Finding serenity

The past few weeks have been somewhat busy and disruptive, with a lot of different projects on the go at work, and renovation work on our bathroom at home. As often happens at times like these, I’ve been daydreaming about calmer, more serene times whenever I’ve had a moment or two to myself. I kept finding my thoughts going back to a particular experience on holiday in Pembrokeshire.

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Welsh wonders

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About two weeks ago, we returned from a holiday in West Wales, on the lovely Pembrokeshire coastline. When I was a child, we often spent our holiday in Wales, but in mid-Wales, rather than the coast. I had never been to that part of the Pembrokeshire coast before, and it turns out that I have been missing out on a treasure.

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Borobudur Temple

I always smile wryly to myself when first year undergraduates say goodbye at the end of term with a “Have a nice holiday!”. They tend not to realise (at least until I’ve enlightened them) that they may be on holiday, but we academics are not. Summer can be one of the busiest times, when you try to cram in research, conferences, and updating your teaching for the coming year. This year has been no exception, and I have barely stopped since the Spring. I have just got back from a return trip to Indonesia1, this time for a conference. It was a productive and useful trip, but as is often the case for conferences, we spent most of it in a windowless room, listening to talks, rather than exploring the country. The one exception was a brilliant visit to the Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur.

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Listening to the landscape

At the weekend, we got back from a week away in our favourite holiday spot: North Norfolk. As ever, it was wonderfully peaceful and laid-back, but we also got nearly a full week of bright sunshine with almost no rain (which was unexpected). I had a lot of fun with my Fujifilm X100T, particularly as the weather was so co-operative. I’m starting to settle in with the focal length, and I’m finding that the creative constraint of having a fixed lens is making me see some interesting compositions, often before I’ve brought the viewfinder to my eyes. I certainly took a lot more photos than I have on recent visits, and you can see some of the best shots on Flickr here (the first 10 or so are from the same location this April and are with my Sony, but the rest are taken with the Fujifilm).

We managed a nice mixture of doing things and doing nothing1. On one of the doing things days, we re-visited a National Trust property called Felbrigg Hall. We’ve been there a few times now, and have enjoyed wandering around the extensive gardens and parklands, as well as seeing inside the house. This time, we noted that an event (the artists, Strijbos & Van Rijswijk, call it ‘physical cinema’) was happening at Felbrigg called Walk With Me. The idea is that you walk around the parklands and gardens wearing headphones connected to an iPad. The artists have planted geotagged sound beacons around the area, so that as you walk, you hear sound effects, music and dialogue, triggered when you enter the radius of one or more of the beacons. These overlap in quite an artful way, so the effect is usually natural and seamless.

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Wrapping bars and dressing wounds

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It has been a while since I last wrote. I’ve had one of those periods of time when it is one thing after another, and I’m constantly trying to recover from the last thing when the next comes along. The most recent thing was that I came off my bike on the way to work. One minute I was pedalling happily around a corner in the park, and the next I was hitting the ground hard.

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On keeping it together

I’ve been trying to marshal my thoughts into some coherence for more than two weeks now, but I think I’ve been gripped by disbelief. I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up, and find that it has all been a horrible, disturbing dream, and that my country isn’t really a chaotic, directionless, leaderless, vicious, fearful, isolationist, xenophobic place. While I’m waiting for that to happen, I should really try to write something about it, and the way that coincidence has made me even more sensitive to the current situation. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even cohesive: it’s just a few of the things that have been circling around in my brain and making it itch over the past few weeks.

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Natural sounds

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We’ve just got back from a week’s holiday in North Norfolk (I’ve posted a few photos here). In recent years, we’ve taken to renting a cottage in Blakeney, which is a bit unadventurous, but it has exactly what we need: the sea, huge skies, open spaces, and best of all, quiet. I think quietness is what we both crave most from a holiday destination, and it is the thing which is most difficult to find at home. We’re not looking for silence (that would be creepy — particularly in Norfolk if you’ve watched a lot of MR James adaptations!), but a predominance of natural sounds, particularly bird song.

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There’s not much that’s as satisfying as a good old clear-out is there? I don’t mean the kind of organised, mindful, zen-like exercise (like the KonMari Method, which has recently become flavour of the month), but the bin-bags-at-the-ready, frenzied-whirlwind of a clear out. The kind where you accumulate a small mountain in your ‘recycle/take to the tip’ pile, and can be occasionally heard to cry out in anguish, “Why did we ever think we needed TWENTY-SEVEN London Tube maps? Do they breed if left unsupervised?” That kind. I had one of those last weekend, and I am now enjoying the space and ordered efficiency of our spare room, before it inevitably succumbs to entropy, and those tube maps start breeding again.

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Weary winter

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It seems that winter has arrived. Suddenly all the colour has drained from the leaves and the sky and everything seems dim and desaturated. The day feels like twilight, but without the magic of that transitional time. This is normal, of course, and normally I don’t mind this time of year. In fact, I usually enjoy the dark and cold, and the opportunity it brings for cosy indoor living, with candles and fairy lights, and mugs of tea.

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