Like most serious relationships, my connection with mid Somerset seems to have been a winding journey of experience and emotions and perhaps the place where I have learnt more about myself than any other. Arriving here – I’d always visited but never lived here – signified the start of a new era in my life. It was a move from city to country – a cultural shift of living. It also signified the start of a new era within myself, the first time I really felt useful or proud of what I could achieve – a newly qualified educationalist who had been through hell and high water to ensure I could get qualified. For the first time in my life I felt I could achieve something. And here I was – 34 years old – out of college for the third or fourth time in a new school and living alone in a cottage ready to start again.
That was 2008 and I’m still here. Well, sort of. The transient drive in me and the desire to move about has meant this is a port of call, yes, a home but not one where I am all the time. There was a year out where I moved to a beautiful cottage not far from here to try and mend a relationship which was already breaking apart and which continued to fragment when we got there and now I’m back. I can’t help but feel out of place here somehow sometimes. The black sheep of the flock. The single draught left in the chess set. I’m surrounded by retired couples or families and here am I, a middle aged bachelor, popping in and out, saying hello, constantly walking or running or swimming or looking for the next amusement, unsettled amidst a community of – apparently, but who knows – settled people.
There’s so much history here for me, though. Some extreme times. Working so hard to make it in my first 2 years at school. Every evening planning lessons and resources and then being unable to sleep with the stress of the job, a habit formed over several years and one that has stayed with me. The countless walks alone and myriad views and observations collected over almost a decade of getting to know one corner of the world. Standing in this field, with these sort of sunsets with shining eyes. The countless nights getting drunk alone. Then wandering again around these fields or along the coast in Dorset or Devon sometimes without sleep. Why? Because I chose a life alone. Not that I want that for the rest of my life; I’m not some sort of hermit. Solitude can be blissful but loneliness can do for you in the same way a terminal illness can, eating away at you day by day until you don’t recognise yourself. Like most things, there has to be a compromise.
There are occasions, though, when I can think of nothing better than languishing in my own company. Sometimes, it is essential. There are so many groups or organisations now to join and SHARE experiences – in fact that phrase seems to pop up a lot: ‘share the experience’ of walking, running, wild swimming, coasteering, and so on and that is great. People socialise. They get fit. They feel good about themselves. I refuse to criticise that but it’s not for me. I want to be alone with the path and my thoughts. Just as I want to be alone with the power of the sea and the West wind. Constantly.
However I think the living alone must be limited for the moment – it’s going to be a part time thing. Instead I’ve adopted a civilised city life! The old unwanted guest of loneliness surprises me more with those dreaded visits and stays for longer these days and I hate, hate the idea of my life standing still, stagnating, while all around me move and grow and procreate and live the sweet tableaux of family life while I seem to be on a different path.
But hold on. I like that. I embrace it. Being the outsider, jumping on planes to God only knows where next and not caring about where I’m headed or what will happen. Burn, burn through life I’ve always said – explore and live every day filled to the brim and “dance and drink and sing til some blind hand shall touch my wing.” The duality of my life has never been more acute in my own mind. I want stability, company and a little thing called love but the fierce attachment I have to my freedom is so hard to give up on. It’s been a lifelong love affair.
I felt this as I walked along Wonwell Beach 3 weeks ago. It was grey and windy and dramatic as so much of that little corner of Devon is. There were very few people about at 9-10 O’Clock on a Saturday morning. As I walked back along the curling river, trying to beat the tide, the wind blowing straight into my face and lungs, my body and mind tingling, my wet eyes became fixed on crepuscular rays, like spotlights on the sea creating unreal pools of silver like mercury. I saw a sweet family, the only one on the tiny beach, her holding and playing happily with the baby, he with his back to me knocking in the uprights of their windbreak. Goodness, I thought, imagine me doing that this morning when I could be doing this. Oh, but I will. I will. One day.