All I need to do to feel that life is worth living is to walk on the sun-warmed grass in the backyard, watching the clouds and feeling the wind blow through my hair. Outside the high hedges, beyond the clotheslines, is a world of insecurity and unemployment; I am in a small garden without frills and shirrings, but oh so free. There is a solitary grey cloud overhead, fancy aircraft from the airfield nearby roaring noisily through the sky, and the indecisive sun sidling away to inject the breeze with an autumnal chill.
England isn’t home and will possibly never be, but why do I feel more at peace here than anywhere else? Even as I prepare to leave and make hurried pilgrimages to the places that I have fallen in love with strictly through books and hearsay, I’m not sad- yet. I’m just so grateful to have had the chance to walk through English villages, to stand in the streets of medieval towns where my imagination has readily supplied the missing horses, priests, knights, ladies and coaches. I’ve seen cathedrals, open fields, valleys and chalk cliffs; been to “public houses”, a haunted house and places made famous by writers. I’ve walked through parts of London on my own, alone with my thoughts, interrupted pleasantly by secondhand bookshops.
To see people and places come to life thus has been overwhelming. I’ve lived a charmed life over the past few weeks- I have much to write about, but I don’t know where to begin. Memories haven’t been erased but keep being added to, and to keep them from being addled and blending into one another to form one incomprehensible blur, I must summon the few words that come to my mind and write things down very soon.
While I’m at it, I might as well describe Maidenhead. Whatever little I’ve seen of it is respectable and prim. Strangers don’t break into ready smiles as they do in Sussex- does proximity to metropolises reduce the propensity for inexplicable happiness? The lanes are almost severely clean, bereft of crushed beer cans and cigarette butts, none of the trappings of student life in evidence here. Some of the houses are grand and gorgeous, they have gravel drives, dainty gardens and names such as Tree Whispers. If Enid Blyton’s Peterswood were to come to life, this would be it, only on a slightly larger scale. (Maidenhead does in fact find mention in The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage, where the evil Lorenzos hold large parties for their depraved friends: in real life, it is so quiet you can hear car doors being shut a few streets away.)
On a walk to the train station, I managed to take a longer route than necessary and stumbled upon some woods- deliciously dark, sloping and cool, and reminiscent of the thickets in the South Downs. But the effect was marred by the prosaic, practical brown-and-grey buildings and industrial estates that lay on the other side; people walked home with their shopping from the Town Centre, bored and utterly immune to the charm of the wooded slope.
I miss the South Downs; I have never liked flat places. I like rolling, verdant hills and valleys, and to see sunshine glinting off the windows of houses nestling in their hollows. Weirdly enough, whatever optimism I possess stems from the knowledge that I’m returning to a country that the Himalayas guard, even if they are thousands of kilometres away from “home”- wherever that is. Nothing stops me from choosing one for every week of the year, it’s all in my head. It could be in the Amazon delta today, on an inaccessible mountain peak tomorrow, or a Tudor house for all I know. Home is where I want it to be, and no immigration restrictions and borders will keep me from it.