Notes from Farangland Part 1
As Stick prepares to bail out on Thailand, and (presumably) head back to Farangland, the reaction of many is WTF would you do that for? I thought I would write a mini-series of short pieces on what he might expect to find if he decides to head to my own corner of Farangland – England.
People talk of English weather as if it were the work of the devil. Certainly in England there are cold winters and much rain. But there are four clear seasons and I have come to love each of them in turn.
Spring is probably my favourite time of the year. The natural world is waking from its winter slumbers, it's time for some spring cleaning too. To awake early to the birdsong, especially the first cuckoo, on a cool English spring morning is one of life's sublime pleasures. Watching our cherry blossom tree bloom in our garden, all too briefly, brings great joy. I like to take an early morning walk, before starting work for the day, through the bluebell wood or down through the meadows, my chocolate lab, Rolo, chases the rabbits, and completely fails to catch one. It's around this time I will give the grass the first cut of the year as I grapple again with the English gardener's rite of passage that is the struggle to create and maintain the perfect lawn.
As spring warms into summer I will amble down to the village green and watch my first cricket match of the season, and will end up drinking warm beer with friends well into the endless June evening, the skies at this time of year are often a cloudless deep blue. I might take a trip down to Devizes to watch the colourful barges punt slowly past the wharf, before taking a leisurely pub lunch, and maybe a drink later in one of the many hotels there that has a Jazz band playing through the languid evening. Summer is also time to hit the outdoor pool over in Cirencester – the evening session is adults only – a serious but refreshing workout. Despite the heat this is my favourite season to run on the Downs, the ground is dry and firm underfoot, heading up early, loaded with water, before the sun gets too high. The views from the top are worth the slog up. My running shoes will be coated with a fine layer of chalk by the time I get home.
Autumn brings the joy of long aimless walks, under the canopy of changing colours of the beech and elm, and the old oaks, kicking leaves, and knowing that strong sweet tea and a plate of hot buttered crumpets will be ours for the taking on our return. Come October, Rolo and I will occasionally help out at the local pheasant shoot, Rolo's gun dog training being put to good use retrieving, and we will usually take home a brace of good birds for supper too. I don't particularly like doing it, but it's part of the village scene where I live. It's time to make sure I have a good supply of logs to last through the winter, and they are dried out.
I'm lucky enough to live on the North Wessex Downs, a strikingly beautiful area of the country, but it is quite exposed in winter. It can get blowy up on the Downs. You adapt. The snow can be deep, and then my wife's 4×4 comes into its own. I have learned to happily crunch my way across the snowy fields, the dark bare trees stabbing upwards from the skyline into the white sky. Then, face flushed from the cold, it's home again for a cozy evening in. I'll throw a couple of logs on the wood-burner, and sit in my Sherlock€� armchair. The old clock on the mantlepiece chimes eight. I might crack open a good book, and make sure a generous glass of Dalmore is within easy reach. Sometimes rather than read, I'll just watch my black and white cat, Jack, curled up peacefully by the fire, where he dreams of catching the large rats that lurk in the darkness of the farmer's shed across the lane. My wife sits nearby, glasses perched precariously on her flat Asian nose, busy with her sewing, her hair shining as black as the dark rain that falls outside.
England is wonderful. But, yes, I love to escape too – to the sunny beaches and cool mega-malls of Dubai. To dive the wrecks off of Coron island, or to walk the high lavadas in the misty mountains of Madeira. You might just as easily find me wandering along the soft sands of Koh Lanta or sipping a cold coke on the hillside restaurant there, or perhaps eating rich seafood in Penang one steamy night. I've climbed the Taal volcano, and dived with sharks in Batangas, I've wandered the sois of Bangkok into the early hours, and hitched a ride on a turtle off Perhentian island. South East Asia continues to be a powerful magnet that keeps pulling me back. It seems I still need my annual fix of tropical sunsets, clear seas, and adventure. But if it were my everyday experience, would I still appreciate those same tropical sunsets and clear waters? If it was summer all the time would it still mean as much? Becoming adapted to the seasons, the changing weather, is part of what living in England is about. It is learning to make the most of the changes that each season brings – each has its own joys and its own challenges. Just like the changing seasons of life. Learn to love the seasons, and you learn to love life.
Ah, the seasons, defined seasons, each with its own character, a time when you change your wardrobe and do different things. It's the small stuff like this that I have come to miss.