Here I am, sitting at the garden table, wringing out the occasional, disconnected phrase – with the encouragement of a variegation of beautiful, purring, tiny hoverflies feasting on the pansies, whilst revelling in the scent of proximate herbs, honeysuckle and ivy; sheep bleating stochastically from the Edge Hills; the call of St Mary’s tower punctuating my stop-motion creativity; interrupted by the passing murmurations of neighbours, occasional squabble of sparrows, and annoyance of dogs… – trying to express the joys (and consequential griefs) of being wilfully, ill-fully alive in Tysoe, during an Indian Summer that could dent even my well-armoured atheism.
Yesterday, however, I was a coincident Superhuman. Although – demonstrating the unequivocal effect of medication on the body’s ability to transcend its own physical and mental limits – I must admit that a form of ‘cheating’ was at the root of this accomplishment. Inadvertently, it has to be said. But, yes, I would do it again – despite feeling, this morning, through hyper-overexertion, as if I had gone ten rounds (geddit) with a steamroller… – although it is unlikely such an opportunity will present itself for quite some time….
[The medicine in question has been prescribed to try and reduce the stratospheric levels of my neuropathic pain; and the impact – that is, the frequency and intensity – of my almost-constant cervicogenic headaches. (They’re not really ‘migraines’, in the usual sense: because they are provoked by the huge tangle of nerve damage in and around my cervical spine.) A temporary side-effect of this – which is why some people take huge, ever-increasing, risky overdoses recreationally – is a ‘buzz’, once you reach a certain, individual level. I, though, am at only half the (mammoth) maximum dose – which is where I will stay for the next few months – and have only noticed its energizing effects (initially just a gentle, almost inaudible hum) in the last fortnight: after nearly three months of titrating the quantity I take (because of its potential for ‘evil’). Last week – as I was about nine‑tenths of the way to my currently-prescribed limit – this then-new bombilation lasted a couple of days. But it seems that yesterday – and I’m therefore glad I gathered rosebuds while I could… – was it: my last chance at glory. (Well, until my GP and I decide – if we ever do; and depending on the drug’s efficacy – to head a little further towards its sensibly-imposed ceiling.) So I grasped that chance as if my life depended on it.]
Usually, as the regular reader of this blog will know – however ‘easy’ the average onlooker may think it appears – I struggle intensely to put one foot in front of another: because such an activity exacerbates the already high levels of pain I continually experience – and from the first step onwards. (And trust me, it gets exponentially worse with each succeeding one.) As that poor soul (either the reader or the onlooker) will also know: this doesn’t stop me – when other factors don’t intervene (such as those three-day ‘migraines’) – from battling onwards: always hoping that the reward of a good walk won’t be spoiled by the consequent agony and downtime. Sadly, of course, it always is. (If my abilities were magnified by a factor of ten, yesterday; then the consequences are of at least the same factor.)
Such innate (and well-exercised) stubbornness is probably, realistically, at the root of yesterday’s remarkable achievement – however much its effects were magnified. If I had not already possessed the willingness to push myself, then the drug would have had nothing to amplify. (I obviously cannot speak to the truth of this statement for athletes caught doping: but I think it is not difficult to extrapolate from my experience and draw your own conclusions.) However, it was nice to be reminded of what – many years ago – I could do every day, week in, week out, without harm or effort. And, therefore, for me, my decrepit, torturous state, today, was simply an immensely worthwhile exchange.
I had decided to scale, again, the west face of Spring Hill, via Centenary Way; and then split off, around Sugarswell Farm, to head for Brunchfast at Upton House. This I achieved – despite fighting the slithering mud above Old Lodge Farm (where the thrum of building work melded with the passing cars above and below) – and with time to spare. I therefore spent a happy half-hour sat on a stile above Blackwell Wood, jotting down some initial aide-mémoires about my climb.
