26th July, 2016
First Day in London.
The thing about writing a journal and posting it, on the hop, as the journey unfolds is that there is no time to pause and consider whether the material is okay, whether it has received a proper proof read and the content is appropriate and the family are okay with it. It’s up and on the web, in an instant, with the click on the mouse.
The problem is that for a journal to be fresh and have a ring of authenticity it needs to be a spontaneous outpouring written without censorship. When life writers consider the ethical dimension of writing the personal, and raise their concerns about the balance of needing to tell the story honestly while shielding family and friends from unnecessary exposure and potential hurt, I say ‘Write what you need to write. Do it quickly, put your whole self into it and later there will be ample time to reflect, or to consult with loved ones and consider their responses. Sometime it is possible to negotiate the material. But that is for later in the production process. For now you need to protect your creative impulse and allow yourself to write your heart out.’
The other issue is time, time expended on writing and the length of the entries. In this journal I'm taking too long, and writing too much. I’m not able to contain the writing in a five-minute dash, there’s too much to capture. When I start it’s like turning on a tap that then won’t turn off but I will keep on trying.
We arrived yesterday on time. Our flight path arched up over Canada and the Arctic Circle before turning above Scotland and drifting gently down through cloud and air, over green fields and yellow, over church spires and Victorian Gothic towers and halls, over the Thames looping like a ribbon on the southern side of the central city. We cleared customs rapidly. There was absolutely no bio-security. We chose ourselves to walk through the ‘Nothing to Declare’ portal, out to the lovebirds waiting in the arrival hall. The reunion was emotional, unreal and very, very good. My daughter and I walked out the door into England, holding hands and squeezing each other’s fingers.
The drive from Heathrow to our hotel in Notting Hill was smooth and quick, our son-in-law driving carefully and seamlessly through the west London streets. I cannot begin to describe the flood of emotions and the memories triggered as we drove through the leafy streets — plane trees, sycamores, lindens, beech — layer upon layer of leaves running like waterfalls through the city. I had forgotten that London is softened and made lovely by trees and gardens and an abundance of large and beautiful parks. We passed Fulham Palace cemetery the hedging grown so big and rampant it reached to the tree canopies leaving no view inside whatsoever. There are giant Buddleias in bloom, the bushes as big as trees and the colours lilac, purple, magenta. They bend and arch this way and when I pulled down the window I smelt their sweet scent heavy on the air.
Was the London growth always this riotous and romantic? It is 22 years since we lived here and in that time the new garden design movements have evolved. Referred to variously as the prairie dream landscape or the new perennial movement these planting schemes are a long way from the cottage garden movement of the 1980s, or the horrible straight line marigold and begonia borders, sad little plants in dry earth, entirely weed-free and a status symbol, of the 1960s and 1970s. The new style incorporates prairie and meadow grasses and wildflowers, and perennials arranged in masterly schemes. The key word is relax and allow the plants to reach and stretch and do their thing. The master designer of the movement, Piet Oudolf, is from The Netherlands and is perhaps best known for his design of the gardens that grow along the New York High Line. His approach is to combine carefully selected perennials —some of his favourites are verbena bonariensis, echinacea, helenium — in generous planting schemes interpolated with tall grasses and soft clipped hedging and to give the effect of surging, unfettered growth. Winter is one of his favourite seasons. He doesn’t prune but allows dried seed-heads — fennel, artichoke — coated in frost and snow to grace a haunting frozen landscape with their fine form. Maybe in a nod to the Victorian designer Gertrude Jekyll there is a painterly approach to colour and form. She was training as a painter when her myopia forced her to stop and instead she channelled her gifts into garden designs that had an Impressionist quality with their beautiful blurry swathes of flowers. I’m thinking this rampant London style that I’m encountering everywhere must surely be a response to the new movement of which there are many gifted contributors, Dan Pearson is another.
I feel like a child in a lolly shop. We have nine days in London and the possibilities for exploration and rediscovery are abundant and delicious. Everything beckons. The feeling is of being in a dream where memories collide with the experience in the moment. I look at my daughter, her dear, familiar face and wonder is she really here beside me? I want to hold onto every minute and never let it go.