“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.