May brought amongst all the many delights of Spring, the not so nice and very unexpected - the dreaded 'Notice to Quit'. It's very hard to keep your mind on much else when you know you have to find somewhere else to live in just 8 weeks. I've moved house so often though, that shock is soon replaced with a sense of increasing excitement. And I've learned to trust in the whole process. I had not at this stage accounted for the exhaustion that all of this would involve or the incredibly fiddly process of packing up my studio. I did fully realise that moving house and studio would involve getting behind with my work.
So I set off very early in the morning on my first reconnoitre. My initial idea was to explore the other side of the River Exe - the Dawlish side that is. I'd never really got to know the lay of the land after my first journey there. I'd encountered too many enormous fields of maize and slashed hedges - the quick economical way of butchering the countryside. I've often wondered if there are enough people who'd happily take on the job of doing this by hand as it used to be done. Exercising an intimate relationship with nature. Anyway it all seemed soulless that first time so I was not feeling particularly optimistic.
This might seem like a pointless little quibble of my own - it is however, the way my mind works. When I was a child I lived on the edge of a small village called Grappenhall.
It was very beautiful. I used to walk along the tow path to schooland then down the cobbled street to a - on the whole - happy little village school. But after 3pm and at weekends and holidays I was immersed in the surrounding countryside - where every field had a name and a history and I knew them all.
Hedges are the boundaries of fields - there was nothing uniform about them back then, all their shapes were unique and their outlines were their defining features, plus of course, they were home to an unseen world of countless wild lives. They all had a certain feel. And that was as much to do with the character of the people who planted the hawthorn and field maples as anything. The ditches were also integral for without them the fields could be water logged, animals could get foot rot, crops would not thrive. The ecology of fields kept on evolving with a natural helping hand from the people who lived off the land and the owners. We all benefited. Times changed.
There is a wonderful book called The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Stewart Collis - you can still buy it - even on Amazon. The house I grew up in had wall to wall books and then more piles of books everywhere else. A literary jungle. I discovered Mr Collis in one of those piles. The modern edition now has an intro by John MacFarlane. On Amazon it is described quite poetically and rightly so as being 'as uncategorizable as it is enchanting.'
As to my house hunting foray - I explored the hinterland on the other side of the river and I loved it all this time - discovering new parts where it seemed that more traditional hedging was done. Perhaps, most likely in fact, still done with a tractor but somehow with care and a sharper blade. I even found an incredibly picturesque seat down a long, winding lane. My own Country Seat.
Yet it was almost impossible to actually sit on as Queen Anne's Lace and Campion had begun to entwine through the lichen covered wooden slats. A perfect place with only the sound of bird song and the wind. Then a tractor and the postman but then again - solitude - heaven - surrounded only by the fields, trees, breezes, birdsong and hedges.
The little town of Dawlish encompasses such a variety of people. A little bit more socially diverse than Topsham, though it's still what I think of as Enid Blyton Land.
Most of the West of England is in fact, i.e - not at all culturally or racially diverse. Sleepy on the outside and with a nod to tradition but as I have come to realise, as is every other community in the United Kingdom, sharply divided between the two same groups that were exposed during the referendum that we have since called Brexit - if you've ever wondered why we actually call it Brexit click the link.
This sharp divide really only became apparent to most of us after the count. We are now a nation divided but of course we always were. I think it's better to have it out in the open. We can now see more clearly where people's interests lie. In a way it was already obvious - especially and much more accurately if we look into the interesting world of digital data. It's there if we care to dig. Or perhaps the term should be mine, data mining. Such an interesting world for those who have invested interests.
When I was growing up I frequently overheard the term 'They' - as in They know best or They decide these things. I of course asked who 'they' were but no one ever seemed to be able to explain but 'they' continued to be referred and deferred to.
So here I will use the word 'They' and if you care to you can follow the link. I can't of course guarantee it will take you anywhere other than round in circles. They 'use the same techniques as Aristotle and Hitler ... We appeal to people on an emotional level to get them to agree on a functional level.'
