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

Monday, 12 August 2013

home wherever you are...

Well, I have recaptured something I feared I'd lost. Even though the actual span of time was less than a whole weekend, parked up on a Cornish headland overlooking clear glass-green water and spending most of that time being, walking and seeing, being, walking and seeing, it felt like a real holiday. I've been again in paradise. I didn't think I'd lost the latter – after all, it's a state of mind I can induce simply by stepping outside, into World – but it's been 25 years since I was able to do this via a campervan near the sea.

As a single parent in my late twenties working freelance as a maker in the arts and so broke there were times I could only afford, for instance, a single banana, or apricot, and that for my daughter, I had to let the old campervan go when it failed an MOT and I hadn't the money to do the work on it. That one was a joint possession, bought as an ex-police-riot-van, converted, and in which self and husband-to-be, then self and husband and daughter spent several winters abroad on the Atlantic coasts of France and Spain, and which I 'inherited' when my marriage broke up. I watched it disappear on its way to Portugal, where its new owner was going to found a community, and I have missed the freedom that came with it ever since.

So when I used a little of my mum's legacy to buy the 20-year-old 'Clarissa' for myself, I intended to include the very specific kinds of freedom allowed by waking up by the sea, with the dog, and with what little I need around me, plus the laptop powered by a solar panel kindly bestowed by my friend B to enable me to write up notebook contents – and the wherewithal to make a cup of tea.

And yes I know I know there are environmental issues: it's diesel, and after wrecking my last diesel engine by running it on recycled chip fat (not our own, I hasten to add), there's no avoiding the pollution. But I travel minimally, try and do so by public transport when I can, and fly almost never; so an occasional trip out that is the cause of so much joy I try not to feel too guilty about it. And, in material terms, this is the first home I've ever owned, and it is enough.

In many ways, TM and I are very different. He doesn't, or maybe that's now a past tense, 'didn't', 'get' the whole thing of campervans, so I wasn't sure he'd be able to share that pleasure with me ever (though I also need solo time anyway). It's my van, my thing; but I was pleased he'd agreed to come too this first time. He's a sea-lover, and the ability to have a long coastal walk, then a swim and a body-surf, then come back to the van for a cup of tea and a book, fulfills a number of important criteria for him and I think he's converted.

So we parked up, somewhat illegally, in a cliffside car park by a lovely Cornish 'hedge' (stone bank, studded with little wildflowers). At around midnight, five cars tore in driven, presumably, by the local youf, who proceeded to do numerous wheelies and handbrake turns at some speed and very close by. I hadn't realised quite how much revving such activities needed. We decamped, only to find that, with heavy rain setting in, the driver's side windscreen wiper had stopped functioning and was in fact about to drop off. We drove back in again.

I then spent the night awake, fretting but pretending to myself that I wasn't, about whether the 20-year-old bottled gas system for the cooker, which I've not managed to have serviced yet, was safe, and clearly at some level I thought staying awake to make sure I knew if we were about to die from toxic fumes whilst also getting the interior of the van wet due to many opened windows was a better bet than calculating the odds and getting a really good night's sleep (even though as it happened I'd barely slept the night before either).

But oh! – the joy of waking (well, in my case the relief of being awake and alive and not gassed, at a reasonably human hour, 6a.m.), as I'd imagined so many times, by the sea, and being able to make a cup of tea and savour the view. And then to be able to leave early on foot to walk the cliffs while the dew was on the grass and the sea too spangled with silver light; and then to have the sun break through and paint it all in gold – and all this in one of Britain's most beautiful spots and before all the August trippers arrived (though not before the early dogwalkers).

TM and I don't always do well with a lot of unstructured time in each other's company, as we sometimes seem to want to do different things. But coast walking is something we share well; and apart from a minor literary skirmish we didn't have any of the philosophical disagreements that are sometimes our default (yes, I wish we did just argue about whose turn to do the dishes/wash the laundry/clean the bathroom).

TM made up a haiku as we went along:

on the morning grass
dewy flowers sparkle
above the western sea

Not bad, I say, but you need a little leap of surprise between lines 2 and 3. It's good when you can have a small oblique reference to the human condition without actually stating it. Some say that haiku never include metaphors; some say that the whole haiku is a metaphor; my own sense is that the concrete imagery one uses can, and maybe must, somehow also stand in for transience and be more-than just concrete imagery. 

Transience! says TM. Why would I want to do that?

Oh ho. That's where we get into difficulties. In a nutshell, my Zen approach suggests that wisdom lies in recognising and accepting transience and uncertainty, whereas for TM that's far too simplistic, and his whole drive lies in seeking truth and that which is permanent and unchanging. You could say these two approaches are polarities; or you could see that actually they are faces of the same coin. Whatever, we could have gone galloping off on one there.

I just about desist. I mention instead a lovely haiku by Basho:

the temple bell stops –
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers

which TM seems to get and like. (Stop while the going's good, girl... but no.) To illustrate my haiku point, I speak a haiku by my Zen mentor Ken Jones; it's one that I think so well summarises what haiku is trying to do:

out in the cold sunshine
planting early potatoes
uncertain who I am

(I use this in my book Writing the Bright Moment).

TM grabs this one. If I were uncertain who I am I certainly wouldn't let on! OK, here's my new version:

on the morning grass
dewy flowers sparkle
I know who I am

which makes me laugh. I suggest a new ending:

this is what you get

and we leave it there. TM strides on ahead, as is his wont, and I stroll and enter minor raptures about the sealight, and the miniature flowers, none of them bigger than a 5p piece and most of them the size of half my little fingernail:

...then, 10 or 12 miles later, giving the poor exhausted dog, who today is refusing to walk, a rest in the shade of the iconic tamarisk while TM bodysurfs amongst the million people crammed into the cove and I hang out on the cliffs above, dreaming...


  1. I can't tell you how happy I was! :-) I wish one for you too x

  2. Enjoyed reading that - we both laughed out loud at the bit about haiku. We have similar discussions about poetry. C maintains that swan and stone do not rhyme, ever, in any context.

    Can understand your thoughts about diesel. It's hard to be 100% green on a boat. The engine runs off diesel, but we felt better about that when we realised that running the engine for an hour a day for two weeks to give us hot water and electricity uses the same amount of diesel as a 2-3 hour car trip.

    Can also understand your anxieties about being gassed - we recently realised that the CO alarm was dodgy and our boat safety certificate had expired. (Both have been resolved!)
    Glad to hear you are doing stuff that makes you happy. We love our itinerant life and seeing different things from our windows. Todays gift was a Red Underwing moth warming its wings on the window.

  3. Lovely post - funny and vivid - and I'm so glad you had a good time.

  4. Jinny and Belinda, it was lovely to have your comments - thank you both. J, great to picture your life on the boat :-) - with some envy. Am also glad to suspect that you're still writing...? And there are always hard compromises, aren't there? I've stopped making my own life, and that of others around me, quite as difficult as I used to make it through being rigidly puritanical about what was and wasn't OK ethically and environmentally - it's not that I don't still hold those views, just that I remember, sometimes, that we're all human... ;-). Tell C, re poetry, I agree with you; but 'my' C would agree with her! :-) And - what about a small solar panel??

    With love to you both



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