Tag Archives: countryside

The Rainbow Roller Coaster

I have many euphoric moments in my life: from the wild rides bouncing through country lanes with a best friend, acid house playing a 303 bassline and a smile wider than the River Wye on my face, to quieter moments at dawn or the middle of the night, standing still and letting the universe touch my soul.

I have quite extraordinary encounters, such as the a clown I met in the middle of a Nevada desert and our connection as we exchanged gifts: he gave me home-made pistachio ice-cream from his bicycle and I made him an ice-cold Martini Vesper.

These are the sort of tales that illustrate my life. A life filled with colour.

I am very, very blessed by my experiences and the people I know well or merely by smiles glimpsed in the watching crowd on my roller coaster ride of life; such as that desert, bike-riding clown perhaps, whose name I will never remember.

Yet, like so many of us, I still find my soul too many times tormented by human fears: those times when each step feels like a slow walk on fiery coals. A walk through fire without the cheers and shouts of a crowd to support me on what might otherwise be painless strides. My gut twists in awkward agony and I wonder wherefore my angels have forsaken me.

I am a Gemini. My life is filled with contrast. This is a fate I reach for with open arms: I see the patterns and feel the smiling sunshine on my face as much as I wake, sweaty with fear, in the middle of the lonely night wondering if I will live until the light breaks timidly through my windows.

There is an exquisite beauty in living such a life. I cannot imagine another. And the truth I struggle with is that I would not have it any other way.

It is what must be. And it must be accepted.

Through recent months I have learned a little of the art of what I call ‘self-responsibility’. This is owning and acceptance for everything (and I mean everything) that happens to me and all that I feel: from the blissful to the torturous.

All of it.

This does not mean that I am to blame for things that go awry or castigate myself for my mistakes. I just know I do my best and accept what happens as being just that: what happens. I know I am responsible for my feelings, in whatever place they may be at any particular time.

Perhaps, most importantly, I know that in taking responsibility for everything, I actually have a choice in everything, including that most wayward of human living: my feelings.

I have been blessed to find long periods where I see the good, the positive, the love that is all around as well as pained by only seeing that which is not.

I have the power to choose which I see and experience in any moment, even if my human nature fails me time and time again in this regard.  I have learned that while the answers to life and how to live to it are really very simple, this does not mean that they are very easy to do.

Far from it. This life is a challenge and the wonder of it and why I struggle with it, stumble and fight-  at times desperately – to hold on to it always amazes me.

So what now, on this knife-edge of existence?  Between the connection of all things loved, to love and be loved in return and or the other side of inky blackness, of loneliness, of failure and despair?

I do not know.

What I do know is that the struggle each day with the fear of failure is worth the moments of when life blesses one with joy. To know that even in the grey veil of rain, one may see a rainbow. Perhaps even be so lucky, as I have (twice now, here in the countryside), to be at that rainbow’s end; and to have one’s entire world experienced for a moment through a veil of multi-coloured glory.

There is no answer except HOPE: this being the knowledge that in those dark and lonely moments, we have faith in something better, glorious and amazing.

Perhaps in this modern age we have too much association with hope being nothing but a consolation prize, rather than embracing it and giving it the respect and care it deserves. To have hope is to have everything: to responsibly accept what happens, without blame or guilt, and have faith that when things don’t go right there WILL be better days.

A friend once told me at the end of one of my many magical parties, when one person had got too drunk and cast a slight shadow over proceedings: “If there wasn’t someone to spoil things then there wouldn’t be all the good people making it all such fun.”

So in my contrasted life, I take solace that the days when things don’t go right, it means that there will be those when everything does… to embrace the ups and downs, the twists and turns and to remember, always remember, the words of the late and gifted comedian, Bill Hicks:

“Remember folks, it is all just a ride. It’s just a ride.”

Here at The Tower another day dawns and I for one am running again, if nervously, towards the entrance of the roller coaster of life for another turn.

