It was meant to be very different from my last visit. But of course, a lot of it was the same. No obvious disasters, except the grass, which I was expecting: my propensity towards fantasy always leads me to hope that the Flymo fairy has visited in my absence – it did actually happen once. But no, everything’s the same. The usual number of rabbits are bouncing around, scuttling off into their hedge-holes whenever they sense an approaching human (they’re right, we’d kill them if we caught them). A flock of guinea fowl stroll across the field, insouciantly bluffing that they’re not lost. An unknown butterfly perches on the top of the toolstore. I open the windows. My local robin pops into the kitchen, looks up at me, and decides that exit might just be the best strategy. Robins know exactly where the pushing edge of their luck is. Within ten minutes, six buzzy flies have entered, immediately claiming that they didn’t really mean to do that. What is wrong with them? Don’t they like it out there? They’re not even politicians, for God’s sake.
I cut the grass. I walk through the tunnels to the village to get a newspaper. (It takes more than two days to break addictions.) I wander down to the low tide line, checking to make sure the geology hasn’t changed too much in fifty years. (The streams, though, never carve the same course twice across the sand.) I catch up with a few neighbours. Kids, grandkids, all doing well. I manage to intercept Henry, pay the rent and chat about events. He tells me "Oh well, you're young", which pleases me no end, especially his shocked reaction when I tell him my actual age.
Last time, back in June, it was different. I’d just come from my first and last face to face meeting with someone, after a long long-distance relationship. I believed I was deeply in love. I didn’t want to be here, because there’s no contact with the outside world – no internet, not usually any phone signal – and those were the things I was craving. I didn’t know what I was doing there. Late one evening, extraordinarily, the mobile rang. The call lasted only a few seconds, but I knew who it was. So I climbed up to the top of the hill and perched on the stile, where there’s usually a signal, called back, and had the conversation.
Yesterday evening, I stuck on an iPod playlist on shuffle. It gave me ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, from Blood on the Tracks’. It all came back, and I realised it wasn’t really different at all.