I found some old notebooks at the weekend and it was a strange and eye-opening experience going through them. The oldest one is from almost ten years ago, from when I was sixteen, and it made me smile, frown, and cringe all at the same time. It’s a bit of a mash up – part diary, part story about an Edwardian suffragette, part sketchbook. You can definitely tell I had been reading lots of classics for my GCSEs from the writing style of the fictional bits, and you can absolutely tell I was a teenager from the diary parts (holy moly, the angst!). And from the sketches, I clearly had an obsession with drawing trees and eyes.
The more recent ones still make me cringe a little, though I’m super happy to report I ditched the faux old-fashioned writing style.
I’m so so tempted to get rid of them because the idea of anyone else reading them actually mortifies me down to my gooey and very messy core, but I also know I’ll want to read them again in the future – even if it is just for something to giggle at. It’s nice also, maybe even helpful, to see the progression of my style and my ideas.
So it’s back into hiding they go, ready to embarrass me in another ten years.
It’s funny how some things bring back very specific memories.
I get it, maybe weirdly, with shampoo. If I go back to using a shampoo after months/years (basically, whenever discounts and empty bottles align) the smell on the first couple of washes will always send a flood of memories rushing through my head from around the time I was using it before.
It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to time travel – which is kinda disappointing, but you have to work with what you’ve got I guess.
I got this whole memory-time-travel thing again the other day, except this time it was triggered by a book cover. I didn’t travel back in time very far – ahem, March – but in the middle of the longest heatwave of my lifetime it does feel a little like another world away.
And there were a couple of others that brought back some unusually clear memories.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton – the book that started it all. The cover took me straight back to the “beast from the East” at the beginning of March. Two days curled up in front of the woodburner, cocooned in giant woolly jumpers, the world outside made quiet with thick snow and freezing rain. The book was brilliant but claustrophobic by the end, just like the weather.
The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry – my first driving lesson, May 2017. Sat in the garden, sunshine falling on my back, and waves of scaredy-cat butterflies blooming in my belly. Focussing on this book basically stopped me from ringing my instructor to call the whole me + driving thing off. And it’s a good thing I didn’t ring to cancel, because it turns out that driving is actually quite useful. Who even knew?
The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien – 2003 Easter holidays, Spain. Aged 10, lounging on the tiles of a balcony on a blue-grey Mediterranean day, the sound of the sea lulling in the background. I was a bit unsure what was going on plot-wise but pretty darn sure I would at least finish the book before the final film came out at Christmas. I decided afterwards it was best to wait a few years before attempting The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. (Now I want to read them all over again.)
Most books bring back hazy memories from around the time I read them, but these ones just seemed to bring back strangely strong ones. Maybe ones that don’t trigger anything now will in the future? Brains are definitely weird and full of surprises.
Is it just me, or do you get memories popping out of your head like a bright lightbulb moment with some books too? I’d love to know what they are if you do.
The castle looms like it always does, a tangling mess of steely grey rock studded into tufted grass.
I try to ignore my hands as they turn redder and redder, try not to worry about the purple blotches growing in amongst the red.
I collect a ticket and hand it back in a minute later, after the bridge, after the wobbly entrance arch, after getting attached to it and feeling like I don’t want to hand it in (the hoarder in me wants to keep it, as if not keeping it will mean I have never been).
Beyond the entrance, there are stocks to the left. A memory of sticking my head and hands in it years ago flurries round my head. My lungs remember how much my sister and I laughed that day.
Up, up, up goes the path, and I follow.
More paths, more steps.
The views are beautiful. Fields and trees and hills and tantalizing sunbeams falling far away.
Heart slowing, lungs calming, I stop with one hand pressed against a towering chunk of wall that’s angled very unhow a wall should be angled. The picture of it crumbling, the feel of it giving way, floods my head. Maybe it’s best to move on.
Walk, slip, trip.
Broken hallways hiss with icy gusts of wind. Walls are painted green with veils of moss and drip with sticky rain. Elsewhere, they are blotchy with lichen, a mix of grubby white and sickly yellow that blurs into the grey.
The sound of children playing on their lunchbreak twinkles all around the air, filling it with echoes of playful happiness. The sound of traffic buzzes like it buzzes almost everywhere. I wish I could eavesdrop on the sounds of five hundred years ago and five hundred years from now, wish I could know who’s stood here before and who’ll stand here one day.
I take a turn. It leads to a dead end. I head back, try to refind the main path. I attempt to take a shortcut and slide inelegantly between a rock and a hard place. I pray there are no cameras to record my momentary wedgedness between aforementioned rock and hard place. I wonder if walking/shuffling through (getting slightly stuck in) a wall makes me some sort of ghost. I worry I might’ve just frightened someone in the fifteenth century.
Soggy steps lead downwards.
I look up as the sun bubbles through a patch of clouds. It’s framed by one of the many derelict windows and I try to take a nice photo, but, no matter how many I take, none of them look better, none of them shine brighter, than the real-time thing. Away goes the phone.
