As I write, it is raining heavily outside. It was raining when I came home on the bus. All the windows were misted over, but there wasn’t much to see out of them anyway. I’ve lived through a lot of grey days in my time; well, I do live in Dundee, but today seemed like the greyest on record. When I got off the bus and hurried home, I passed three benches made from thick blocks of wood. They were dark and saturated with rain, as if they’d been rained on for centuries.
At home, the warmth and dryness was bliss. I changed out of wet clothes and sat at my laptop, typing about my day, but not before hammering someone from the USA at chess online. I remembered all the drenched people on the bus, steam rising from sodden coats, and all the pale, wet faces looking for a second or two like a pack of zombies. Then, I let my gaze fall back on to the page of a book I’m reading: Word from Wormingford (1997), by Ronald Blythe. It’s a day by day account of life in a rural community in the Stour Valley. Flowers, animals, rivers and people are written about with an intricate care and love, like the illustrations by artist John Nash. Or, perhaps like the inscription in tiny handwriting on my copy (picked up in a charity shop): ‘With kind wishes, Ronald Blythe’.
I discovered Blythe in the way you discover a favourite food: amazed at the great taste, amazed you’ve never heard of this wonder before, and wanting to devour every bit. Here’s a morsel: ‘It is snowing. Flakes are building up on the flowers and melting on the warm backs of beasts, leaving a sodden gloss. Max looks out in disgust before selecting the softest, warmest chair in the kitchen in which to winter. His green eyes close in prayer as he thanks God for creating men to wait on cats.’
Sometimes, like for a moment or two on a bus full of wet zombies, I wonder if it would be easier to write regularly if my life was different. Like living in a village for decades, or being a climber in the Alps, or a botanist in the Amazon. Or, maybe – if I just lived somewhere that isn’t so cardboardy (it’s a word, now). Then, I remember – it’s not always so wet and grey, and even when it is, I still come across things I want to write about.
Sometimes, the greyness of a very grey day saturates me more than I am prepared for. The colours of the world, especially the beautiful colours, like autumn leaves and smiles seem to have faded, perhaps forever. It’s a very weird feeling. Mostly, it goes away by itself, or I joke it out of my head. Or, I close my eyes and breathe deeply and imagine the brightest colours in my life: Isobel in her green dress; Rachel with a table full of crafted penguins and tiny woollen hats; or Michael and Marcus walking through a huge forest in Sweden. Occasionally, I can’t think of anything colourful. Then, there’s only now, and now is only grey. Those are difficult times.
I think I’ve reached one of those places in my life which are called ‘crossroads’. I’m not sure where I go next but I know I cannot be stuck in some artificial greyness. For decades, I helped many people as much as I could. I’ll always do that, whenever I can. But now I also need to help myself. Writing, I think, is suggesting new ways of being me: perhaps I need to have more faith in what I can do. Perhaps, I need to go looking for colours.
As I write, it is raining heavily outside. I can hear it on the windows. It’s cold out there; colourless. In my room, there are shelves and shelves of books: bright, straight-line rainbows. Somewhere in those colours, there’s a path for me.