Tomorrow the CoP and I board a Dreamliner and head back to KTM. We leave behind Alba and her lochs, glens and misty mountains. Beauty in a stream tumbling between moss, wildflowers and lichen, a gentle rain washing clean the cares of memory.
These words of the most sublime of writers have been recurring in my memory as we have walked paths and glens.
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
Time to readjust, activate the positive and take a long deep breath of pure, clean air in preparation for one last, final go round. I’ve had a month in my Breixited birth place. The soft southern beauty of English woodlands and the austere nobility of the Highlands unite and make a mockery of the belief that we can ever be anything other than an integral part of a wider whole. Beauty is stateless. Friendships endure even across the thousands of miles that separate us. Tomorrow we once again cross the terminator into night.
Deep in the countryside outside Perth is a converted, enlarged porch built on the side of a stone house painted white with red boarders around windows cut deep into thick walls. The porch is approximately 12′ by 8′, a glass walled box on the three sides with double doors, umber floor tiles, a shelf running around waist high holding potted plants, the varnish cracked with age and moisture. Chairs from another time sit empty as though there is a meeting going on with me and three invisible souls, cushions dipped in memory of those who once sat and sit with me now in imagination and memory.
Through the double doors across a grey gravel path is the top of a stone wall covered in moss and plants that drops down to a lawn leading to a low walled rocky garden covered with heather, ferns and wild rose bushes, one of which rambles untamed up the side of the house. Crowned by a hedge the moss covered boundary wall nestles amongst the roses, exposed for brief interlinked passages where moss grows.
The first field is dotted with dressage letters and a white ribbon of electric fencing that makes me wonder if I couldn’t unzip it, roll the field up and pack it into my suitcase and take it all the way back to Kathmandu. Rising up like a vast, rolling swell a green field, surfed by shorn sheep is cut obliquely across by a hidden road leading to a stand of mixed trees, tops sculpted by the wind. To the right a hedge-lined lane leads away from the house under a row of trees part obscuring a rising field, bushes and trees on the skyline silhouetted against the grey moving clouds defined by patches of blue.
A flight of adult swallows with their young swoop and dart, putting the Red Arrows to shame as they change direction on the turn of a feather on wings that will carry their palpitating hearts ten thousand miles to Africa. To get me back to Kathmandu requires four hundred tonnes of technology, massive jet engines and complex air traffic control systems. Not just the sun, the wind and the magnetic pull of migration.
It seems all roads lead from this place of peace and memories of someone who last looked on this view from this chair towards the end of a life that navigated two years beyond a century. But not yet. Precious time still remains. There is protection here between the swelling greenery. I am folded away, obscured from the future, contained in the present and real past, hidden, nurtured by the cresting swells of green land.
A woman, grey haired, face lined with severity, sat behind a large notice on the desk that said: Enquiries Only. I bumbled up to her, smiled and said, ‘Good Morning,’ and receiving not a flicker of human response began searching through a collection of vocal scores. I hunted for a few minutes and couldn’t find what I wanted. Having received not one syllable of help from the ‘Enquiries Only’ woman sitting right beside me (I assume she was a paid employee in the world famous bookshop and not someone out on day release from a sheltered community) I went on my way. Baffling to one trained in customer service, bewildering to a customer struggling to buy something in a store that provides her with a job.
Pevsner described it as “one of the world’s great streets” The High, arcing down towards the Isis, past the Radcliffe Camera, the most elegiac of buildings. Memories absorbed into stone, steps taken at day and through the night with friends, enemies and strangers, heading home up the Cowley Road, stopping for fish and chips on a belly full of beer. Beside the bed books piled beneath the light, bed unmade, essay abandoned, lights out, street light breaking through the curtain.
Ghosts in aquatint, escaping from fiction, swirling in the sunshine. “These memories, which are my life–for we possess nothing certainly except the past–were always with me.”
