I often tell you about the land and the stories hidden within it.
Now I will tell you about the land inside me and the story hidden in my inner land. I believe we all feel a resonance with the land because it resonates with something within us. I have grown up within the limestone boned valleys of Bath and later of Stroud, Gloucester. These valleys all work well with me, they are introverted, nookish, elusive, deep and variously individual. They get round their difficulties in a long, pondering, seemingly delayed but eventually surprisingly sensible route. They are prone to damp and to copious waters spouting below the ridge line. I am fascinated by springs and streams, and it appears I have naturally ended up in a landscape where it is impossible not to come upon one. It is their utter vulnerability but also adaptability to what we do to their waters that is fascinating. I know about being vulnerable. In my teens I spent most of my years at secondary school being bullied and not really having any real friends, though outside school in my street I did have two friends but too often I experienced even that friendship as no better than dust. I became used to feeling anxious, isolated and estranged from my own kind. But I no longer knew who or what a friend was. I was subject to betrayal and bullying humiliates the individual into feeling there is something wrong and therefore ill-fitting about themselves. So I grew into my teens feeling I was odd and that nobody would really want to be friends with me, afterall I was the odd one who hid away in the library, hiding in books I could escape away into and possessed an imaginative, novel way of thinking about things that was definitely odd. I was not happy with this pigeonhole of having to be the odd misfit but nobody was lifting any finger to help at school, so I got on with it.
Saying ‘I got on with it’ though is not true, I struggled continually at my work which seemed to confirm by my failure to understand what I was being told to do that I was never going to succeed and this was made all the worse by my very low confidence. The only place to go to where I could be free of all this crushing exclusion was Nature and my imagination. I could go back in time in history or invent other worlds to inhabit. I could climb up a tree and be somebody else. But really I hated feeling the way I did, I wanted to feel confidant in my work, I wanted real friends, I wanted far more than feeling like I had to conform and pretend to be what others wanted but already in my teens the world was closing its doors on me. I was fortunate though that my parents cared about me and through the Bath young people’s theatre I found out that my seemingly oddness could be put to good use, and as well nobody minded at all that I was rather eccentric, they didn’t feel they had to bully me and instead rather remarkably people were being friends with me (some of these people were girls, something had to be right for them to like me). This helped me get through my last two years at secondary school where my confidence was always going up and down, and sometimes never really getting up but staying at a level that didn’t attract too much attention, like a shy nervous humming. By the time I had come to the end of this ordeal and done my exam I felt I been completely let down and did not want to stay in mainstream education anymore. I had worked very hard at my work with much anxiety fuelling it that I would inevitably fail. The bullying still continued perpetrated by one individual who was in all honesty just a sad loser. I didn’t care about it much anymore, it was the normal state of affairs and the adults put in charge of us didn’t seem to be able to do much either. I was very enthusiastic about school ending for good.
By the age of seventeen I had transformed myself into a hippy; the bright colours, the long locks, the free spiritedness, the excess of bare feet all of it chimed with how I saw myself breaking free of the arbitrary, limiting, uncaring and excluding cage I had been stuck inside. I drank up music like the Beatles, the Average White Band and Pink Floyd; I bought a DVD of all the Rhubarb and Custard episodes from the seventies (a childrens TV animation those distinctive art style wobbles continually on the screen as its main protagonists Rhubarb the dog and Custard the cat tried to do silly things) and read the Moomins dreaming I would become a vagabond. I would finally escape!
Well that was now just over eleven years ago and I still carry wounds from that miserable time at school. I still have times when my self-confidence just doesn’t want to have to deal with the world and I feel still constrained by my past like a life sucking shadow round the corner. Sometimes I still want to disappear away and have nobody disturb my protective shell. At least now I have more confidence in myself and feel I am included far more than I ever was before; I am not so afraid of people anymore now I have learned that they generally do not harbour monsters behind their faces. I have come a long way from my seventeen year old self, I could have told him that he would finally end up in Stroud where there is a natural ecosystem for strange, imaginative people with an inclination for their nonconformity in most matters.
(Swallowhead spring, Avebury, somewhere aged eighteen)