Bleak fields and branches gleaming with hoar frost on the way down to the river. I think of Wallace Stevens’ mind of winter. Does that help? I can’t decide, it’s too cold to think. A boat chugs by leaving a dense wobbling wake in the near-freezing water. The path is ridged with hard mud. On the surface of the willow pond pure freshwater forms shapes like oil slicks as the brackish water sinks and starts to freeze. I spot a snipe at the water’s edge, blended with the reeds and puffed up against the cold, the end of its long beak sticking out from under its wing. Everything here seems indrawn and dormant: conserving energy, waiting, secretly growing. On the way back there’s black ice on the road and frost feathers on the cars spreading out in unique, elaborate patterns.
I cycle to the coast in the drizzle. The low tide exposes a smooth bank on which tiny crabs scuttle between pebbles and bladderwrack. This stretch of the coast – the closest to us – is a world away from the northern part. In fact the coastline as a whole is as clear a demonstration of the British class system as you could wish for. To the east, Great Yarmouth with its familiar story: once a rich port and Victorian holiday resort, now one of the most deprived towns in the country after decades of budget airlines, package holidays and a spiral of unemployment and neglect as the regional cities have gentrified and pushed those in the margins further out. Here are discount chain stores, betting shops and gaming arcades. Litter everywhere. The dogs of choice are terriers and rottweilers. In the north, at a suitable distance from the caravan parks, second homes in tasteful muted colours and Range Rovers have replaced the old fishermen’s cottages and carts. The beaches are wider and sandier, the pubs have Michelin stickers on their doors, the dogs are spaniels and labradors.
‘I’m not myself today.’ Pregnant phrase. Who or what then?
Woolf: ‘I see myself as a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place; but cannot describe the stream.’
When I was younger it was often as if the current of another life – the success I should have been in the world – flowed over me, pushed me this way and that or left me stuck somewhere. What else is that current but the stories of success that the flow of capital uses to seduce us, having broken down the old stories of our lives? All day I translate business texts to make money to pay our inflated rent. They’ve set up a billboard for payday loans down the road… We’re degraded by capital, a force as concrete as the foundation under our house and as abstract and fleeting as stock indices rolling down a screen. It reaches us out here in the Broads, of course, infiltrating and compromising our lives: it owns us, makes us want to degrade ourselves before it, mocks these very words, tells me I don’t understand it because I’m not living in the real world, which is its world, a world that seeks to swallow all alternatives. We try to straighten out the twisted postures this life has forced us into so we can walk, breathe, think. We try to gather strength to unlearn its happy endings, to see through the screens it erects against the day. Yet here I am, translating business texts on my laptop to pay the bills, never sure how much I’ll make from month to month…
To Strumpshaw Fen with S. From the low-lying path the pleasure boats on the river seem to glide over the reeds. In the hide S. points out a marsh harrier flapping erratically above the reedbed and a cormorant standing on a pole with outstretched wings like some strange idol presiding over this man-managed reserve. Over the meadows shrieking swifts feed on mists of insects they’ll soon carry south across the seas in their bellies. A partridge hops along the path in front of us. We point and laugh at its panicky prance, but there’s no comedy in nature. It hides in the reeds where it stops and looks back at us in what seems like fear as we creep up to it to get a closer look. Sometimes you only see how utterly different wild animals are when you get close to them: the black beads in its head hardly look like eyes, its richly detailed plumage is not for you.
Heavy with homesickness for being. In my heaviness the moment passes me by. I’m looking for it in these scattered words. Is it looking for me too, the moment, calling me into itself? Does it need my words to come to itself? But it’s been and gone and I’m passing my time in detours. Then – miracle – the words come together and lift me into it, the silent moment.
A walk before lunch. I sit on a tree stump and write a note on my phone. The screen reflects the sky as I write, partly obscuring my words.
When I name a thing it comes alive for an instant, then sinks back into itself. I move between the named and the nameless. These words really should be varying shades between black and white, appearing and disappearing on the screen. And yet they seem to be making their way towards something. Towards what?