Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Resolving Landscapes

And once more, here I am in my favourite German hotel, in the most interesting town in Westfalia. My room has no view this time, only the wall of the building opposite, which is not particularly inspiring even given its mirrored cladding.
On my way here today, I had to go and pick up a colleague from his house, since he is a participant in tomorrow's meetings here. His house is a newly built dwelling on a piece of land near to the small village where I grew up. I rarely go back there as I find the smallness and insularity of it oppressive and it ushers into my mind those exact feelings of remoteness and loneliness that I experienced as an adolescent there with only a bicycle as a means of escape.

As I approached, it struck me how beautiful the place is. The scarp above the village is the beginning of the Cotswolds, designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty and frankly, it very much is.
I won't say that this escaped my notice as a boy. I was always aware of how glorious the countryside was and how picturesque the vista of rolling English hills was that rose only a mile or so from our back garden. Oh, I was perfectly aware of all this. I just didn't really care because it represented unwelcome solitude and the bounds of my mental as well as physical horizon.
Villages have their advantages. Not much crime happens and it is quite secure. But they are boring and claustrophobic and you cannot so much as fart loudly without some busybody reporting it to the local Parish Flatulence Officer and everyone pointing at you in the pretty little streets for the next month.

So, it was an unwelcome revisitation that I undertook this morning to my home village, after so many years..
Down the lanes I went, the lanes that were visible from my bedroom some thirty years ago, lanes I ran, walked, cycled along. As I drove, slowly for this is a great equstrian area and many nervous horses lurk around corners (not in a furtive way you understand, but you can encounter them suddenly and disastrously if you are not careful), the ghost of another Pete rode along with me. A smaller, scruffier, more constrained Pete watched as the trees went by and shuddered slightly at the crossing of the parish boundary.

In many ways, things have changed. There are plantations of sycamore and pine grown to maturity where last I looked they were mere twigs in their deer-proof tubes. Houses are different colours. Barns have tumbled to ruins. But the big trees, the oaks and ashes they are much the same as I remember and look familiar in an unremarked kind of way. The landscape before me corresponds to a topography that is burned into my memory such that the new copses remain largely unseen and the countryside of my childhood is still somehow the landscape that I see.

And it seemed incongruous to me that this young lad, his world so small and limited would find the purpose for my being here this day incomprehensible: I am on my way to an airport to fly across Europe for my work, as I do regularly and without remark to myself, save those times I look up and with the words of the Talking Heads ringing in my ears as so often, say to myself: "How did I get here!?"

That boy who aspired to no more than a job as a truck driver, would not comprehend what he would one day become and do. "An Aeroplane? Me? For a job? No. No you must mean somebody else.." Ok, it's not head of the U.N. certainly, but to a country urchin of the 1970s, it might as well be.

Our destinies twist and turn, taking us places we would ever expect and sometimes we stop and look honestly at our situation, with a sudden older perspective, and we are astonished, unbelieving. That ragamuffin child, all long wild hair and tatty canvas coat, he is still here. Not merely a wraith of someone long gone, leaving only an echo of a presence, but still here. I am him. Oh, certainly he has been added to, distorted to some extent perhaps, toughened in places and abraded in others. But there, not so deep down, there he is peering out fearful, but occasionally excited, to see what still awaits.
The boundary that was the horizon has expanded beyond what he ever dreamed.

But at our core, do not all of us have our embryonic selves in some way still extant? Do they not occasionally look out of our eyes and halt a foot about to take a step, out of trepidation and uncertainty?
I am glad I bumped into him again. I shall consider his needs and senssitivities, but I shall also be aware of when he is unduly influencing my decisions and when his small way of seeing the world is hampering progress towards a more interesting and exciting life.

And sometimes I will indulge him, like now, when I shall bounce on the bed in this hotel room as if it was a trampoline and no admonishing adult will come to the rescue of the springs.

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