If life has a base that it stands on, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without a doubt is upon this memory. It is of lying half asleep, half awake, in the bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind. It is of hearing the blind draw its little acorn across the floor as the wind blew the blind out. It is of lying and seeing this light, and feeling, it is almost impossible that I should be here; of feeling the purest ecstasy I can conceive.
This is a passage from ‘Sketch of the Past’, an essay by Virginia Woolf, one of her very few pieces of autobiographical writing. I studied it for the last essay I ever completed for my degree, about Woolf writing the sea. (I originally wanted to do my entire dissertation on the sea in literature, and I regret not trying, even though it would have been far more difficult to research than my eventual attempt at Sylvia Plath.) Fills and fills and fills, I reflected, and imagined Woolf’s bowl overflowing, joyfully, with seawater. Though I know it cannot all have been seawater. But that feeling. That freedom. That contentment. What a thing to stand one’s bowl on. And on what am I going to stand mine?
Last summer, I went to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland with my parents, to visit my grandma, and I really wish I’d written more about it at the time. It had been six years since I was last there, but previously to that we visited fairly regularly, so I feel like I know it pretty well. The smallest things take me back there – the smell of tumeric, a breeze through a window as I’m draining a hard-boiled egg. This is part of the familiar side of the dichotomy. A place I’ve been to before can still be a discovery. I dream about Lewis all the time, and all the time it looks different. It is the idea of the place, not the manifestation of it, perhaps.
Shawbost, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, July 2016
I’m probably not going on holiday this year. I have been immensely fortunate, to have been able to go on so many wonderful trips in my life so far. I try not to lament that I’m not well enough and can’t afford it this year, because with any luck this will not always be the case. Was does upset me is that my parents have had to cancel their break, because my grandad (dad’s dad) is not at all well and it seems unwise to go abroad while he’s like this. I don’t always accompany my parents on holiday, because they need time to themselves and also because they like to go on long walks up mountains, and I am currently incapable of walking for more than about half an hour at a time. If it’s a choice between being alone at home trying to amuse myself, or being alone in a slightly grotty holiday cottage trying to amuse myself – actually, I’d probably still prefer the holiday cottage, but travel is often nevertheless too difficult for me. So I could be secretly glad that they’re not leaving me to ping off the walls by myself for ten days. But they needed that trip so badly. They’re exhausted. It’s gutting.
Everyone I know is gone and I don’t even know myself
I’m saving up
To take a trip to Mexico
I heard it’s the place to go
Oh I want to see the colours of another sky.
The Staves – Mexico
I’m saving up. Not to go to Mexico, although I’m sure Mexico is lovely. I’m thinking Italy or Greece, although I’m also desperate to go the States. I’ve been hopeless with money for most of my adult life, but I’m trying so hard now. (As much as anything else, I’m trying so hard not to beat myself up about how hopeless I’ve been with money. Trying not to think about the opportunities I’ve denied myself.) Hopefully, by the time I’ve got enough saved, I’ll be well enough to go.
In the meantime, I have to make do. I can’t decide if it was just the other day or forever ago that my Mum and I were looking for bluebells, walking through woods and down roads I’d not been to in years, even though they were only fifteen minutes’ drive away from our house. And I got the feeling I’ll describe in the next paragraph, just for a few minutes, of being on holiday. Yesterday (at least, it was yesterday when I wrote this bit), I swam in the sea for the first time this summer, and it was the best thing, the happiest I’ve been, all year. The water wasn’t too cold, for June, glassy and clear. I used to move my body like this all the time, but yesterday it was painful, straining. Too new. Still, it was good to be weightless, to be carried by water. Hopefully next time I will actually remember to bring my snazzy underwater camera I got for Christmas. Here’s me on a swing amongst the bluebells instead:
Veryan, Cornwall, May 2017
I think I’ve found my bowl, standing on this: somewhere between a memory and a dream, walking down a long, hazy road under a green canopy with sunlight shining through. My parents and my brother are moving and talking beside me. I think perhaps we are in France, or the Lake District, or maybe we are just at home in Cornwall. I’ve never been here before, but it is achingly familiar. I don’t know what’s around the corner, I am a little nervous, I don’t know what happens next. I have not quite been happy – perhaps I did not want to come out, perhaps we’ve been walking a long way and I’m tired. But at the same time, I will long for that road when I am away from it, and when I find myself back there, as I often seem to do, I am utterly contented. It’s placeless; it does not exist in reality, I could not draw you a map or tell you where to go, not even if time travel had been invented. But I will find myself back there, again and again. Everything will not be exactly the same, but that feeling –
I want to be outside and exploring and on holiday.
Blue caves, Zakynthos, Greece, June 2013
Picos de Europa, Spain, August 2013
Rydal Mount, Lake District, England, July 2012
Picos de Europa, Spain, August 2013