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The Fire and the Rain

These were words that came to me after listening on repeat to Fire and Rain by James Taylor.

Part-inspiration and part ‘re-imagining’ of the melody and words  of the original song. They reflect my thoughts last year when I moved back to the countryside, after a catastrophic house fire I survived in Brighto; this is the point where I decided to move to the wonders of Hay-on-Wye here in Wales.

THE FIRE AND THE RAIN.

Just a few months ago, I knew I would be gone.
Brighton, the plans they made put an end to you,
I drove away from the city and wrote down some words,
I just don’t know who to send them all to.

Oh, I’ve seen the fire and I’ve seen the rain…
I now see sunny days that feel they will never end.
I’ve felt lonely times… but I always had a friend
And I always knew that I’d see the fields again.

You embrace me, sweet spirit of Hay,
You just helped me make a stand,
You’ve helped me see it through another day.
My heart runs free, as you hold my hand
And I won’t have it any other way.

So dear sweet Hay I always knew that I’d see you again.

Been walking my mind to an easy time, my body warmed by the sun.
If when the cold wind blows it’ll sweep my spirit up and along.
Well, there’s hours of time and years of happiness to come,
Sweet dreams, beautiful friends and heaven all around.

Oh, I’ve seen the fire and I’ve seen the rain…
I now see sunny days that feel they will never end.
I’ve felt lonely times… but I always had a friend
And I always knew that I’d see the fields again.

Now Brighton, oh I might see you one more time again.
There’s just a few things to do this time around, now.
Thought I’d see you, thought I might walk by the sea in the rain.
There are struggles there I need to set free, I just don’t know how.

You embrace me, sweet spirit of Hay,
You just helped me make a stand.
You’ve helped me see it through another day.
My heart runs free as you hold my hand
And I won’t have it any other way.

Hay, you are now where my heart lives and reigns once again.

OF MANNERS IN THE COUNTRY

My mother warned me never to trust a man who drives a white motorcar or has a beard.

These wise words, from the smoky kitchens of Chelsea mews houses in the days of the John Profumo scandal, seem apposite today as they were then.  As we all know, white cars are driven only by salesmen, criminals and the newly-rich.

If you doubt her advice, just take a look at Alan Sugar.

Such clear-cut regulation can seem to unfairly and irrationally divide. It is no less here in the countryside.

To those who visit, the rules seem many and confusingly the most important ones of all are never spoken of, least of all written down.

Now some, like Second Breakfasts or the fact that the pubs and the few small restaurants that exist in these parts only serve lunch at lunchtime mean that, at worst, an ill-informed visitor might go hungry for a few hours.

Some transgressions can, however, scar you near-permanently as ‘city folk’. It doesn’t matter how muddy your not-white Range Rover is, it will take you years to remove the tarnish of such a reputation.

If you live on one of large farming estates here – or in part of a gothic castle, as I do – the rules multiply quicker than the bushy-tailed thieves of the walnuts from the trees outside my front door.

My weekend guests have often given me blank looks when I’ve told them that they cannot under any circumstances use the West Drive (which actually lies due south), no matter what their TomTom might say otherwise.

Invariably they ignore my detailed map, get lost and arrive very late (up the wrong drive) having rung me two or more hours ago to say “we’re only ten miles away”; at which point I’ve started to mentally prepare cocktails and lay the table for dinner.

I actually sympathise with the horrors of the M4 on a Friday evening that guests might endure. I also have nothing but a kind ear for tales of the hell-hole of Membury Services where they seek a comfort-break. (Note:  Leigh Delamere is much better. Magor is better and cheaper still).

However, please remember your host, who has got up early and visited the butcher, baker, pie-maker and the greengrocer. They are now sat in the kitchen staring at a Number One cut of prize Herefordshire beef and trying not to drink too much, in case they have to drive to meet you after you’ve got lost.

