Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I could live here… 

I downed the last dregs of my coffee and as she approached, reached into the tent for my wallet. In these days of extreme political correctness, one hesitates even to mention gender, but there’s no two ways about it – it is unusual to see a woman in this kind of role, namely National Park warden. At first glance, her long hair and fresh face gave the appearance of youth, although as we talked I became aware, without registering any specific visual cues, that, not to put too fine a point on it, she’d “been around a bit”. Was it the weathering effect of a life spent largely in the open air, or the maturity of years, or perhaps stress lines from dealing with a site full of raucous, inebriated campers on a hot summer weekend that I could see in her face?

On the phone, I’d asked if we could leave the car on the site on Saturday night, whilst we were camped out on the moors. I wondered if she’d misunderstood – I’d half expected a jobsworth answer along the lines of “sorry, but this isn’t a public car park y’know” – so I thought I’d better double check.
“Oh, it’s Andrew, is it?” (I must have been feeling unusually formal when I left the answerphone message, to have left my name unshortened). “Yes, that’s fine. It’ll be a pound a night for the car.” (Which is a lot less than a public car park, and that in any case would be much more at risk of break-in). How refreshing to find common sense and cooperation instead of petty officialdom!

The chances were that, outside of the conversation between P. and I, this was the most interaction we’d have with another human being for the next couple of days; and with such knowledge I appreciate the contact that much more. How different from city life! I know these are clichés repeated a thousand times over, but they’re true: the people are friendlier and the pace of life is more relaxed in the countryside. Every time I visit this particular part of the country, I’m struck by what a lovely place it would be to live; how much I could feel at home here. There’s just the nagging little issue of how to earn a living…

I still haven’t figured out where the next hour and a half went. It was just before eight when I was paying our fees, yet my watch showed nine thirty as we shouldered packs and left the site. I can only suppose that, after the rush of the previous week, the tranquillity of our surroundings had already begun to infiltrate my soul, and my pace had slowed to something more in keeping with rural rhythms. However, pleasant though that may have been, we were an hour later leaving than I’d planned, a delay which I felt as a constant background pressure to keep moving throughout the day, and for which we’d pay when nightfall came.

Writing this, on the day in which I’ve had an interview for a job that would plunge me ever deeper into corporate affairs, yet again I’m struck forcibly by the contrast between how completely at home I feel in the world of the outdoors, and how utterly alien corporate life has become. And now that the retirement age has gone up from 60 to 65, I’m faced with the prospect of enduring it for another 14 years. Perhaps that factor will finally tip the balance?

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