Thursday, 28 November 2019

Shack Tales: Nov 28, 2019

I woke up this morning to find that the River Blyth that borders The Studio to the north had flooded causing the River Dunwich 50 yards to the east of my front porch to swell and overflow up and over Wally's Bridge, effectively rendering my dwelling an island. I considered that my old Porsche might float away, but then remembered that it had been valued by Marcus at £2,100 on and put the kettle on.
I got quite excited by the idea of an even more acute seclusion. Ever-keen on irony it made me reach for Roger Deakin's 'Waterlog'. Our maverick travels Britain in search of Wild Swimming and, in doing so, immerses himself in fresh environments daily. In exercising his 'right to roam' he encounters many a beatific bank and its inhabitants. Most are either welcoming or indifferent to him. Some (mostly human) move him on. A well mannered and eccentric rebel, part of Deakin's charm is the way that he attempts to inhabit the waters that he visits: he regresses to an almost feral state to better understand the mystery of what a daily dunking does for his mental health.

“I grew convinced that following water, flowing with it, would be a way of getting under the skin of things. Of learning something new. I might learn about myself too.”

He notes diving in with a long face and emerging 'a whistling idiot'. This quest for cure and liberation
got me thinking about why I love the place that's been home for the past fortnight. And why I keep returning. It's got nowt to do with any sense of travel: quite the opposite: Walberswick lies at the end of a road. That road cul-de-sacs in the car park that borders The Studio to the south. I am the most Northern and Easterly dwelling in the village. You have to want to be here to get here. This elemental sense of separation and seclusion is a thrill to me. It feels like a destination. I arrive. I unpack. I'm home. On fine days it forces me out to wander: on foul days it holds me within to wonder.

“Most of us live in a world where more and more things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things.”

That's it!
Here I am offered submersion and subversion.
I work in an environment where order is everything; the 'official version' abides. It's the law. I understand that particular need for order: that need for protection. However, the requirement to protect can become so enveloping that 'safeguarding' becomes an exacted requirement rather than an instinctive embrace. It can stifle and squeeze the joy out of things for both the protector and the protected. We furnish our environments harmless and risk rendering them charmless. We don't climb trees. We don't leap fences. We don't swim dark rivers. We become resistant to the draw of wild places, where discomfort not only thrills us, but teaches us. I wouldn't wish discomfort on anyone, but we couldn't survive without it.

And yet... here I am, comfy by the fire, part Ratty, part Mole, part Crusoe feeling a genuine ache at the thought of leaving tomorrow. We are often attracted to things, people and places that bare characteristics of the things that we could never be. I think of that misfit Jack London's description of himself as ' a sailor on horseback'. My addiction to this haven is that its authenticity is everything that I am not: it does not become me, and yet, somehow, it's a perfect fit.
T.S. Eloit famously noted:

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time."

Perhaps the all embracing, immersive warmth of this sanctuary makes it feel that, although it rests riverside and seaside, on the edge of adventure, it also cocoons and offers homely comfort. Deakin observes that we are 'beached at birth'. Mum's the word but maybe it is no co-incidence that in reserving this fortnight at The Studio annually, I'll forever be here on my birthday. Perhaps as we get older, we feel the elemental need for returning.
Maybe it's not that all roads lead to Rome, but that still waters lead to home.