I head back down the hill, trying not to slide down the cobblestones, trying not to surf down the grass.
The castle looks smaller than it feels in my head when I look back up, and I’m not sure if I’ve imagined it big or my eyes have tricked it small.
I came here looking for something. I don’t know what exactly. I don’t even know if I found it. I hope so.
The clock struck midnight and the world didn’t change. People cheered, danced, started a giant can-can; fireworks went off; confetti filled the air and fluttered to the pavement. The world didn’t change.
Still, there were butterflies in my belly and a stupidly happy happiness in my heart – that I’m sure wasn’t entirely rum based – at the prospect of 2018.
I know it’s just four numbers in a row. I know anything can happen – good and bad, beautiful and ugly. I know for an absolute, sure-fire fact that 2018 will see my face red and puffy and snotty and tear-stained on an embarrassing number of occassions (the ugly). I know I will laugh so hard my stomach will hurt (the good). I know I will love and I’ll probably hate too (naughty me). I know at points I’ll be elated, disappointed, bored, excited, inspired, confused (happens easily), annoyed (again, happens easily. Note to self – work on moral failings). Basically, emotions will be all over the place because that’s how I like to keep my emotions.
And I know that I have an unnervingly good feeling about the next 12 months.
Come and walk where the trees burn with rainbows! Join us in a land of magic and wonder, where colours bleed into the sky and claw their way towards the stars, where darkness is made bright! Ladies and gentlemen, follow us to a place where the air is so cold your lungs will turn it white, a place so cold your skin will bump with gooses!
Roll up, roll up, and keep your eyes wide open!
And please, ladies and gentlemen, remember to stay with us on the paths!
For we cannot help you beyond the lights. We cannot help you in the dark.
You know the saying “blow the cobwebs away”? After walking at Durdle Door today, I’m pretty sure I’m sorted on the cobwebs front for life.
It was so – so, so, so – windy. My face hurt. My ears hurt. My eyes hurt. My eyelashes even hurt, as the air tried its best to burrow into my eye sockets and brain.
Between the steps down to Man O’ War beach and the steps to Durdle Door, the air funnelled through so hard it was like being battered in the face and chest. I thought, at one point, my shirt and jacket might sink through my skin, tear through my ribs, and rip out through my spine, leaving a tangly mess of me and my clothes in the churning sea below.
Luckily, that didn’t happen. Which is good, because it means I can go again sometime.
Once upon a time there was a woman who went out in the rain – pouring, sideways, punch-you-in-the-face, pissing-it-down rain – and immediately regretted it. She regretted her ballet pump shoes and regretted her flimsy umbrella, though she was thankful for her many-sizes-too-big raincoat which made her look like a walking tent (even if said coat meant all the rain just ran down onto her jeans. At least her top half was dry. Well, all the top half that wasn’t her face. That was very wet).
Anyway, when the woman realised her mistake she figured the best thing she could do was seek shelter in the library.
And the library she found shelter in was noisy.
No sshhhs. No keep quiets. No awkward, stifled coughs. Just lots of people – kids, parents, friends, half-soaked women – exploring and enjoying the library. Not loudly in the grand scheme of things, but loudly in the library scheme of things.
The sound of rain outisde my window early this morning made me happy.
The drips and drops and thousand tiny splashes humming on paving slabs and freshly unfurled leaves made me want to run outside and stay there until my skin became only a half-skin, the rest of it made up of water and sky.
Once I’d got up, once I’d made a cup of tea, once I’d cuddled one cat, two cats, three cats, I stood at the doorway in my pyjamas and listened to the garden echo with rain and birdsong. My toes got wet as they gripped the doorstep. My lungs got clean as they filtered soggy air. My heart got heavy as it realised I wasn’t brave enough to step out into this soaking, squelchy, drowning world because my head had decided it was a silly thing to do.
It was silly. Totally silly. Silly through and through.
It’s natural to want to bask in sunshine, but to want to bask in rain?
That, though, had been the point.
I’ve spent the rest of the day trying to make up for my lack of bravery, but being kitted out with boots and a raincoat kind of takes the magic away.
So tomorrow, I hope it’s raining when I wake up.
If it is, you’ll find me in the garden in my pj’s, clutching a cup of overflowing-diluted-rainy tea, being completely and utterly ridiculous.
Days slowly getting longer. Brave flowers peeping up out of the cool ground. Promising warmth in golden sunshine.
It’s a happy mix of the perks of winter – the cosy evenings in front of the fire, a pair of cold hands kept warm by a mug of hot chocolate, rosy red cheeks from frosty air – whilst knowing that spring and summer, with all their greenness and sunniness and loveliness, are on the way.
A late winter magic.
I try to spend as much time as possible outside at this point in the year, soaking in some much needed sun rays and enjoying all the bursts of bright colour in amongst the greens and browns.