Wednesday, June 27, 2012

After London

Twelve years ago I was a London commuter, highly skilled at the art of slipping quickly through slow-moving crowds without spilling a single drop of the latte I'd just bought on the station platform. I needed the coffee. After a journey that involved a long walk, a painfully slow bus journey and 20 minutes on a crowded train, I felt exhausted before the day had barely begun.

In the evenings I would stand on the platform at Clapham Junction and look longingly at the destinations of the trains that rushed past: Winchester, Exeter St David's, Arundel, Dorchester West. But although I loved the countryside, I never seriously thought about leaving London.

In the world before children, I didn't mind commuting. I liked the possibilities of being in a city. Impromptu after-work drinks, publishers' launch parties and gallery exhibitions were easy to get to and although the last trains were never quite late enough, there were always taxis.

Today, things are very different. This is how my day at work began yesterday:

The sheep in the front is particularly ridiculous, but all of them are fairly absurd. I've noticed that they succumb to fits of mass hysteria twice a day, bleating as if something awful is about to happen. I've checked and it's always a false alarm.

When I look at the sheep and the outline of the South Downs in the background, I always feel slightly frustrated that I don't enjoy it more. It's an idyllic place, with no noise apart from the sound of birdsong and the bleating of sheep. In the days of dark winter afternoons on Clapham Junction, this would have seemed too good to be true.

But the sad thing is that we are remarkably adaptable. In the same way that my mother became used to having bombs rain down on her between the ages of 10 and 15, I have become quite indifferent to the beauty and tranquility of my new surroundings. Indeed, the main feeling I have when I look at the Downs is guilt over the inadequacy of my response.

I feel nothing but sympathy for the very rich. It must be awful to keep having what you thought you wanted, only to be confronted with the terrifying emptiness of your existence. I can quite understand why so many very wealthy people crave novelty and find it hard to settle in one place. The wisest of them realise that philanthropy helps.

The one thing that does make my heart lift is that I no longer have to pretend to care about things that aren't important, like 'brand values' and initiatives that I know will fizzle out in a few months. Today, my working life has been stripped down to a hut full of books and a field of sheep, but for the first time in years, I look forward to going to work.


Poetry24 said...

Sounds like a result, Steerforth.

Rog said...

In the soundtrack of the video you appear to have left Radio Four's "Today" programme on.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Sounds great to me. I happen to like sheep -- and not just for lamb chops. They're sort of restful animals. They know nothing about Cameron or Obama, or the political infighting that substitutes for political discussion these days. Give me a shed full of books and a couple of lazy sheep anytime!

Little Nell said...

Looking forward to going to work is definitely a huge step forward.