What happened next is this – breakfast. Breakfast here will be an assortment of the foodstuffs I carried with me, the bread and strawberry conserve I bought in the village yesterday and anything further I purchase from future trips back along the dirt track and down the three lanes. Laid out this morning on a rough-hewn, golden oak table is the perfect vignette of my present circumstances. The bread and handmade jam sit alongside a litre of oat milk, a variety six pack of vegan muesli and two packs of Fairtrade fresh ground Kenyan coffee. A floral china cup sits on an unmatched saucer above and slightly to the right of a deep pale blue bowl in which rests a stainless steel spoon. A stainless steel knife crosses a side plate that bears a passing family resemblance to the bowl on its right. The knife’s serrated edge points away from the bowl. I turn the knife over so that its cutting edge presents a more pleasing relationship to the bowl. It now gives the appearance of having joined an arrangement, rather than the impression of trying to escape its neighbours. I can’t remember now if I forgot the orange juice from home or deliberately left it behind due to its weight. I think I must have taken the conscious decision to leave it behind because yesterday, after picking up the strawberry jam and bread, I moved naturally to open the glass-paneled refrigerator door in the little village store to look for some fresh orange juice to carry the last part of the journey with me. A long life orange juice drink, which is to orange juice what flash fiction is to the Victorian novel, was all that was available. I left it resting and resolved to make do with tap water.
I sit down on the wooden chair and take in the scene. Breakfast for one at a table with places for four.
Washing up is a delight. There is an old Belfast sink and no plastic washing up bowl to interfere with an urbanite’s fancy for a taste of rural idyll. The cooker’s electric, no suggestion of a log burning range for which I could hunt down dried beech kindling and fire up an authentic Italian pizza using wild mushrooms picked at dawn in this corner of Shropshire. If I had a hound of the right variety I could even dig up a truffle or two. Something for the pizza and more that I could sell to the highest hotel bidder back in the smoke. I might get enough to pay a good chunk of the costs of this retreat, but I have no dog of any kind anymore and no real idea of what a wild truffle looks like. Do people do that? Escape the humdrum of daily city life and turn a hand to paying for their break with some amateur collecting? Fossils perhaps from the Jurassic Coast, or Jet from a short stay in Whitby? That is what I’m doing, I suppose – hunting for words. If I find them, tame them and train them to stand on the page in just the right order, someone might publish them. And then, just perhaps, someone might buy them and pass on a recommendation to a friend – ‘No, I hadn’t heard of him either. Alright, he’s not to everyone’s taste, but it filled a couple of rainy afternoons. And it’s a third off on Amazon, you know’.
A Modern Classic. An Overnight Sensation In Just 40 Years!
I think I might ask around the farms for a failed Collie, a noise sensitive gun dog or a claustrophobic terrier that I can take off their hands and see if I can’t train one up to sniff out that truffle.
I had overslept, of course. There are blackout curtains in the south facing bedroom and it was past 10 when the need for the toilet forced me to the bathroom where the light streaming through the slats of the pale blue Venetian blinds told me that the sun was eating the shadows and running off with the day.
Now, with breakfast out of the way and the washing up done, my thoughts have turned to whether I should have a late lunch and no dinner or no lunch and my dinner on time. I know immediately that I won’t decide on either course of action. I will simply allow the day to unfold around me and something will happen, or not happen, to determine the outcome for me. An evasive and dishonest approach. I am responsible for whether and when I eat. It’s just that I would much rather a knock at the door (unlikely) or boredom, (most likely) to make the decision for me. It won’t be the pangs of hunger that determine the time and place of my next meal. When was the last time I was hungry? It must have been as a child. Does anyone eat now because they’re hungry? TV dinners and takeaways, and grazing in between. The only people who actually get hungry in this country are those too poor to have food in the house. Food, but no hunger. Hunger, but no food. The way of the world.
I’m out the door and crunching gravel telling myself that I am on the trail of inspiration, but knowing full well that this is no way to find either truffle or words. I look for a finger post poking through overhanging branches, spot one and climb the wooden stile that is slowly being consumed by nettles and brambles. A footpath in search of its public. I walk for hours, wondering while walking. I’ve heard such wanderings called research, but I think I would need at least a pen and a soft-backed A5 notebook of the kind supposedly used by Hemingway to evidence such a purpose in my ramblings. I navigate across country by three church steeples and a row of pylons that carry the future over the nearest hamlet and toward the city from a power station too faraway to have its name known here. I’m gone for hours. No late lunch and I’m too late to get my dinner on time. It’s a relief to know that there’s nothing that I can do about it. I tried, I really did. I turned for home three times or more before losing site of the pylons and steeples, I relied instead on my underdeveloped sense of direction. That led me down when I should have gone up, east when I should have turned west and back when I should have gone forth.
Only now do I have two of the steeples in sight rising above the horizon and the faintest suggestion of something that could be wires stretching themselves loosely between supports off to their left. Certitude would be the final steeple in the trinity allowing me to triangulate a route back to the cottage. I take the path of least resistance and head downhill toward a stile cut into the stone wall that marks this field’s boundary and then up through a field of bleaters to see the third steeple appear above me to the right. It must be a good three miles back to the kitchen table, an hour and a half at least on these undulating paths. So I plonk myself down to rest a while on a big splinter of sandstone that had rose up out of the ground in just the right spot a millennia ago and contemplate. Nulla dies sine linea. Hardly.
Tomorrow I must take a different tack, turn and face the strain. I have only three days left to constrain the infinity of that white page with words of meaning. But they are not going to be found out here on these hills amongst the trees and shadows.