December 11th, 2004

walking

trees, insomnia, and the return of the king

Andrew called, sounding daunted. I shouldn't have put so much in the story. Still, at least I know everything got through OK ... Damian personfully wasn't annoyed that this happened during a confusing montagey bit partway through the first disk of Return of the King. In the kitchen, talking to Andrew, I felt myself hunching over like my older sister. Of course, sentimental films have this effect, christmas has this effect, but I feel more than usually wrapped up in my family, in history.

So, I watched it through and wowed and gasped and duly felt somewhat aggravated at mawkish comedy intrusions and the minimum lipservice payout on some of my favourite scenes ... but, soit. Tolkien put in his own (now far too ghastly to film) comic relief, and while I prefer humans, hobbits and gods to fairies and goblins elves and orcs I fully accept that this isn't a majority view.

We stayed up late on a couple of appendices including word from the Tolkien scholars that the man thought that Hastings and the Norman invasion was the most disastrous event in the history of english language, literature and culture. Not that you'd think it from all his wandering knights and fairy princesses. I'd always wondered about the hostility between the French and English tutors at Exeter College ... and then there was the thing about horses, and how if horses had been properly sewn into the British culture, the french would never have been able to defeat us. Which is possible, of course, but in a country so small you really can walk between villages in half a day, is your horse ever going to be more than a luxury item?

So then I was thinking about the village, and growing up, and not sleeping, just turning things over like coins in a pocket, and just as I was about to drift off came a sound that sounded exactly like someone stealthily trying to lift the latch on the back door but was probably just Tivo turning over in its sleep, so no sleep, then, just insomnia instead. And while I was sitting up in bed shivering it came to me that the real reason I couldn't sleep was because I was thinking about trees.

The ash we had to take down and the big old yew tree with nails in the trunk. The ivied ash trunk in the old cot I used to argue with. The sycamore I planted, and the other sycamore by the deep pond with branches all the way up, like rungs on a ladder. The stand of alders so bone-thin you could cut them with a single blow. The oak I could have been able to climb but didn't, the willow I should have been able to climb but couldn't. The holly gate on the old green road to the next village. The way they looked, they smelled, where they were in the village. What they meant.

Then I tried to remember the children of the village. The ones the same age as me. With one exception, their faces were blurred in my memory (I suppose because I only saw them growing) and I couldn't remember their voices at all. There were four, as I recall. Philip, whose people stayed on the farm no-one could make work for a couple of years, and Tracey from across the road, neither of whom could read. Antonia, who was in the council house (there were a few, but only one ever changed tenants) during a family crisis of some sort before escaping to Bridport, and Hayley, whose family was messed up in some way that wasn't altogether clear, although it involved goats. I think Vanessa Valdes-Scott might have been the same age as me, but it was fairly irrelevant. My only contact with them was looking after the pheasants on their shoot while they went skiing. In fact, she might not even have been called Vanessa. It all sounds a bit unlikely, really.

Stretch out the age group a bit and you get a few more. Charlies and Sharons, Dimants (who were poor) and Littles (who were giants). I'm making it up. Except that I'm not. The smell of chicory in the Hardys' place, wooden, tiny, scarce more than a shack; and across the road, that huge house with its huge garden and its Sunday school for a group of children which would never include me. Why can't I remember being happy, as a child? I must have been happy, all children are from time to time, but when I try and remember all I get is a scattering of images; a decorated stone in another person's garden; frosted trees beyond a field of snow, freshly frozen over; my little sister's shadow making a black door on a golden cliff-face; pretty things, but each one with a heavy underlay of emotion, envy, intrusion, anxiety, guilt, escape.

Better to think about the trees, and the green hill towards Halstock. I thought that it looked like a sleeping woman, but nobody could see it except for me.
  • Current Music
    pulp - the birds in the garden