Week 16: A month in the country
29 Jul 2011
Picture caption: walking at Castle Neroche in the Blackdowns, a mile from where my ancestors lived in Dommett, Buckland St. Mary
Having passed the 100-day mark, I’m now counting the time since my diagnosis of ‘incurable’ lung cancer in weeks. So that’s 16 weeks gone and I’m still here, still feeling well (most of the time), and still full of determination to keep it that way.
The week after the 5th chemotherapy was, as expected, pretty tough. I was tired, weak and mildly nauseous for 7 days. As in previous chemo cycles, the physical effects eventually beat down my spirits. But then, following the now familiar pattern, they lifted and I felt well and more positive again.
I’m now planning a therapeutic summer break – a chance to change fundamentally the way I live my life. My reasoning is that if I can change the diet, way of living, habits, and mentality that allowed the cancer to take root in my body, I will be better able to persuade it to leave.
I’ve been inspired by reading J.L. Carr’s short novel ‘A Month in the Country’. This follows the experience of the narrator, Tom Birkin, a World War One veteran who’s been psychologically scarred by experience of trench warfare. A former artist, he spends a month restoring a medieval church mural in rural Yorkshire. As he immerses himself in his work, and in the local community, he – almost imperceptibly – begins to heal and to recover his purpose.
It is a very English book: rooted in the countryside, the history of the church, in the continuity of a small, rural local community. But it is earthy, sometimes harsh, and not at all sentimental. The people he meets have their own problems and must work hard at their lives and relationships to get through each day. None are completely successful but they take strength from one another.
It is a beautifully written, spare, under-stated book with a clever twist as Birkin finds out more about the artist who painted the original mural that he is now uncovering for the first time for centuries.
So, I’m now embarked on my own ‘month in the country’ down in the beautiful Blackdown Hills of Somerset and East Devon. The plan is to immerse myself in simple, physical activities: walking, cycling, gardening, and practical, physical tasks. I’d also like to take a course in something absorbing and new to me, like furniture-making. Something that engages the mind in practicality and function, as well as beauty. What could be better than making things from wood?
The aim is to slow down, to avoid stress, to eat simply but well, to breathe the fresh country air and to heal myself. I want to learn about the trees and the flora and fauna. I want to develop patience, perseverance, and greater ability to observe my natural surroundings.
For too long, my journalistic and city-based life has involved rushing around, absorbing lots of information quickly yet not retaining it for long, meeting deadlines, juggling tasks, googling, tweeting, ticking-off items in ‘to do’ lists, and trying to keep up with never-ending developments.
Knowing that the time left to you may not be as long as you had expected offers a chance to really focus on what really matters. There are so many things left that I have not done, so much that I don’t know. The days are too precious to be spent moaning or being frustrated by the daily annoyances that, inevitably, get in your way when you are constantly rushing about.
So, I plan to immerse myself in the ‘otherness’ of life, taking more notice of what is around me rather than rushing past it. Where better to do that than in the Blackdowns with its patchwork, churt-spattered fields, its varied woodlands, thick hedgerows, moors, bogs, rivers, streams, high-banked lanes, sheep, cows, historic churches, country pubs, and quiet cycle-ways and paths?
I’ll let you know how it goes….but my blog posts may be a little less frequent over the rest of the summer as I also intend to spend a lot less time sitting at the computer!
And the bad joke...
And finally.... a joke supplied by my friend Alban:
.......The Greek Government is stopping production of taramasalata and
humous in an attempt to avoid a double dip recession!