Monday, 27 March 2006


A dreamer like Tom Thumb, I scattered rhymes along
the way; lodging beneath the Great Bear.
My lucky stars would whisper softly at my ear...

Arthur Rimbaud

On Friday I ended up staying in the office for a while sending emails and generally sorting my life out so it was quite late when I left, the building was empty save for security guards. On the one had it was a bit annoying to be leaving so late but it did mean that I would not have to see a computer again until Monday morning. I was supposed to be going to a pub with some friends but was feeling tired and lacking in energy so decided to grab something to eat first. I went to an Italian place on High St Kensington called Il Portico; it was amazing, perfect service fantastic food and a homely atmosphere, highly recommended. I left feeling human once more and ready to face the weekend.

I ended up just heading home after eating as I was very tired, there is something about spending night after night shivering in the woods that really takes it out of you. There was a light drizzle in the air as I got off the bus and started to walk, save for the occasional lights of a car pooling past I was alone and once I had walked for ten minutes I was sufficiently far from the road to forget all about the world. It is quite a contrast to central London, the only signs of life being a Muntjack deer taking fright and crashing off through the undergrowth and the occasional call of an owl. It being the weekend there is no particular rush to get home so I take the scenic route home; this way leads me the way I used to travel before the bad weather forced me to take shelter behind the hill and under the yew tree. My feet are well accustomed to the track and the old familiarity of the trees to my left, the bush to my right and the very path that winds along the side of the hill wrapped around me like a duvet. The walk becomes almost dream like, I’m grinning to myself, I like it here it feels right. Maybe all this solitude has driven me crazy but I don’t think I have ever felt so at ease.

Things get better when I get back to the pile of branches that was until a few days ago my shelter from the weather, these branches of all different size are perfect for use as fire wood so there is no need to go searching. Sitting next to the fire, pot dangling in the heat I recover from the exertion of lugging all my possessions back and realise that it is not cold. This is a new development; it has been cold for about as long as I can remember and I find myself comfortably sitting wearing just a t shirt and a thin sweatshirt. I make the most of this by lying back on my bed roll and hands behind my head and with my feet up on a handily close pile of branches, “this is very much the life” I think to myself. Once the tea is made and the radio is turned on it goes from being “the life” to just about as perfect as it can be.

It turns out to be so warm that for the first time in a very long time I don’t need to go to bed fully dressed , going to bed not fully clothed was luxuriant in the extreme and my mood got even better. Every other night I have gone to bed wearing a balaclava, this acts not just as another layer against the cold but also means the air that I breathe is filtered through the balaclava. On the occasional cold night when I have forgotten to wear the balaclava I have woken with at least a sore throat and on one occasion a full on cold. Friday night was warm enough to get away with just wearing the balaclava as a hat.

Saturday morning was better still, I awoke not from being cold and shivering but because it was time to be awake, I was rested; in fact I ended up happily sleeping until about 11am. The sun was shining, when I awoke my feet wear lying in a pond of light that was taking them in the direction of hot. For once getting up didn’t involve a massive battle of the wills between the part of me that wanted to maintain what heat I had in the sleeping bag and the part that knew it was time to get up. I just got up, quickly got dressed for fear of passing ramblers and went for a little stroll around the grounds. It was in fact so mild and I was so keen to enjoy it that I didn’t even bother to put my boots on, preferring instead to feel the earth beneath my feet, the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. Standing on a low bank looking out across a valley to a distant wooded slope it struck me, this was it, I had done it, spring was here, winter was over. I had done it. I had survived the winter. Suddenly I felt elated and had I not had unshod feet I might well have danced a little dance. I went and put some boots on and then paced up and down feeling about as happy as it is possible to do. I couldn’t help but pace, I was excited, I had just survived a very long cold winter now that spring was very much in the air I began to realise just how nasty the winter had been. Being in the woods when it is not bitterly cold is really rather nice, there might be the odd rain shower but it’s a completely different ball game. I walked about here and there grinning to myself like a Cheshire cat that just got the cream stopping occasionally to examine those green frondy things that cover the ground where I live. I still have no idea what they are, they are a bit bigger than they were a week ago but other than that I’m none the wiser as to their identity.

The curious thing was that it took ages to light a fire, I’m not sure if I was too distracted by being excited at having made it through the big hurdle that is winter but it took me about four attempts. When I did have the fire going I was further excited by the fact that it was only necessary for the heating of food and not me. Liberated, that’s how I felt. I’m no longer tied to hiding under the tree for shelter, I don’t need to huddle away from the wind and depend on a fire for warmth, once again I can sleep out wherever. It might be a little too wet and cold to sleep out without the bivi bag and just the stars for a roof but those days will be here again soon.

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