There has to be a Midsummer post. I’m as tired as hell, but it has to be written up and posted before I go home to bed. It's been such a lovely Midsummer day. A lovely evening, too. I remember one Midsummer night in South Shropshhire, climbing a hill and finding fox cubs playing in a hayfield under a full moon. That was pretty special, but this Midsummer has been special too, even though half my day has been spent on a writing marathon and the other half in pulling up weeds on the allotment, part of the time in the rain.
When I left the house this morning, it was raining. However I'd spent so much time indoors over the last week that I was determined to get out. On the way to the allotment, I called in on Chris and Jessicah, proud parents of Baby Austin. She was the tiniest, most delicate little baby I think I've ever seen. Even eight days into night feeding, Jessicah managed to look radiant [though fairly tired as well, it has to be said]. Today’s her birthday. How great must it be to have Midsummer as your birthday? Austin was celebrating it by being asleep.
On the allotment, I found roses in bloom. Here they are. I wish you could smell them. I wish you could smell the whole allotment. It was probably the rain that did it, but I could smell flowers and herbs everywhere I went. I spent a happy few hours crawling around the soil on my knees pulling up weeds, then an even happier hour filling a cardbox with gooseberries and picking armfuls of rhubarb.
By this time the sun had come out. I strolled back home along the river at a leisurely pace, certain that I could smell roses everywhere I went. Back in Shrewsbury town centre, I bought a vanilla ice cream from the bicycle man at the bottom of Pride Hill which I took home to eat whilst catching up on the latest news in the Shropshire Star and Shrewsbury Chronicle. Once I'd read them, however, I was unable to relax. There are some days, aren't there, when you've just got to be outside. I lounged about. I tried weaving. I tried cleaning up my kitchen. I tried writing at my desk.
In the end, however, I went again, heading for my favourite restaurant, The Golden Cross, where I treated myself to a dinner-for-one whilst listening to happy tourists laughing to each other at the table next to me, singing snatches of songs and taking each other’s photographs.
During my main course, I read Robert McFarlane’s new book, ‘The Old Ways’, downloaded onto my Kindle. For dessert I ate yet more vanilla ice cream. There’s a lot of vanilla ice cream in my life these days, for reasons that are too boring to explain, which means that I’ve become a vanilla connoisseur, which in turn means that I can tell you with confidence that the Golden Cross’s version is good, and it’s served just right too - wonderfully creamy on the outside, but its interior is as cold as ice.
I came out afterwards to find the sun so bright that I still couldn't go home. So I cut up College Hill instead, along Swan Hill, past the Coach & Horses pub, over Town Walls, past the Girls’ High School where athletic tracks ran around the green orb of their playing field. I crossed the Kingsland Bridge, caught a snatch of music coming from the Quarry, saw boys and girls sitting on the grass [still in the sunshine at nine o’clock at night], saw the river flowing past, as dark and ruffled as a silk scarf [though when I returned later it was like mirror glass].
Finally I made it up here, to where I am now - Beck’s Field, where the grass is long and all tangled up with buttercups. Beneath me I can see weeping willows along the river bank, and the tree-lined paths of the Quarry. Behind them lies the bandstand and behind that the dome of St Chad’s Church.
I love it up here. This is the place to come if you want to see the rooftops, spires and towers of our town. This is where you'll find me on Shrewsbury Flower Show nights when the fireworks go up. And this is where I came the last time Shrewsbury witnessed a total eclipse of the sun. What better place to watch the wind drop and listen to the birds fall silent, to see light bleaching out of the sky and the shadows of night appearing as the sun turns black?
And what better place, here and now, to watch the wind drop again and the birds fall silent, even though the sun stays up like a naughty child refusing to go to bed? On the far side of the world the winter equinox is happening right here and now, black upon black. And yet here I am in Shrewsbury, basking in this glorious light whilst the school bell tolls behind me, and St Chad's rings out the hour in front of me, and kids go by on bikes in the Quarry, and mums with push-chairs, and across the river are the Shrewsbury rooftops and on this Midsummer’s Night I can’t think of another place I’d want to be.
There's a path cutting through Beck’s Field, weaving its way through the long grass until it reaches the River Severn. ‘I have walked paths for years,’ I read in Robert McFarlane's book over dinner in the Golden Cross, ‘and for years I have read about them. The literature of wayfaring is long.’
The compact between writing and walking, he reckoned, was almost as old as literature – ‘a walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells.’ I love that quote. I know exactly what McFarlane means. When we moved to Shrewsbury from South Shropshire, it wasn’t leaving our house that broke my heart [although it almost did]. It was leaving my walks. But here in Shrewsbury I’ve made new walks, and I walk them all the time. I have my special places, and to find me on them, more often than not, is to find me deep in thought.
‘I can only meditate when I’m walking,’ Rousseau wrote. ‘When I stop, I cease to think.’ His mind worked with his legs. And Wordsworth, an indefatigable wanderer, described himself in his journal as being so overwhelmed with ideas when he was out rambling that he could scarcely walk.
Well, I’ve certainly had my fair share of walking today. I’ve had my computer along with me too, and in between walking, weeding, smelling roses, shopping, forgetting things and finding them again [I haven’t told you about that bit], I’ve been writing. Here in Shrewsbury, as much as Wordsworth in the Lake District, Rousseau round Lake Geneva and Robert McFarlane on his hidden highways, it’s my way of making sense of the world.