The number of families out cycling and walking together in the Devon lanes is extraordinary. Just outside Westwood a family of four has propped their bikes against the hawthorn hedgerow and is picnicking on an extended verge. I see the fluorescent orange of an ice lolly contrasting sharply with the luxurious green of the grass.
I realise as I ride past the farmyard where, at Christmastime, enormous maritime buoys are hung like baubles from a tree, that it is entirely possible I am seeing these family groups through a ridiculously positive lens. That teenage girl could well be complaining that she would rather be watching some YouTube influencer from LA telling her about makeup tips, and that boy may be whining that he wants to be indoors, shielded from the sun and playing online with his Nintendo PlayBoxStation. Nevertheless, I trust in the power of nature and believe that from this all, happier, more balanced lives will grow.
Spring Morning – The Leaf Library + The Scattered Orchestra (from ‘Quiet House’ LP. Bandcamp) Polly – Marisa Anderson & Tara Jane O’Neil (from 7″ single. Bandcamp) To Keep the Ghost at Bay – Clara Engel (from ‘Hatching Under The Stars’ LP. Bandcamp) Mystery – Pine (from ‘Long Player’ LP) You’re Lovely – Sunchariot (from ‘Tea & Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974‘ LP) The Days of Our Lives – The Blue Nile (from ‘High’ LP reissue) Trouble – Dana Gavanski (from ‘Yesterday Is Gone’ LP. Bandcamp) (I Want to Join a) Biker Gang The Magnetic Fields (from ‘Quickies‘ LP.) Come Back To Us Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard (John Prine) – Advance Base (digital single. Bandcamp) Where Has Everybody Gone? – Red Red Eyes (from ‘A Girl and A Gun: Lockdown’ digital single. Bandcamp) It’s Fine – Jetstream Pony (from ‘Jetstream pony’ LP. Bandcamp) Can’t Get You Out Of My Heart – The Flatmates (from ‘The Flatmates’ LP. Bandcamp) Skateboard – The Photos (from ‘The Photos‘ LP) Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me – Mick Trouble (digital single. Bandcamp) Queen of Eyes – The Soft Boys (from ‘Underwater Moonlight’ LP) Dear Black Dream – Robert Forster (from ‘Danger In The Past’ LP reissue) Toughen Up – the ARROWS (YouTube) Until Olympius Returns – The Mountain Goats (from ‘Songs for Pierre Chuvin LP. Bandcamp) Radical Innocence – Easy (from ‘Radical Innocence’ LP. Bandcamp) Santa Monica (through the canyon) – Pacific Range (from ‘High Upon The Mountain‘ LP) Soft Rock Canyon – The Relationships See Through – Mapache (from ‘From Liberty Street’ LP. Bandcamp)
She’s Down – The Bats (from ‘No Sound: A Nivara LoungeFundraiser’ LP. Bandcamp) Sun is Shining – Sneaky Feelings (from ‘The Mercury Moment’ LP. Bandcamp) It’s Alright – Spinning Coin (from ‘Hyacinth’ LP. Bandcamp) Luv Always (LIVE IN LA) – Young Guv (from ‘Live In LA’ LP. Bandcamp) The Third Eye – The Dovers (YouTube) £.S.D. – The Pretty Things (from ‘Get The Picture’ LP. YouTube) And In My Dreams – The Junipers (from ‘The Junipers’ Euphonious Trolley Vol 1′ LP. Bandcamp) Cottage Made For Two – Paul Brett’s Sage (from ‘Across The Great Divide‘ compilation) Sitting By The Riverside – The Kinks (from ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ LP. YouTube) Sunny Goodge Street – Donovan (YouTube) Without You – S K Y T O N E (digital single. Bandcamp) Funny Lookin Angels – Peter Hall (digital single. Bandcamp) Wheel Of Light – Delta (from ‘Hardlight’ LP) Blue – The Room in the Wood (from ‘We’re The Martians Now’ LP. Bandcamp) I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles (YouTube) Here Comes a Regular – The Replacements (from ‘Tim’ LP. YouTube) Ancient Mysteries – Charles Douglas (from ‘Statecraft’ LP. YouTube) Good Times – Shelagh Mcdonald (from ‘Stargazer’ LP. YouTube) Ode to Lullaby – Lankum (from ‘The Livelong Day’ LP. Bandcamp) Sacred Geometry – trappist afterland (from lathe cut single. Bandcamp) Gone Away – Sproatly Smith (from ‘A Trip of Hares’ LP. Bandcamp) How to Get to Spring – Jon Brooks (from ‘How To Get To Spring’ LP. Bandcamp)
The land is waking all around me. In the orchards trees are heavy with blossom whilst all along the verges cow parsley, dandelions and harebells wink and dance in the breeze. Along Allercombe Lane a hawthorn hedgerow is so heavy with flowers it looks as though it is covered in an unseasonable covering of snow. Beside the crackle and hum of power cables and pylons a different energy emanates from the earth: the shimmering lilac of a bluebell wood, in the midst of which stands an elderly couple rapt in silent reverie. In the dappled sunlight they appear almost wraith like. I blink and in a moment I am past.
