Saturday, 18 April 2009

Eternity's too short...

Back in London, the currently so-called "Important Bank Holiday weekend break" neatly behind us, I'm already harking-back to my bucolic EASTER HOLIDAYS in the Kentish countryside: the embodiment of an old-fashioned English dream. So here's one I wrote earlier: after a delightful country walk with little people stumbling behind (they, for the record, have been fully briefed on Easter, lest the New Labour government take it away from them...)

OK, here we go:

Around here, the countryside's flat, skyscapes stretching out, 20 percent earth, 80 percent sky, to the ratio of a watercolour class. A Turner, Whistler feeling. I used to escape oppressive adolescence jogging down a ribbon of a footpath, a mile or so down through the fields, wheat stretching almost as far as the eye, sky stretching further.

Bank holiday, Easter monday. My first return to this track for over 20 years. The rutted jagged muddy scar clogged with clods I used to struggle my day-glo trainers through has become a smooth slate-grey tarmacked backbone, straight quicksilver cutting through the thick green pelt, swathes of crops crowding either side. Towards a gentle rise, the view drops off. Over, it reaches langorously down the slope once more and..out.

Seven o'clock, almost. Oh joy - that summer feeling! I once penned a teenage poem about this vista, over miles of Kentish countryside, over-arching heavens. A vista nearly obsolete (no factories, no hedgefunder's mansions, barely a road) then, as now. Combined with the langorousness of long summer evenings buzzing with late afternoon gnats and early evening fireflies, and iced with the romance of a first-time love, it made heady reading.

Then, at the base of the hill, beyond the wooden stile (now a metal gate, spray paint absent, thank God) and beside a stream (or was it a dyke? steam sounds better), my young beloved and I had a picnic. Very grown up, quite "Brideshead Revisited", as I'd intended (minus the champagne). Baby sausage rolls, strawberries and cream, mini custard tarts, various other tidbits quietly pilfered from Mummy's larder - that kind of thing. It wasn't the food that mattered, of course, but the feeling of BURSTING promise, a grey version of which seeps back a little as I think back. For who could ever, in later years, truly re-live that emotion? that certainty: of life, youth, love, possibility...stretching out forever into eternity.

As we walked back home, I thought of this. Our lazy steps - big ones and little four year old and three year old ones - were rhythmic through the goldening haze. As we headed back, the layers upon layer of graduated shades of green-to-gray, detail-to-silhouette, the layers of the miles of Kentish view, transfigured as the light changed. Oast-houses, pointed cones ("Madonna"!!) on the boundary between near and far, becoming old windmill, pretty against the frame (now restored and offering cream teas - we'll go tommorow and buy its very own traditionally-milled flour!)...a hot air balloon, miles and miles and MILES away! - ghostly and charming, immobile.

Our shadows lengthened as we walked, biked, scooted. "Look, Mummy!" pointed my daughter. "You're so tall!" "Yes, you take up half the field!" added my son. I checked my watch. Nearly 8 o'clock. How time flies! No stretching out into eternity any more. No more bursting promise, unlimited potential. "Be quick!" a little voice whispered, wistfully. "Or the shadows of your own life will lengthen too! Look out or the flower which bloomed on that romantic summer afternoon will go to seed even as you sleep..! (evil chuckle)". We went home.

At home: "Hurry up! Hurry up! If you don't get ready for your bath quickly, I'll take away all your Easter eggs"...!
Perhaps not what the little voice intended. But, maybe it's a miracle I could remember any of this to write it down at all!

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