I'd neglected to tell most people that I'm on sabbatical, so I received a few emails in response to my first blog enquiring as to what on earth I think I'm doing…some curious, some faintly amused, some a little alarmed.
Sabbatical is a term I'm using very loosely, as I am in fact unemployed and taking some time off before launching into anything else. I finished my job at the end of July and, not knowing what the future might hold, I headed for the hills and I'm not sure if/when I will return from them.
So what might this sabbathy season hold? So far, I've noticed I have a lot more time to attend to the finer details of everyday existence.
I floss more, because I can, and I've even taken the time to wash behind my ears once or twice (I think I heard of doing that in some moralistic bedtime story long ago, but have never tried it up until now). Tomorrow I might even dust out my belly button, which takes naval gazing to a whole other level, no?
I read the paper every day - my parents subscribe to the Telegraph and I always find myself drifting inexorably towards the right of the political spectrum whenever I am at home for more than 3 consecutive days. It is worrying. But Boris is just so loveable and so amusing. Sometimes I slightly wish he was Prime Minister, and then I feel a little ashamed and start chanting "Clegg! Clegg! Clegg!" to myself to try and make up for it.
I am learning pilates, which seems to be the art of holding your tummy in whilst rolling around on the floor and hanging on to your ankles in an Ooompa-Loopma meets The Crankies pastiche. I am told it is brilliant for core strength.
I walk every day in the beautiful landscape of the English/Welsh borders. Yesterday, I trudged up a heart-thumpingly steep hill along the Offa's Dyke path, whilst being pelted with buckets of hostile Welsh rain (doesn't it know I was born in Llandrindod Wells? Hasn't it seen my passport?). As I squelched up the sludgy path, I was betting myself that the view from the top wouldn't be worth it. Willing it to disappoint. But it did not (sigh, land of my fathers). Despite being shrouded in moody grey rain clouds, the valley and far off hills of Wales shimmered magnificently in front of me. So verdant, so alive, so GREEN. Back over the border in Leintwardine the river has run dry in the drought - the stony bed of it exposed like the valley of dry bones. We pray for rain.
Yesterday I found an old shoe box full of letters and post cards from the summer after graduation in 1998 - letters from India, Mexico, Australia, Spain, Holland, France, Italy, New York, the Lake District (always the doggedly loyal northerner, JT).
They are letters from a very particular time in life. Full of the tell tale signs of young souls groping in the dark for a life and a future they're not yet sure of or ready for. Letters marked by youthful carefreeness: "Hope you are having a good summer and getting up to lots with abandon";
Hungry globe trotting: "It's a big traveller commune here. I feel less comfortable surrounded by westerners than by Indians. I don't have the dread locks, strangely loose clothing or a faded rucksack. I suffered the ignoming (spell!) of the hotel receptionist saying in a crowded cafe 'You keep your passport in very good condition.' My traveller chill-out rating went through the floor";
Simple honest truth (there's no beating around the bush when you're 21): "Having a lovely time en France. I hope you are okay - its great here, but I don't want to write anymore now";
Post-university gossip: "I got a lovely letter from Tom a couple of days ago - he's so lovely and funny as well - he gave me a run down of Tim, who apparently went down on one knee for his boring (!) girlfriend and is now engaged" (names changed to obscure identities);
Philosophical musings on what might happen next if things don't work out as expected: "I didn't get my PhD so I'll be joining you all in London next year. Even if i don't get a job soon I should be able to sponge off the Soph" (by the way he now has the most glittering career of the lot of us and was not sponging for very long at all);
And of course restitution for botched endings: "On graduation evening at the ball, where I thought you might be, I felt very guilty for not saying goodbye to you. I'm really sorry. I love you so much. I just ran out of time. I'm going to miss you horrendously. I suppose Luke will be there, Nathan, God. All right, I might survive."
I miss letters. The onslaught of email, facebook, twitter (and blogs?!), has robbed us of the simple pleasure of sending and receiving letters. The grooved paper, the smudged ink, the unusual stamps, the exotic postmarks, the instantly recognisable handwriting of old friends. There is a weight and meaning to a letter, an aerogramme, a postcard, that cannot be replicated by any modern communication technique.
So may this be a season of letter writing. I'm no more certain about what the future holds now than I was as I launched into the cold, icy waters of life in London during the summer after leaving university. Letters were an important part of my journey back then - full of encouragement, cheer, tenderness and prayer - and I think I'd like to add some more to that old shoe box in the weeks to come.
Snail mail address here: Stable Cottage, Brampton Bryan, Bucknell, Shropshire, SY7 0DH. Write me.