I am currently staying with my brother and his family in the heart of a landscape that is where I find my home. When we first moved into East Sussex from London on the first night I slept on the wooden floorboards upstairs in our new home. I woke up with the sun streaming through the bare windows and went downstairs to the drawing room. Looking out of the windows onto the lawn amongst the long grass a vixen and her cubs played in the fresh sunlight. From that moment I was lost. Across the lane and down into the woods bluebells grew in abundance. Badger sets dotted the sandy soil in the woods and at night I would sit up on a platform sometimes with friends and watch Mr Brock snuffle myopically into the night.
A few miles away lay the Ashdown Forest, broad open walks and small clumps of woodlands where we used to build shelters and spend the nights by running streams. Land I knew very well was the farm on an estate where I was employed from time to time as a farm labourer. Two jobs I remember well was a day spent ditching, making the water run smoothly and a day spent harrowing, taking a ploughed field and making it orderly. Just me, the tractor, my canvas bag with sandwiches, a hot drink, biscuits, roll-ups and a newspaper. One visit from N., the farm manger, otherwise the day was spent in contemplation in a world of John Stewart Collis and The Worm Forgives The Plough, a masterpiece if you have never read it.
In some people rest these landscapes and meeting them again recreates this elegiac part of the world with woods and streams, the grassland and heather, the exhaling of green beauty and the silent padding of wildlife passing under the window. Today between the showers there was sunshine and I am the richer for being here, on my home patch, the present revealing the past, the worm forgiving the plough and memories stirred by a chance encounter.
I first noticed something was amiss at DOH, but didn’t have much time to think about it. At Covent Garden yesterday my laptop sailed out of my computer case (forgot to zip it up fully) twice, clattering on the floor. During the day I found being on the Underground quite tough with everyone walking at about twice the speed of sound while I plodded along drenched in white light and sore afraid.
My usual reaction to reinserting myself into western society is positive. I am pleased, happy, thrilled to be here (which I am) but this time I was finding it hard to adjust to the scale of the airport buildings at DOH, the arrivals hall at Terminal 4 at LHR, the crush of people on the Underground, the incredible speed and efficiency (most of the time) of people and transport. It’s reassuring that I can read all the signs everywhere on shop fronts, street signs and the like. Scale is not just the size and weight of buildings, but the number of shops and the quantity of goods in each one. Yes there are shops in KTM, but not shop after shop after shop packed to the roof stretching out to the crack of doom. The scale of fast moving traffic. I went on a bus ride yesterday and we encountered road works and a couple of diversions. Took the same route today and all the works from yesterday were finished. No holes in the road remaining, no piles of bricks in lieu of tarmac, everything closed up and squared away.
Today on the Underground I felt much less troubled by the speed of walking and number of people, felt more confident in my stride and remembering how to get places. Efficiency, maintenance, depth and frequency of service on the tube and the buses. Wimbledon on the TV, the roof moving smoothly into place over Centre Court. The scale of wealth, leisure time, reliability and speed of internet. From a place where scale is in the mountains reaching for the sky, here the scale is in the living, the work, the demand and expectation that everything works and keeps working.
It has taken time to find my way, to accept with gratitude my lower blood sugars as the stress falls away, the lights stay on, the water runs clean and drinkable from the tap and I slip back into finding my place in privilege, my chest clear of dust and pollution from the brick factories, and not having to fight because drivers queue for things like traffic lights, stop for pedestrians, and don’t blow their horns to announce suicidal traffic moves. Scale is not just physical, it is also in the zone of comfort in which we surround ourselves as we travel through the world. Now my comfort zone is expanding as anxiety falls away and I can embrace the scale and not be cowed by the enormity, complexity and astounding sophistication of the society in which I find myself.
The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Werther, by Jules Massenet (French) from a novel by Goethe (German). Singers, musicians and production staff from France, Australia, America, UK, Bulgaria, Serbia, Italy, Switzerland, Ukraine and Holland.
