We picked and ate the last of the radishes today. They were my favourite food when I was eight and not much has changed. I can never understand why they remain so unfashionable: it’s not as if they’re cucumber or something. This year’s crop were all very tasty, so long as we consumed them within a day of picking them, but we prefer a spicier kind and must remember that next time we grow them. We’ll be doing that somewhere else, I don’t know where, although, more and more, every day, I wish it could happen here.
June is what it’s all about, when you live in this place. The month you try to hold in focus during the harder ones. The time you keep your hands clean and dry for because you don’t want any of it to slip from your grasp. That peculiar sadness mid Cornwall carries in winter and early spring obliterated in one big screen wipe of rampant wildflower, lamb and blackbird. Blue skies and weekdays not yet stolen by tourists: precious, transient gold dust. I go to bed but, with the windows open, feel like I’ve still not left the garden. Night isn’t so much night as a brief deepening of the lovely days. A surround sound animal serenade pulls me out of a soft sleep. Thrush, wren, robin, sheep, hedge-munching cow, neighbour’s parrot, dictatorial cat. I write. I swim. I read novels I’ve been intending to read for years. I watch the vegetables grow as quickly as my skin changes colour. I barely look at social media, am neither entertained nor intrigued by it. I want life to be like this all the time. But there’s a nagging something I can feel on the edge of this happy core of me, like a tiny insect I can’t see or shake off, continually biting my shoulder blade, a tick I only half tweezed out.
On some days, I sit on the lawn, reading, and can hear the horticultural discussions of the couple who live in the house directly behind our compost heap: people I have only ever seen – albeit fairly vividly – in my mind. I say “discussions”; in truth it is just one authoritative female voice and a set of inaudible yet audibly male and audibly submissive replies. “Now watch out, the root is behind you.” “Johnny, Johnny… make sure you’re not hitting the clematis.” “Now listen, I wonder if putting a fork to this would help it drain a bit.” My guess is they own their place and have been in it for years. I’m not comparing: I assume they’re at a very different time of life to me, on a planet I’ve only read about. But envy’s a symptom of being awake. How big is the world? That’s often less about a technically accurate measurement than the decisions of the individual. Gardening is a way of answering the question, getting some grip on it when it’s frightening and complex. I miss the days when, in a garden I thought would be mine for several years, I measured out my world in soil, playing the role of both Johnny and Johnny’s assertive boss. I miss the way it enabled me to exist outside of time. But I knew from day one that we were on a limited contract here so told myself I wouldn’t do that again. The burn from before, when it didn’t work out, when I threw everything I had into it then had to leave it all behind, still has a surprising sting. Even planting those radishes – along with some lettuce, peppers, basil and mini aubergine – required an intake of breath.
I still can’t quite get my head around the way the radishes weren’t there and then were there just because we buried some seeds in a tray and remembered to water them then, a couple of weeks later, put them in the ground. Do not come to me with your “science”. Nobody will ever properly explain to me how that works, as long as I live. I was scanning house websites when I planted the radishes and I’m scanning house websites now that they are in my stomach. I don’t see much hope there: it makes me feel like a time not long ago at all, when I also thought I didn’t see much hope, was in fact an everything-must-go halcyon period of immense freedom and choice for tenants. Hanging out on Right Move is no way to spend a summer, especially the only one you’re allowed in the kind of house you might never be permitted to live in again. But the fear I feel is not imaginary and a solution will be required. Time is ticking. You can, however, step outside of it for a while. There are ways. They’ve always been there, ever since you ate your first radish, read your first book while horizontal in summer’s rebel grass, lost your first afternoon in salt water, in soil. That’s what it’s all about: sensations, states of being that you had access to before you were even properly you. Moving house a lot – often out of sheer necessity – has in my case never been about an attempt to ascend to a new higher plane where everything is perfect forever, and it’s even less about it now. I don’t want the earth. But also I badly do. Just a small patch of it. A place where I can define the borders, step off the clock and make up the rules as I go along.
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