I am sitting in a wood writing in my van. The rain is falling on the metal roof and it is a comforting, friendly sound. I have heard it many times as I drifted off to sleep somewhere near the sea as I stayed that extra night hoping for an improvement in the weather when I awoke next day. It is warm enough as I have a very nice Eberspacher diesel heater, originally installed for the comfort of the chaps of the railway crew who previously inhabited the van in its previous incarnation. I have a cup of tea here, since I have all my home comforts around me as I sit at my portable desk.
The wood is called "Midger Wood" and is just off the the A46 between Stroud and Bath. It is one of a number of small wooded valleys that lead down from the scarp. There is Ozleworth, Tresham, and I suppose further along, Dyrham and Lansdown.
This is my favourite however as I used to cycle here from my tiny village about 7 miles away, to get the best catapult sticks when I was a boy.
It is owned now by a wildlife trust and is less impenetrable than it was during the derelict periods of the 70s and 80s when it was a largely uncared-for wilderness. Now there are paths and coppices but cleverly, the wild feeling has been retained. There are owl and bat boxes and little nests provided for dormice. But there are also secret places to be found down by the little stream where the water is so saturated with lime that it coats a twig or a snail shell in a stone crust in just a year ir so.
Interestingly, given the oolitic limestone nature of the geology hereabouts, I once stumbled across a piece of knapped flint in a drainage channel from a field above the forest. You don't find flint for quite a distance from here and so it must have been brought here by someone, probably long ago. That was a bit spooky, to hold a tool from an inhabitant from thousands of years ago when bears and wolves roamed these forests.
This another of my favourite semi-desolate places where I like to go to give myself space to think. Here there is no wifi, not even any phone reception. I am uncontactable and nobody knows where I am.
So, why am I here? Well....
An hour or so ago, I was at home, suddenly at a loose end and wondering what to do. Given my slightly ADHD tendencies, I find it hard to write when there is distraction since every noise, movement or passer-by-the-window tends to send me off down a small voyage of curiosity. It scatters the attention and I lose my train of thought.
But here, with the bare trees leading off down the valley, the rain now beating on the roof of the van and a small river developing in the road which falls steeply away to the large millpond at the bottom of the hill, I have peace.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoy distraction, I find it fertile. It provides a constant stream of stimulus upon which a brain may feed. Without it, the internal conversations grind to a halt to be replaced by prosaic dialogue about what to have for tea and how the garage really does need a tidy-up.
But when one needs to tease out an idea that has been forming for a while, distraction is not helpful. And so, here I am in the wilds of Gloucestershire, in the back of a transit van in the rain.
And the thought I need to articulate is brought to mind by the turn of the year. Oh, a tedious New Years Resolution ramble, I possibly hear you think. But it is slightly at a tangent to that. My thought is about Inertia.
We are all familiar with inertia in the physical sense. It makes us lean when we go around corners too fast or head over the handlebars on our bucycle when it collides with a solid object of sufficient mass.
But the inertia I describe is far less tangible. It is that force that allows us to watch life glide past as a spectator rather than as a participant. I note that in this inter-year week, such as the time between Christmas and New Year tends to become, the days have passed without regard. I could not tell you really what has transpired nor my attiitude to life and the passage of time was during that period. I was variously drunk, absorbed in a book, stuffing myself with turkey orjust staring slack-jawed at the television.
And so life goes, year by year. And each year I say to myself "This year, Pete, I must do more STUFF! I must get out more, meet more people, take part in more activities"
Indeed, at that moment when the clock chimes twelve on the 31st December, it all seems so clear! All I have to do is to get out more!
Yes, I think to myself: Its very straightforward. You just decide you want to do something, you perhaps research what is required and then, you do it.
So, why don't I? Here I am am, like so many people, with perfectly working limbs and faculties, articulate, "fun loving" and mostly open to new experiences. And somehow, I sit and think about doing stuff and just don't.
I have my splendid van, with its seats, its heater, its beds. I have bicycles, kayaks, surf-boards, musical instruments. And I could do so much!
"When the weather warms up, " I tell myself "I shall organise a grand picnic one sunny day in a park. I shall take a wicker hamper, a primus and a proper teapot and everyone shall wear hats and their finest Summer clothes!" How alluring the idea seems in thise dark winter months. Summer opens the world to us for our pleasure and indulgence. All we have to do is rake advantage of that freedom.
Every year for a decade I have thought thus, and every year, somehow I have failed to make it materialise. It can't be that difficult can it? Well, ok, there is the weather. It has not really been generally suitable for picnics, but some days wiuld have been perfect even so. So what stops me organising it?
Well, perhaps fear of rejection. There needs to be people. "The people make the party" it is said and this is undoubtedly true.
But given the haphazard nature of British weather, one would have to organise such a gathering on the spur of the moment and few people have the flexibility to do that. There would probably be a lot of people who are busy and would decline. But I could ask! If even two other people come along, it is a realisation of the idea.
No, something else is at work here. It's "inertia". We sit on our sofas or at our computers and information comes to us. It is not necessarily entertaining information, but it is sufficient for us to remain there awaiting more. A type of overriding gravity holds us in place and the thought of changing from this relatively comfortable state to something else - anything else - just seems unappealing, regardless of how much fun the alternative might be. Its just too much effort to physically or even metaphorically get off our arses and make it happen. A paralysis of the will overtakes us and we stay where we are. We sit, vegetating, prevaricating, doing what we have always done. And the great opportunities of life happen elsehwere, to other people or not at all.
This has to stop! A change must take place! No longer can time be wasted in the frittering away of moments awaiting the next email or status update. Picnics in sunny parks must happen. Dances must be attended and conversations over coffee must take place. Trips to wild sea or long sandy beaches will happen and sunsets watched with friends with a glass of wine or mug of tea await, ours for the taking.
Where an obstacle exists, it must be examined and a solution found. If there are no people, find some (ok, harder to do than to say, but this is the 21st century with all its attendant communications technologies). If no event presents itself, organise one! Phone LOADS of people. Surely everyone can't be busy or indifferent! Playfellows must exist somewhere!
Ok, family ties and commitments must be taken into account and I remember those from when the kids were small. But fun was still to be found within such constraints, rendering them less of a constraint and more something that adds flavour by sharing the experience.
But if what prevents action and fun is merely the difficulty of rousing ourselves to action from our fur-lined rut of discomfortless apathy, then this must be recognised and energy injected.
I have had this realisation several times before, but the quietness in my mid towards the end of this year has been so resounding and eventually full of despair, that this time, I have made this public statement that it will be tackled and persevered with. I ask sincerely for anyone reading this to suggest how the mind-numbing, resolve-paralysing force of inertial immobility can be overcome. Some strategy must exist for those times when we know delight is within our grasp but somehow we are too leaden to stir ourselves to reach for it. If you know how to do this, please help!
If colour and vitality is not to be drained from us to be replaced by drabnesss, lethargy and mediocrity, the nettle must be grasped and life seized by the ears and ridden like a wild horse. Texture, sensation, vibrancy can be our, if only we can overcome the lethargy.
So no more intertia! Let us as Zorba says "Suck the very marrow from life!"
See you in the Park in June. Wear a hat!