite these occasional  doubts, awakening naturally each day is far better than any alarm clock. As such, I’ve acquired a habit of a proper cup of coffee, toast and a cigarette to reward me for my new-found, if occasionally reluctant, resonance with the day.

This first breakfast has become a ritual – usually taken on the lawned battlements or walking through the top field in my pyjamas – as I attempt to retrieve messages, sent after dark, by my friends living in cities where you get a phone signal all the time. Even indoors apparently.

Usually though, there’s only a rather worrisome text from my bank informing me of my ballooning overdraft; this is quickly deleted and forgotten as I gaze at the fast-changing light on the mountains and instead dwell on my blessings rather than my direct debits.

Still requiring an income for rent and cheese, I tend to use the few hours following first breakfast for catching up with the work I should have done the day before.

I’ve also acquired a bad habit of getting distracted (as happens in the country) with visits to the local brewery, discussing new cocktail recipes, sausage-tasting or other less essential, but much more interesting, tasks than replying to emails can ever be.

And so, about four hours after sunrise I find myself hungry, in need of proper coffee and a plate filled with local eggs, bacon or sausages. Usually all three.

Everyone here agrees: a second breakfast is an essential part of country life; it’s not just for hobbits; it fills the gap nicely before lunch; regardless of the work done, it is very much deserved.

After all, without second breakfast Agas and tractors probably would never have been invented.

Obviously, for those who don’t have to work and have the curtains drawn at 9am by servants, with first breakfast delivered to them in bed, the old fashioned elevenses is a perfectly suitable alternative.

Well that’s what my grandmother told me ever since I learned what a chocolate digestive was.

Thus,  I’ve assumed everyone has elevenses or second breakfasts. It’s just what the British do. Unless you worked in a coal mine or for British Leyland, in which case it might be called a ‘tea break’.

Again, that’s what my grandmother told me.

Whatever one’s background, it’s all the same thing. An essential part of life.

So it was with some alarm today that I learned of the demise of this institution.

Its death came suddenly and out of the blue. Rather as if a great-aunt choked on a fish bone and died at the table, midway through a story about an evening she’d shared with Oscar Wilde.

Except this one came over the phone sometime between first and second breakfasts, rather than dinner with my great-aunt:

Caller [corporate-type]: “Can we Skype a conference call at 1030?”

Me [fiddling around in the larder]: “Yes, but can we make it 1045, after second breakfast?”

“What’s second breakfast?”

“It’s like elevenses but with sausages.”

“What’s elevenses?”

If the corporate world doesn’t even know about elevenses, let alone second breakfasts, we are all certainly doomed to witness the world end on nothing but snatched over-priced lattes. With not an Aga or tractor in sight.

No wonder this country is going to hell in a wicker basket.

First the polar bears and now elevenses. The end of the world is nigh.

 

 

The Only Way is Hay

“I climbed a hill with the limp smell of dew in the air, to where two ash trees stood silent; their arms reaching out in the weak light.

Dawn slowly unfurled from her bed, tightly gripping the day as a baby its mother’s finger; both needing each as much as the other.

The damp clung to my ankles, urging me to stay, as I too became enraptured with this awakening; for I realised I love this place as it loves me.

Then down, to where I had come, following my dark tracks in the silvery grass, fresh air on my face; back to myself, my heart and my home.”

THE ONLY WAY IS HAY

 The messages had been there for a long time.

But much like the voicemails on my mobile phone, I just didn’t bother listening to them. However, the universe is persistent – what must be, will eventually be – and it would ring again and again…

Or burn my house down – as my rented home in Brighton did last year – and then provide an even worse landlord in a new home. It was time to return the universe’s call and listen to what it had to say.

As gangster flicks cliché, “We can do this the hard way, or we can do it the easy way.”

So just before my 46th birthday in May this year I decided it was time to make my life easier, better, healthier, more complete: to move from Brighton, to renew friendships and my old love of the country.

The decision was made quickly. The only way was Hay.

My friends in the city saw this as an incredible move.  They said it must be a rash and un-thought out decision, made only because of my regular and much publicised battle with Brighton Council and £14,000-worth of illegally issued parking tickets over the years.

They said I’d made it in haste. It was only for the summer, they laughed. I was not serious, they nodded to each other. Some even joked of an intervention. Who would they now drink gin with and then stay up all night talking the world in to a better place, if I was gone?

In some ways they were right.

It was not thought out, I only had a loose plan that I hoped would work.  It was an incredible decision.

And entirely based a feeling, an itch. Actually, more than that, a steady persistent push in the small of my back matched with a deep pull from my heart, so strong that some mornings it hurt.

The decision was made quickly and I acted likewise. So within a month I was set.

However, I was not running away from anything (I won my cases with the Council, in case you are wondering).

I was running towards something…

Towards a place of happy memories and to find a part of myself I had left behind in Herefordshire when I was nine; when it never rained; when there was time for everything and yet nothing very much happened at all.

Like the old photographs of happy childhood times at the bottom of a drawer, it was a place once-loved but forgotten amongst less dusty, newer memories of my modern rush.

It was where my brother and I swam wild in rivers and made dams in those too shallow to. I would trek out camping to what seemed miles away on my shorter, younger legs.

It was between Ross and Hereford, on long walks down endless lanes and hedgerows, that my mother taught me to see the world around me and also the importance of noticing the world at my feet.

Gently and with her artist’s eye she led me to see where the vole had made a home; to notice the first viola smirking in the grassy bank; to learn the names of the plants; and the creatures that lived amongst them and fed upon them.

These childhood lessons have served me well in my haphazard career in computer games, aviation and publishing: my knack for observing the whole but being able to pick out details of a problem have on occasion paid handsomely.

But the time has come to put those skills to wider use again: to notice the world at my feet as an adult whilst remembering the blessings of my boyhood; to look again in wonderment at it all.

I want to remember the names of the plants I see. I now stop, feel the pleasure of a leaf in one’s fingers. I delight in bees living in my roof and bats in the cellar below.

I now wake at dawn and walk in dewy fields just to see the sun rise at the top of the hill, only at the top remembering I am still in my pyjamas.

Often I just stand and listen, so still and so peacefully that I sometimes imagine hearing butterfly wings in the summer sun.

To have forgotten so much and be gone so long and yet feel so at home so quickly has warped my sense of time. Perhaps the child in me is running free again? My days and this summer seem to linger on and deliciously so.

Quantum physicists postulate that if you could observe our universe from the outside, it would appear static, timeless.  That time can only be sensed or measured within the reality we are in.

So perhaps here too – with the river, the plants and the creatures great and small, that we share our lives with – time has its own way of ticking by.

Is this is a strange survival mechanism of our planet?  With a slower pace there is a chance for a greater connection with what is around us, so perhaps we will have a greater care, too, for all that we share the land with.

It was a freak accident that burned my Brighton house down – the early summer sun refracting through a window in the attic – and thus by trials and blessings brought me to Hay.

It seems a long road travelled. Far longer than the 220 miles from Brighton my satnav states matter-of-factly.

But it is no accident that I am here.  It is good to be home again.