from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

southwest coastpath day 1

Hang on, something's not quite right. We've parked up a back street and we've shouldered our packs and something seems out of kilter. Ah yes! Contrary to the patterns of most days of the last two months, plus the weather forecast, the day is dry, nearly. So far. Oh – spoken too soon – here comes some northwesterly mizzle, though it's light and almost refreshing in the July mugginess.

The Sid has clearly burst its banks probably a few times lately though, judging by the devastation in bordering gardens and the huge quantities of shingly pebbles and gravel silting up the channels, presumably washed down from higher up.

There are the clothes shop ('I want I need' – no really that was the name of one), the shoe shops, the tacky tourist shops and the shabbily genteel villas. When my Italian husband-to-be and I first came back to England from the High Pyrenees, where we'd met, I worked in a greengrocers' here to pay the rent on a beautiful old house in a nearby village that we shared with a handful of other friends of mine, musicians, from university days until I couldn't stand it any longer (working in the shop. My fiancé couldn't stand it either; being Italian – and a non-English speaker at that stage – he considered it an affront to his male dignity that I was the breadwinner. He ended up not being able to stand my musician friends, either, in the end; and after they'd not contributed to the earnings of the household for too long he threw them and their gear out. But that's all a different story; as is the fact that the owner of the house was in jail. And too the story of that one wintry lunchbreak, as I sat with my sandwich on the shingly beach in my long green cloak – this was pre The French Lieutenant's Woman, by the way – when a red setter dog mistook me for a groyne – is that the word?? – a wooden post, anyway, and peed on my back...)

Now, here, Wednesday July 11th 2012: one last cup of coffee, etc, and we're standing (after attempting one of TM's 'shortcuts' that turns out to be a cul-de-sac) at the foot of the steep ascent up from the seafront.

This is an 'easy' day in terms of miles to be covered – maybe 10 or 12, according to the book. Anyone who knows the coastpath, though, knows that 10 or 12 on the 'severe' sections is not a mere stroll along the promenade.

I think of myself as fit. I walk every day, I dance, I do yoga. I also know the sections we're walking; and unfortunately I know that despite the apparently minimal gain in horizontality there will be vast gains in verticality, via four really quite strenuous sharp steep ascents (though not as in, say, The Himalayas, admittedly).

Plus there's the stress and exhaustion of the last 6 years of serious and relentless family troubles and losses – it feels like having a major car crash, emotionally speaking, every 2 or 3 months – coupled with the ongoing stress and exhaustion of being single parent and sole breadwinner working very long hours in a creative field for most of my adult life – all this means that I look up, and look down again very rapidly. I'd quite like to find a snug hollow on the shingle under the cliffs and go to sleep. (This latter seems to be my major preoccupation these days – not that I achieve much of it, that sleeping thing. I'm told it's good for you.)

Then there's Walking Style. In my experience, a man and a woman rarely walk at the same pace or speed.

My style: 'Hello clouds, hello sky! Oooh a wild strawberry. Now, is that a thrush's song or a blackbird's? Ahh the pattern those leaves throw on the track! And look – the barley's greening up, a gold blush on it... Oh, listen to the lark... Hang on, if I were to describe that in words in a non-clichéd way, the thread of larksong tumbling to earth, how would I describe it? How might I paint larksong?' Sometimes, just sometimes, I use a walk as meditation, which means moving really almost impossibly slowly, as one does on a Zen retreat in 'kinhin' (various spellings of this I think). And then there are the times when I need to give the dog a 45 minute walk in 20 minutes, because I've spent too long dreaming; in those times I can be very brisk indeed. For a Cornish shortarse.

TM's style: focused, muscular, incisive, head-down very fast route march. (I am certain that in a previous life he was a Roman ?centurion? – whoever it was who led battalions, or whatever they were, to my Brythonic goosegirl.) (I don't mean he led battalions to me, by the way. I mean 'in comparison with'.) Everything is a challenge and a battle to be won. He RUNS up the hills, while I'm still catching my breath 20 yards up at a slow walk.

So I know that 'walking the coastpath together' will mean that TM will stride ahead to the next bend, then wait for me, then when I catch up stride ahead to the next one. We will deal with this with a mix of impatient frustration and kind patience.

I stop to look at the amazing colours – terracotta, burnt sienna, brick, ochre – in the compacted sandstone soil at the base of the hill; I've used pigment from these cliffs before in paintings. I look up and TM has of course disappeared.

The ascent zigzags steeply upwards.

Elderflower agrimony stitchwort campion sycamore.

One step, then the next...

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