An international event held in London, no boarders, all nationalities pulling together with one aim. More of this in all walks of life. Not less. What are we to expect? An operatic Brexit with only English musicians and singers, etc. allowed. No foreigners allowed to work in the opera house? Only English works performed? The imposition of a cultural dictatorship? Break down boarders, not erect them. Sing in French, Italian, German on stage in London. Music is an international language. Trade is an international language. Tonight made me even more ashamed of our decision to leave the EU and further highlighted the stupidity of the decision to call the referendum in the first place. And as for the vote … the whole thing was and is developing into a three act tragicomedy of the first order.
“I am so proud, we got our country back. We defeated the wealthy snobs who were holding us back.” An anonymous leaver.
I stepped off the flight from DOH straight into a maelstrom. A political, social, emotional earthquake that made the 7.8 that hit KTM seem like a little light shaking. Stunned, bewildered, angry, confused I sought out reasons, grasping for understanding amongst friends who were equally at sea. A seismic shift of immense power and import had gripped the land of my birth. Class, colour and wealth had become clear, divisive markers. It was clear that fear, propaganda, xenophobia and fear had won the day.
Amongst the roiling seas of print and TV something began to emerge. Semantics came into play, promises made during the campaign on issues such as the National Health Service and Immigration weren’t really promises at all, even though the unwary thought they were. Fantasy was conflated with questionable statements. “We send the EU 350 million a week (true but not the whole story as at least fifty percent of that money comes back in the form of grants, etc. from the EU). Let’s fund our NHS instead. Let’s take back control.” Based on a miasma of slogans and half truths the electorate voted to leave. The NHS part of Brexit turned out not to be a promise, in fact it was nothing more than vote bait to be back peddled on. Sweeping statements about the future were made: yes there will be hardship if we leave, but we will emerge more prosperous. The NHS will suffer but will come back stronger. Immigration is a tricky matter and maybe it is not possible to deliver on the suggestions we made.
One thing amongst all this duplicity, nobody knows what the end result of this process will be, how dire and deep the economic fallout will be, or how socially divisive.
Little was understood or discussed about the workings of the EU and the Council of Ministers, and how the decision making process functions in Brussels. No doubt the EU is a body in need of serious democratic reform, fat cat bureaucrats in their BMWs need to be reigned in, waste and abuse of power addressed, perception, if not the reality of the democratic process better explained. But decisions in the EU concerning fundamental policy and laws cannot be reached without the consent of all countries, and over some issues via a majority vote in the European parliament. The process can be a long and arduous one and as in any democracy compromise has to be found.
So why don’t we start by reclaiming the truth? Immigration and economic impoverishment were two clear drivers of dissatisfaction and dissent. People had had enough, were angry and vengeful. Austerity hit the less well off. Why and how, one asks, if austerity is so essential, did the Bank of England find 250 billion pounds to prop up the economy post Brexit? Where was that money for the NHS, education and social programs? The gap between the wealthy and the poor has grown to an unconscionable degree. No doubt. So lash out, repatriate foreigners back to Europe, or anywhere for that matter. Make England white again, was the loathsome Brexit truth of the matter.
To those of us who live and work overseas (or ex-UK-ers as we were unfairly and inaccurately labelled by some self-appointed guardian of national purity) the interconnectedness of nations and their peoples is undeniable. To disentangle the multi-cultural, multi-racial nature of a society is simply not possible, despite what the hints and broad brush statements appeared to promise.
What is emerging is the massive betrayal of good hearted people by the privileged, wealthy, powerful and elitist leaders of leave who, with the skills of the illusionist, made all those truths about themselves disappear. We are informed by the new pigs at the trough (“two legs good, four legs bad”) that dissent and discussion over the result of the referendum should stop and we should turn our hearts and souls to the glorious, prosperous, independent and racially pure future that awaits us around the corner. Only the corner, and what awaits us around it, can only be unknown. A deep recession is more than likely. We have yet to fully comprehend what we shall reap from this whirlwind. What we can be certain of is that the sheafs of truth were never harvested, and words and promises were strewn on the ground like useless seeds.
Like the earthquakes Brexit was a stunning, sudden lurch into change. Change is essential. In this case the self-inflicted wounds inflicted by Brexit bleed us into an uncertain future, with the biggest casualties of all being truth, the economy and a serious assault on tolerance.