Holiday in the country. But first you have to push through London’s circles of hell. Shabby blocks of flats, scrapyards, the odd garish outlet with its promise of redemption.Stratford. Half-finished Olympic installations in the damp grey air, Westfield mall, the Gherkin on the other side, the City behind it. Suicide stretch, you think to yourself, the planet’s suicidal thoughts materialised. All hope abandon ye who enter here, written in soot across the sky. The train squeaks down the filthy tracks into Liverpool Street station. Afternoon rush hour, the city shoving out its crowds.
What does it take to get away, just for a week? It takes money you don’t have, it takes a train, bus and taxi to get to a cottage by a road with constant traffic that even earplugs can’t drown out. It takes half an hour’s walk between farmers’ fields to get the zooming and clanking out of your head. The clouds part to reveal the setting sun, it warms you, you sit down on the tractor verge and squint up at the sky. A snippet of the everyday after a day of seeming everydayness, maybe the day isn’t wasted, you think. Long rows of budding cabbage. Rolls of hay. The sun going down behind the bare trees, behind the hills, its rays spreading across the fields…
Is this the everyday? The everyday isn’t a day like today, you think, a day of travel, split into departures and destinations. Yet it has something to do with time, you tell yourself: the world’s time. Inhuman time. The everyday is universal, you think, everyday tasks notwithstanding. It’s the shifting of seasons across the earth, the orbits of moons, the lives of stars… To merge with the everyday: to let your life extend beyond your everyday self. The difficulty is to empty your mind of the noises that assail it, you tell yourself, and the stains it makes on the silence of the day.
But you’ve only just arrived in the countryside, you think, as you walk back to the cottage by the road with its non-stop traffic – the countryside that’s supposed to give you a break. The animals you’re here to feed for your holidaying friends, the rabbits and chickens, they know about the everyday, go clean their litters, watch them.
Impatience: what blocks you from the everyday, keeps you at a remove. From the everyday which trumps all. Which has no opinion of you.
This old dusk-dread, this no man’s land between day and night. The sky is purple, ominous. You watch the chickens pecking away at the ground. What do they care about the dusk? They’ll shuffle into their coop and sleep easy. Will they dream, as they grow their eggs? They’ll dream of sweetcorn and warm straw perhaps; their favourite things. Dreams as natural as a stream’s currents.
The chickens are joined by wild birds, attracted by the feed you’ve put out: sparrows, a wood pigeon, a brilliantly coloured pheasant. Hidden in the everyday.
To stay in the everyday: nothing is harder.
A grey day after a spell of sun. Dark heavy clouds, but the farmers talk of a drought, the rain won’t come.
Your daily two-hour walk along the public footpaths and farmers’ roads, between ditches and razed copses littered with shredded branches and shrubs. A bare tree here and there. You startle a deer. It jumps over the stumps, surprisingly bony and powerful: something quite different. The deer in turn scares a flock of crows that wheel cawing over the field.
A huge charred tree, split by lightning.
The desolation of the everyday. What else can the everyday be for you? The ruination of all plans. That which wipes out the path behind and in front of you.
At the edge of a field you come across a strange sight: a dead pigeon tied to the arm of a mechanical device, moving in a circle. ‘I’ll never shoot no pigeons with you standing there, mate.’ You whirl round and see a man with a shotgun, disguised behind the thicket. You say sorry and move on. Crossing private land as you make for the road, you hear a shot ring out.
A foggy day, like a pause in time. A chill that gets under your clothes, under your skin. The rows of cabbage slope out of sight under the mist. A cow moans in the distance.
All this cant about the everyday… When what you really want is to escape the everyday, its endless tedium. To go home, play with your phone, drink beer, watch your friends’ TV.
You used to be able to concentrate, didn’t you? You used to be able to read a book to the end. The more distracted you get the heavier the everyday becomes, the less strength you have to face it.
The sun comes out, the mist lifts and little birds emerge from their places in the trees, hopping and tweeting. You take off your jumper and put it in your backpack.
You veer off the public footpaths, lose your way for a time in wild meadows, find the stream and try to get your bearings. A brief fear of straying from civilisation.
To see your life from the point of view of the everyday – to let the everyday live in you. Only then, perhaps, would these complaints and indignities stop. But that’s precisely what you fail to do every day, what you can’t but fail to do.
You hear road traffic and feel relieved.