William Cobbett, as I recall, said you should make sure you know your own country intimately before you start trying to learn about anyone else’s. I’ve never got to grips with any other countries, so maybe it’s not quite as bad that I know so little of England. Last week I spent several hours on a train pressing steadily south through counties I couldn’t name without a map in front of me. It was amazing just how different it was; thatched cottages really do exist outside of jigsaw puzzles. Ploughed fields looked like wildflower meadows from their vibrant pinkish-red soil, a far cry from the rich dark brown I’m used to. And the weather was like being abroad.
As well as a hundred and eighty photos, a sunburnt nose and some scrappy notes that I’ll probably never follow up on, I came back with these questions:
- Is there really a wider variety of flora and fauna in Cornwall, or do I just not look closely enough at home?
- Why do small English towns, even in tourist areas, close down on Bank Holidays when so many people want to go out and do things (assuming they haven’t fallen foul of the Sunday-service buses)?
- Why are the buses on Sunday service on Bank Holidays when people want to go out and do things?
- Why am I always so rubbish at judging the right number of books for a train journey, either weighing myself down unnecessarily or leaving myself with three boring hours of watching the gradually darkening industrial landscape on the way home, unable to write because of the jolting?
- Why can’t I rent a picturesque rural cottage to write in for six months, as seemed to be so fashionable, and apparently so easy, in the past?
Answers on a postcard…