I woke up this morning and found out that our hot water heater had broken down. We now have two settings: icy and icy. I found out by sticking my head under a running shower.
The letting agency said that a plumber will call me about it ‘urgently’, though they can’t say when ‘urgently’ might be. It hasn’t been yet.
But at least its bright and sunny outside. Warm, bright, beautiful, with gale force winds.
We live on a hillside not too far from the sea, so we get gales pretty often. I could wish for tighter windows. One memorable occasion this winter, when the gale brought snow and ice and rain and the occasional cow, I looked out the window in time to see the neighbours trampoline bounce into our garden. I donned a coat and made a feeble attempt to roll it back, retreating five minutes later thoroughly soaked, with skinned hands.
I try to take a walk at least once a day—sometimes twice, if I’m really busy. I’ll walk by the sea if I’m in my office, or I’ll walk around the village if I’m working from home. Almost let the wind keep me inside today, but the sun makes it one of those irresistibly shining days that suggests picnics and iced tea and long walks.
So I went out into the gale force winds, and walked along the High Road, on the top of the ridge—where you have a view of the fields running down to the sea. And almost no protection from the elements.
Half the fields around here were newly ploughed last week, and the other half were newly ploughed the week before. I could see spumes of dust blowing off the fields below me, and the air tasted and smelt of dust, dust, dust. Usually when I’m walking in the countryside, it doesn’t evoke childhood memories of cleaning out neglected basements. Today it did, though.
Walking towards the sea was fine, walking back meant facing the wind and the fields. That was the quickest way to regret wearing contacts this morning. Except I didn’t have time for regret. I was too busy standing upright.
When I walked past the end of town, to the playground in the middle of corner of a field, the last pretence of shelter went home for the day. I staggered and strained my way past the playground to the stairs back into the village, into something like shelter. But the fields behind me were green and bright, forest line on the hills just touched with the first blossoming of the leaves. So I did something stupid. I turned around and walked away from the village, directly into the wind.
I do this occasionally, when the wind is really bad and I happen to be out in it. Once in Northern Ireland, walking along a beach on the North Coast, the wind was so cold and salty and disorienting, for all the morning was clear, that I half convinced myself I was turning into bird. Similar feeling today, but the wind was warmer and drier. It convinced me that the next time I write a scene of bird metamorphosis, it needs to have a lot of wind it.
You don’t walk into this sort of wind, or stagger or strain. You climb.
I climbed along the edge of the field to a low slope toward the fence, and leaned onto the wind. That’s simply a description of what happened. I just leaned forward onto the wind—mostly to see how far I had to go before gravity took over. If I leaned half that far now, in the windless safety of my living room, I’d fall over. (It’s true; I just tried.)
If I raised my head—and I did, despite the contacts—I saw the green Scottish countryside, fresh with the sunshine and with Spring, rolling away from me up to the hills, cut through with fences and rows of trees. It’s a view to stand and gaze out across, unless you’re leaning impossibly far forward and can’t see because there’s grit in your eyes and you’re trying to hold down your hat. But I stood and blinked at it anyway for a minute. When I didn’t turn into a bird, I turned my back to the wind and glided back into the village.
Thoroughly worn out by this point, so I found a manhole cover beside a tall yew hedge, and perched on it. The wind hissed over the yew branches but I was sheltered, at least. The vista presented me with a privacy fence and a sliver of new suburban lawn, replete with garden chairs. Hard to say which view I preferred more.
On the walk home, sometimes the wind was blowing me over, and sometimes it was dead calm.
I arrived home to discover the plumber hadn’t called.