Yesterday we woke in a converted manor house somewhere near Cheltenham. The sky cracked like an egg over the lake. Silver light flooding the morning. This house was translated from a dream of mine, I’m sure of it. When we drove up in the taxi on Wednesday I felt a little like I imagine Charles Ryder did on seeing Brideshead for the first time. The lake, the gardens, the rolling green humps beyond. I went swimming. An indoor pool; the air thick with warm mist. I’d forgotten what it feels like to submerge your body, to float, to push against the water. Things I used to know so intimately, lost in the move. Remembered in an evening. We ate in the dining room, sipped after-dinner drinks. Slept thickly. In the morning, we read the paper and drank fresh-squeezed orange juice while looking out onto the grounds. He skimmed news headlines while I read a story about child welfare officers in London. A family of seven, a self-harming mother. Squeezed into a single room. And here we sat with all this space.
After breakfast I went for a stroll around the grounds. Found a swing overlooking the lower lake; snuck past a slumbering swan. Sat on a bench in the garden batting away insects. Sank my wellies into fresh grass. Gazed up at the house itself; precise, stately, exactly measured. Touched the stones with my toe before I came back inside. Somebody built this place.
Then trains. Maybe it was the rhythmic motion, maybe the journey on that swing to childhood and back, maybe the unusually early hour at which we woke, but I fell almost instantly into sleep. Awoke in Swindon, hating the sound of the word. Swindon. Listening to a man on his mobile saying, “I can see you but I don’t know how to get to you. I can’t get out of Swindon station!” Slept again. Didcot. A concrete jungle. Gone were the yellow fields of rapeseed; the same rapeseed we’d seen driving to Bath at the weekend, the same yellow, the same green. A doze. Oxford. Oxford under a heavy sky; will it rain? He had to go to work so I got on the bus by myself, carrying my bags wearily now. No glamour in the journey down the Cowley Road. The corner of Leopold failed to interest me as it usually does; the murals only looked depressing under the gloomy light.
I started to think about this schizofrenic existence we lead. I have one foot in the manor house, one foot in the poor house. My last day of school yesterday, indefinately; but have I ceased being a student because of it? I think my mind is having trouble catching up, my body struggling to adjust to how swift, how vast, the changes are. I suffer wanderlust in this season and have dreams of hot, fragranced places; but also, I’ve taken to wearing a six-year-old pair of shoes whose heels have rubbed off because they smell less than the rotting ballet flats I own but seem more seasonal than the boots I wore all winter until the soles began to peel back.
It requires great leaps, this modern way of living. Great leaps of the mind, great leaps of faith.