And of course. Why not? It works. We give our permission on the back of a digital map. Every time. I have often considered whether our world would be best served by a meritocracy or a democracy of a kind. One formed by programming the best, ethical and moral perspectives beyond politics or religion. It is all happening, all evolving beneath the dirt of TV soap. A black comedy? We all hope not. I like to dig around on the internet. Explore it's hinterland.
I think I must say that I grew up on Enid Blyton, well to begin with. I liked her comforting yet exciting tales. Castle of Adventure etc. Though she was not discovered at home but in the library that we were lucky to have around the corner. Books were impossible to escape from - thank goodness. And the smell of them was divine, liked dried hay on a summer's day. Enid Blyton who gleamed so enchantingly into our lives.
We lived in an entirely different time then. Just after WW2 we needed escapism and reassurance and she knew how to provide it. Since I've got to know about her and her writing methods I'm very intrigued. She says that "I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knee – I make my mind a blank and wait – and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me in my mind's eye ... The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don't have to think of it – I don't have to think of anything." "If I tried to think out or invent the whole book, I could not do it. For one thing, it would bore me and for another, it would lack the 'verve' and the extraordinary touches and surprising ideas that flood out from my imagination."
When I'm writing fiction, that is exactly how I write too. No plotting. Some researching and travelling to absorb the atmosphere but all else is a revelation. I am never bored, the world of the imagination and all that the world of inspiration brings makes boredom impossible.
I did actually find a house in Dawlish that day that was a possibility, so felt more optimistic and a little safer. I 'followed my nose' as the saying goes - always the best way I find and walked - taking the roads that seemed to have that certain feel about them. I can't explain it any other way. It has happened so often in my life and I've nearly always ended up in the next place that I am going to live in or it has been a short next step to it. I have moved house so very often. It's one of life's journeys in itself.
So along the road I parked on and down a narrow road that dipped downhill until I came to a little bridge over a wide brook and into a park. I turned left and found a row of houses that backed onto the brook, in fact called Brook Street. I liked the feel of the place, rather quirky and quiet and all very individual looking little homes. I walked down following the brook into the town centre and straight into an estate agents. I explained my position and the woman said "We have a property coming up on Brook Street soon." I hadn't got round to mentioning Brook Street. I left and went to pin point the exact house, then got a coffee at a little French cafe and continued to explore. I love allotments so was delighted to see a possibility for me here as the only draw back to the house in Brook St was that it only had a courtyard garden.
My own position whilst house hunting is really defined and very much underlined because I have an old black Labrador - Bella and an even older cat called (Fizz) in tow. Not easy to accommodate nowadays. It really does mark a line that can be almost impossible to cross.
Buy to Let and Airbnb has meant that mortgage companies and banks can often stipulate the terms and as a result it is usually - 'No Animals' - sometimes even 'No Children'. The owners of this house were retired farmers and naturally accepted animals as part of family life.
This by the way, is Fizz. One of the reasons as to why house moving can be the most difficult obstacle game in the book. He's very strong willed and always insists on perching in precarious places. He tends to combine perching with posing and is excellent at both. He's 18 years old now and does like sleeping. I think he spends most of his time in his own feline heaven and wakes only to demand food. He's also excellent at letting his desires be known and thinks nothing of waking me up by yowling loudly at my bedroom door and insisting that I follow him downstairs to the fridge, where he then proceeds to drum on the door with his front paws until I give him whatever it is he thinks is in there.
I must make a Fizz and Bella a page of their own.
I have so many photos of him perched or/and posing. He is a lovely elderly gentleman now though still with a tendency to attack very viciously if you should go to a certain spot on his left hip, a place no-one can quite pin point. He was attacked by a badger when he was a teenager. He survived as you can see. He doesn't have arthritis. Somehow I always think of him as a 'she' with a very bad temper.
Meanwhile I had to get back to work in my studio - sorting a few boxes every day - sorting and tidying in the house and garden - a little everyday again. Trips to the charity shops and to the recycling centre. And working - making jewellery and telling my friends that I would be leaving. I've made some quite amazing friends in Topsham. But I don't see it as 'goodbye'. Topsham is still in Devon and I love all of Devon - in fact all of the West Country. I see it all as my own back garden. Much as I see the world. In the meantime this was the view from my studio window - never to be forgotten.