Such delays can bring on zombie-like impatience for dinner and horror of horrors, no time for a proper welcome with a G&T; or a brief of how the heating works. This is the countryside, not Quaglino’s darlings.

Here, we eat at seven. Possibly eight, if you are coming from London or it’s the middle of summer.

Remember, we have to get up at dawn to feed the chickens or make emergency calls to get the boiler refilled with oil so you can have a hot bath over the weekend. So excuse us if we leave you with the gin and show you where to turn the lights off.

We may live in huge houses or gothic towers, but we had to let the staff go when our great grandfather gambled the fortune away on a fail-safe investment in 1929. Thus doing breakfast for guests, whilst we nurse a hangover with only four hours sleep, is Not Much Fun.

Whilst on the subject of hangovers: never, ever finish off the gin in a midnight thirst-rage assuming you can replace it in the morning. We don’t have 24hr off-licenses here. In fact we don’t have off-licenses at all and nowhere is open at all on Sundays. We will silently curse you the rest of the weekend.

Gosh, there are so many rules.

Or manners as my grandmother would call them.

Of course, she believed that if you had to ask what the rules where, you were likely somewhere you shouldn’t be.

However, the first rule of hosting is to make your guest feel comfortable. Thus an error on your part will receive nothing but a smile. Possibly the wave a hand airily and cheery laugh, if it’s something really bad you’ve done, like let your dog chase the sheep in the top field.

This makes the whole business of the countryside complicated for everyone.

But it was on my walk back from church that the simple answer to all this dawned on me.

I was on the forbidden West drive, to which I am granted access only on Sundays for services at the estate church. It’s a ritual I now enjoy much more than the now fading appeal of Downton Abbey. Whilst avoiding the icy potholes in my inappropriate suede footwear (even I can make mistakes), I was idly contemplating the etiquette of coffee after communion services.

In the absence of fellowship of instant coffee and cheap biscuits by the font, country custom dictates reciprocal invitations for decent caffeine at one’s home, with anyone whose first name you can remember.

If you do not know the rules, this can lead to all sorts of trouble.

Of course the correct answer, when invited for coffee at a neighbour’s house depends on the time of the service.

For early services (those that finish before 11 o’clock), then you can say yes, unless either party has weekend guests, in which case the answer is no.

Don’t forget that, if you do go, you should then stay for no less than half an hour and no more than an hour. Too little time chatting over a custard cream is rude, too much is an imposition. Don’t forget to reciprocate the invitation at the earliest opportunity.

For later services, when it may be midday by the time you leave (depending on the sermon), then the unspoken rule is that everyone offers invitations to each other, but no-one accepts. It’s obvious why: we all have Sunday lunch to think about, whether we have visitors in weekend residence or not.

Actually there is a very simple answer to all these situations; even one’s as complex as whether to accept an invitation for coffee: rules are manners and manners themselves are nothing more than organised kindness.

Since returning to live in the countryside my friends worry that I might be lonely. They forget that in the country one is very rarely ever alone. One must beware gossiping with a friend in a remote field about the local ne’er –do-well, for the subject in question is very likely to have materialised unseen behind you.

This brings warmer advantages though. There is never a lack of help here and we all keep a friendly eye out for each other. Oddly, with greater space comes greater community. One often finds assistance before even needing to ask for it.

Here, kindness is all around.

This is why the countryside has so many rules. It’s not about prevention of fun but rather encouragement of friendship and community. Whilst at all times respecting other people’s needs, be that need for sleep or time to make Sunday lunch for weekend guests.

Act with kindness in all your actions and the countryside, if not the world, will be a glorious place. You will find yourself with remarkable people and in remarkable places. And be invited back.

So now you know. We haven’t written the rules down as that would be rude as well as not very British of us.

Please visit. We want to share the joy of where we live. We want to share our local single-estate gin. We want you to have a fabulous experience.

Just remember to be kind. Arrive on time, leave farm gates as you find them and don’t finish off the gin without us.

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.