We are just back from Tuscany and what a fantastic time we had (which I will be writing about just as soon as the photos are ready); but before I got stuck into all that, I wanted to talk about the joy of getting back home. You see, in my experience, the measure of whether your world is tipped the way it ought to be, and very best thing about every journey you ever make – regardless of how marvellous the places you have seen on your travels – is the thrill you experience at stepping back over your own threshold. If that’s missing then there really is something wrong with your world and I always feel sorry for those that spend their life in an endless cycle of planning for the next holiday, pouring longingly over websites of hotels and destinations, the minute they get back from the previous one, as though they are constantly running away from their own existence or looking for something (which they certainly won’t ever find elsewhere as it can only be found within themselves, if they but knew) to plug the gaps in their world. This endless pursuit of something that we perceive is missing from our lives, this looking forward to something we imagine experiencing somewhere else, some time other than the present, is a modern curse and all part of the tendency to turn to external distractions as a way of dealing with stress, which I’ve talked about before. It is far, far more important to develop a good relationship with the here and now and if that isn’t happening, then its time to take a long hard look at your life.
Holidays are great, travel is a fantastic way of accumulating new experiences and subjecting yourself to things that you can’t easily encounter on your own doorstep. I also subscribe to the view that a change is often as good as a rest and a holiday has the ability to fire me up like nothing else, providing new perspective, shaking me out of a creative rut (if I’m in one) and enforcing a break from some of the more tedious and repetitious habits of everyday life. One of the key ways that holidays do this for me is by making me more appreciative than ever of where I spend the other 95% of my life and I can’t honestly say that I spend the whole of that rest of my life longing for holidays – and if I did, I would be worried about myself!
I generally start to feel myself fill up with this longing for home by the time I’m re-packing my case and setting off for that very last holiday meal, snapping those last few photos of “the view”. And that’s all fine because, by then, I have amassed my memories and experiences, topped up my feel-good tank and, if the place has left any positive impression on me at all, I know deep down that I will be back so there is no deep sadness at leaving it behind. The strength of feeling inspired by even the loveliest of holiday destinations doesn’t begin to compare with the longing for home. By the time I land at the airport, the frisson of excitement building inside me in anticipation of putting the key in my front door, casting an eye over all the suspended clutter of my everyday world and climbing back into my own bed is usually quite overwhelming. Waking the next morning (we generally arrive home in the dead of the night) to find myself surrounded by familiar things, sounds and smells holds all the sparkle, for me, of Christmas morning; commonplace activities are suddenly charged with a feeling of excitement and appreciation and – always – I feel super-propelled to get started on a whole pile of projects that were on hold until the holiday was passed or new ones that have taken form in my mind while I was away, fuelled by all the renewed clarity that travel casts like a search-light across what were previously fuzzy goals.
This year was no exception; Tuscany was golden and magnificent. It was also scorching hot, up in the high 30s by the end of our stay and utterly draining for a large portion of the daylight hours so that, being the busy-bee that I am, I was beginning to feel a little frustrated by the ceiling imposed on how much you could bear to do during those times; even sitting sketching was a hardship in the heat of the day! It takes a far more mediterranean outlook on life than the one I possess to tailor your exertions to that kind of heat and, as ever by the end of the week, I was left resolving to come back in May or June the next time (I always say that…but until the kids have finished school, unlikely). I also got bitten to pieces, far more and with much more dramatic outcome than the rest of the family (the fact I earned the nickname “plague woman” for the red-blotchy state of my legs should give you a clue). In short, it felt that our time there was just the right length for me; we managed to see a great deal, to spend some lazy days enjoying our view and to feel that we had been there long enough to settle into a home-from-home routine of where to buy food, what time to move indoors from the heat, which bottles of wine were our favourite and so on by the time we had to leave. I have some fantastic photographs, some even better memories and we will certainly go back there (hopefully in the months of May or early June…) in years to come. By the end, I was ready to step off that plane and resume my normal existence where I left off, to take in familiar sights that I had missed but also to welcome in the seasonal changes that always seem to come thick and fast at this end of the year.
What met me at this end of my trip was a scene of colour and abundance that was only being hinted at when I left; the very beginnings of that “season of… mellow fruitfulness” that the well-known line from Keats always brings to mind. Alternating hot sun and (from all accounts) heavy rainfall over the past week or so had created a landscape that is a touch less yellow than is typical for this time of year across pasture land and still quite startlingly green in places, adorned by all the splashes of colour that come with the month of August – heather in full bloom, red berries appearing in trees and hedgerows, blackberries coming into ripeness. My first walk with Rudi on Sunday (and he was one of the main things that I was truly homesick for; I just couldn’t wait to wrap my arms around his thick doggy neck and feel his hot snuffles against my earlobe!) took me across heathland and into woods that were so profuse with colour that I was overwhelmed with a feeling of love and appreciation of where I live; I wouldn’t swop it for Tuscany, not in a million years! The mellow sunlight that drenched the scene, bestowing comfortable temperatures between mid to high 20s, brushed everything with a dreamlike, golden hue and I walked with a heart full to the brim at finding myself back on home turf with my dog and my camera. Rudi was equally delirious to be back, running rings around me on the broader paths and launching himself into the lake with total abandon. Glorious! Getting back into the car to hear Whispering Bob Harris talking on the radio about his years on the Old Grey Whistle Test as I wended my way along familiar country lanes, I was quite overwhelmed with a sense of being back home and absolutely loving, LOVING where I live – everything about it – and with every ounce of my being.
Monday’s walk was (inevitably, after any time away from home) at Silchester and, again, I was greeted by a central field far less sand-coloured than is usual for late August, encircled by a display of abundance in every hedgerow. Clouds sailed across the sky in the Armada formations that are typical of Silchester; flat-bottomed cumulus ranged in size for as far as the eye could see, casting deep shadows across the landscape (and after Tuscany, where we had only one brief day of cloud cover, these seemed like a marvel to behold). When we reached the farm, swallows filled the sky and were darting in and out of the barn with purposeful dexterity, feeding their young. The church was filled with amber light and the windows were ignited with a glow that served to highlight decorative themes in the stained glass windows that echo the fact that wild flowers, grass and berries, and that green, red, gold and rust colours, have been central to this landscape for centuries.
We rounded off at the newly re-opened Iron Duke (always a favourite pub with a marvellous location – and now a complete face-lift and fantastic menu whilst retaining the best bit – the garden – as was) for a long leisurely lunch in the sunshine. Again, the trees in the pub garden were heavy with apples and pears, the hedgerows next to us bursting with blackberries. The apple tree, in particular, took my fancy and became the subject of a whole batch of photos which, for me, capture the very essence of what I love most about this time of year combined with something very very typically English. Yes, Tuscany was great and has furnished my imagination with landscape, culture, art, sights and smells that will stay with me for a very long time. But home is home and I love mine with an absolute passion; it is part of me and whilst I can borrow Tuscany for a while, the landscape where I live feeds my soul at a very deep level because I am part of its colours and its rhythms just as they are a part of me and my world.
To quote the well-known song (and one which also helps to conjure up something very British and seasonally evocative as Proms night fast approaches again):
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
POSTSCRIPT: Today, as I write this, it is pouring with rain. Marvellous! Makes me feel very cosy indeed, am looking forward to a long damp walk with Rudi followed by a great big pot of chilli and a bottle of wine by candlelight. Couldn’t be happier.
For more seasonal photos of heather, berries and fruit see Helen White Photography.