For some reason, as I was spreading jam on my bread this morning, the cool breeze coming in through the open French doors in the library (God, that sounds much more idyllic than its reality), I was transported back to the ending days of a summer years ago, when I worked in Luton and lived in Dunstable, and to make the most of the last weeks of my favourite season would get off the bus back to Dunstable two miles from home, clamber up onto Blow’s Down and follow the paths across the gentle slopes with my jumper tied round my waist, my sleeves rolled up, and my messenger bag over my shoulder, taking my time before I descended back into the pollution left by the heavy traffic on the A5 which cuts right through the town, and walked across the High Street, through one of the two awful shopping precincts from the 70s, and into our road, two sides of a square, that seemed like a relic from the early 1900s with our tall bay-windowed semi hidden in the crook of the corner that connected those two sides of the square. I wouldn’t call those halcyon days, not by a long chalk (this would be just before we decided to move to Norway, when the business I owned was struggling just after the dot com crash), but the walk, the bit on the Down, anyway, seemed like paradise, a long way away from the realities of my daily labours. Perhaps that was the reason for the walk, just to create some space around me and inside me. Perhaps those walks helped me, helped us, come to the decision to move to Norway in 2002, and to start on a path of moving around again until we ended up here in Norwich.
Yesterday, I went for a long walk around the fields here on the north-eastern fringes of Norwich, and felt the same kind of space, with the air warm on my legs, the silence of Nature, and no people to impede my progress or disturb my deliberately disengaged mind. After having lived in a village in the middle of fields for 15 years, I sometimes still feel myself drawn more towards the fields up here rather than the forested wilderness of Mousehold Heath which can often be overpopulated by dogwalkers and strolling people, especially in late afternoon. And I did need that space yesterday, after therapy, and because of the ridiculous posturing of Liz Truss and the Tory party who seem to have forgotten that they decided to rid themselves of the liar Johnson, but now, when they have successfully deposed him, seem to bestow upon him the blessings and qualities of a saint. No politics out there in nature, however close to a city it is.
We all need space. We all need summer to last.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 203
The low ceiling of the entrance hall gives way to a hall with a high glass roof, full of tables and bright lights, just as Aggie’s homesickness gives way to the calmness of knowing she’ll be home again soon, back with Lily, back in familiar surroundings. After her rootless life, she needs something to hold on to. Marion leads the way to a long table, white linen cloth covering its no doubt functional and practical looks, skirting her way round potted palm trees that reach up towards the roof, the auditorium, because that’s what it really is, surrounded by an array of balconies on at least four separate levels, and this ground floor surrounded by offices on its perimeter, separated from the main space by glass walls with open and closed blinds. There’s a coffee dispenser and cups on the table.
‘Help yourself,’ Marion says, and helps herself first, to a cup of black coffee.
Aggie does the same.
‘Come,’ Marion says, walks to a set of chairs against a rare part of the wall that’s not glass and not transparent. ‘Drink it nice and slowly.’
They sit down, next to each other, like a pair of convivial friends resting after a long day’s work, and readying themselves either for more study, or for a chat, or taking some breaths before dinner.
Aggie gazes around, sees flags of all nations hanging from short flagpoles attached to the walls about two levels up, stretching into empty space. ‘It’s a lovely space,’ she says.
‘It is. I find it quite peaceful and therapeutic, even when it’s much busier than this. It’s like a hub, not just for study and speeches, but for friendships and meeting up. The students seem to like it, too. And it’s international, and open, quite unlike so much of America.’ She nods at her own words.
‘You’re very committed to this, aren’t you?’
‘Of course. I wouldn’t be here other wise. And committed to the role women can and should play in the world being a better and more peaceful place.’ Marion leans towards Aggie. ‘You know, and I know, that if women had equality, if women were in more positions of power, that the world wouldn’t be stuck in this darn cycle of war after war after war, that we would all be more secure.’
‘With some exceptions, of course.’
‘Of course. There are evil women just as there are evil men, but I’m sure as hell that there are fewer of them than men.’ She slurps her coffee. ‘But we’re still a long way from equality, a long way from women being able to change the course of history. And that’s why you’re here.’ She raises her voice a little as she sees a tall man with a shock of black hair approaching them, puts her cup down and gets up. ‘Dean! How nice to see you.’
The man bows forwards slightly, a wide grin on his face. ‘Marion. Nice to see you’ve brought our guest here first.’ He holds out his hand to Aggie who’s now on her feet.
Aggie grabs his hand, shakes it vigorously. ‘Hi,’ she says. ‘Thanks for having me. This is all your domain then.’
The dean smiles. ‘Please, sit down.’ He pulls another chair into the group, sits down, his long legs angular and awkward. ‘I wouldn’t call it my domain, really. It belongs to students and faculty alike. Being Dean just means doing all the paperwork to keep it going, and squeezing the flesh when we want to raise more money.’
‘Which is all the time,’ Marion says.
‘Hell, yeah,’ he says, rubs his hands on his thighs. ‘I really do hope you’re going to have a fine time here, Angela,’ he says. ‘And I look forward to hearing you speak in due course.’ He looks up at the ceiling, jumps up, as if something has stung him, looks at his watch. ‘Ah, just remembered I need to be somewhere, but wanted to welcome you. I’m sure Marion will look after you.’ He nods at them and disappears.
‘Very eccentric,’ Marion whispers. ‘But brilliant. Chaotic, too. But aren’t we all?’ She laughs, and drains her cup. ‘Right, let’s go. That’s really what I wanted to get out of the way. You have the seal of approval now, and no-one will have a clue that you’re here to do something completely different.’
‘You’re all crazy,’ Aggie says.
‘You ain’t seen nothing yet, dearie.’