It seems to me, in these moments of nature’s rebirth, that it might just be possible that those ‘dark satanic shopping centres’ could yet be crumbling to dust, their shadows reclaimed by the ancient natural magic. Well, wouldn’t it be pretty to think so.
A plummet from Peak Hill and a bunny hop onto the prom. Sidmouth has never looked so quiet.
As is always the way my mind drifts to the first time I came to this place, some thirty years ago. I came to meet friends who were desperate to leave, whilst ironically I found in Devon a place I felt at home in. Pedalling out of town I pass familiar road signs. Livonia Road. Primley Road. I think of the letters and tapes that travelled between here and Scotland a lifetime ago. Life lines for me, certainly. An education.
In Sidbury the cream stone church crouches behind luxurious blossom. A red telephone box filled with books winks at me and I idly wonder if it contains a copy of The Warzone.
Up and out of Westwood I meet a lady coming down the narrow lane astride a horse. Clicking down a gear, I pedal more softly and say hello as I near them. I have heard that horses appreciate this. The rider says thank you and reminds me that it’s a steep hill. I laugh that it is indeed and wish her a pleasant ride. ‘Thank you’ she replies. ‘And you my love, and you.’ Of course it sounds like ‘moi love’. Devon is great.
News of a friend losing their father to the virus yesterday inevitably intrudes on my thoughts today as I cycle the lanes on the edge of the Blackdown hills. Inevitably too it makes me think of my own father, as I suspect it would anyone who has suffered from this kind of loss. For however well we think we may have coped with it, this trauma never seems far from the surface.
When my father was seriously ill several years ago I spent many days visiting an ICU with other members of my family. I remember that sharing the routine was something of a salve to my own pain, though I recognise that this was separate and different to that of my brother, and certainly to that of my mother. I wonder how different things may have been had we been denied that opportunity.
Although he eventually recovered sufficiently to leave hospital, we each knew that this was nothing more than a short pause on the road to the inevitable. When eventually he died in early January of 2014 I recall that I was alone on a train just outside Lochwinnoch, attempting to read a book about Eddy Merckx. My journey back to Scotland had been delayed by a cancelled flight and I had spent many hours that day in an airport departure lounge, detached from my world and adrift in another I barely recognised. In the years since, those hours of delay have routinely haunted my idle thoughts, and I wonder if being there at the end would have erased the regret about not having had an opportunity to say a last goodbye. Or would a different regret simply have taken this one’s place? Regrets and wonderings being as inevitable as they are ultimately irrelevant, after all. As I crest the climb to Blackborough and cast an eye over the lush expanse of the Culm valley, it occurs to me that each of us has our own moments, memories and stories, as unique as fingerprints. In sharing the stories we find comfort in recognising universal themes and shared experience whilst at once instinctively recognising the differences that identify us as separate. Oneness in our otherness, and vice versa.
The biting easterly’s of recent days have started swinging into the south and a thin veil of warmth is returning to the land. In the fields near Hele a tractor traverses an expanse of red, the rattle and thrum of attachments hurling seeds into the maw of the earth. Clouds of dust rise in the breeze and suffocate the sky.