Apart from the promising weather and the dispersing school traffic, there was little to mark of my traipse through the village. A couple of brief chats – about the chilly breeze, the forecast, the scudding clouds… – and then no sign of another being until I reached Sugarswell Lane: where the hedge was carefully being flailed. There weren’t even that many birds around until I reached the expansive field of linseed on the other side of the road.
A small portion of this had been recently harvested (the combine now silently parked on the far edge): leaving the soil coated with a muesli-mix of flakes and stalks; but the remaining crop hid small feastings of goldfinches (especially amongst the thirty-three-strides-separated tyre tracks): which I regularly disturbed, despite my best efforts, until they formed a large tinkling charm bobbing and circling above me. They only settled when I did – but what divided them into their separate resting-places, I cannot say.
The only other interlopers here were infrequent, tall, proud stalks of barley – glowing head and shoulders above the main crop – escapees from the margins: where a ready mixture of generously-furnished plants (the agricultural equivalent of those suspended peanuts in our front gardens) would soon go to seed as winter food for non-migrating flocks.
One moment, though, above all, had characterized my ascent. As I closed the gate behind me, before entering the treeline – which I think always looks like a well-organized gathering of broccoli, from the Stratford-upon-Avon road, especially when well-lit – I glanced backward. Or at least this was my intention. I must have stood there for at least fifteen minutes: focusing on various parts of our parish – the sunlit church tower the most obvious… – from the gold-green patchworked plain beyond, up to our idiosyncratic trinket of a windmill. All I could think was how magnificent this view is; how wonderful it is to live here; and how miraculous it was that previous generations had allowed the place to evolve – that glorious medley of stone and brick; of slate and tile – without damaging the heavenly spirit of our miraculous haven.
But then doubt seized me as hard as any physical pain: and I wondered if this majesty could last; if our children will be the last to see, to enjoy, Tysoe at its best. And, yes, reader – despite the temporary drug-induced ‘high’ – I shed a tear or two: because – although I accept that each generation may think their time the ‘best’ – I see the prevalence of money (and its cousin greed) beginning to prevail again: dividing, destroying, dominating. I see equality dissolving; monopolies of wealth domineering and discriminating – …and with the power not just to rend the social paradise asunder, but the village’s physical existence, too. Not only that: but those who would fight such change are being quashed methodically and cruelly. What I saw was entropy made manifest… – and made by man.
Of course, I could thrill in the current material resplendence, and ignore the political shenanigans; roam these splendid pastures, blinkered to their travails, for as long as I am able. But I am not the sort of person who – intellectually – can stand idly by (even if my corporeal existence couldn’t remain upright for a minute or two without agony or vertigo instantly dragging it to bed; or to the floor). I am a natural-born resistance movement of one… – even if all I can do is pen the words that might, one way or another, motivate others to follow….
After a brief, breezy wander around Upton’s mirable orchard, gardens, and woodland, I set off to retrace my steps. Again, the linseed field was dotted with rising goldfinch; but, this time, the challenges of “the slithering mud” were accompanied by the mew of a buzzard, the calls and whistling flaps of pigeons, and the burbling annoyance of a discomposed robin. Emerging from the trees into a balmy atmosphere so unlike Upton’s crisp clarity… again, that view gave me pause; but I was – finally – beginning to wane, and decided just to enjoy the remainder of the walk ahead of me.
This time, as the path levelled out – parallel with the road between Lower and Middle Tysoe, where I had espied a lark earlier in the year – I was suddenly greeted by fifty or so house martins bobbing and weaving along, around and over the tall, untrimmed hedgerow – a rill running alongside it, the obvious attraction – gliding just above the freshly-ploughed field’s surface (as fine as any mole’s tilth), scooping the uplifted insects which had caused me to don my cap. Intermingled with a handful of red-bibbed and deep-fork-tailed, dark-blue-glistening swallows, they seemed unworried by my presence – parting to let me through, and then re-forming behind me – and delighted in their exercise. Sadly, though, of course, as the warmth of September fades, and summer dies away – nothing is permanent… – these birds will leave us; their nests already deserted until next year…. Farewell, summer.