I took my daughters to visit my parents in Hampshire for the Christmas of 1979. It was very cramped in their small house so I was glad to accept any opportunity to get outside. One day, my mother offered to look after the girls so that I could go for a walk in the country with my sister. I enjoyed the walk and I am still happy with some of the photographs I took.
The night after the walk, as I sat in the cold, damp caravan, I became homesick for Canberra. I mused about the walk and wrote an aerogramme to my friends Alisa and Andy who were still living in Canberra at that time. I was surprised at the prose when I read it through, so I wrote out a copy of the letter before I sent it.
I found the piece of paper again in 1986 and used words from the letter
and slides from the walk in the second half of a short slide-tape piece,
which I called Hants.
I showed the piece to a few friends, but I hadn’t really worked out what to do with it.
It was stored in slide magazines and a tape cassette each labelled
ready for all the other short slide-tape pieces that I had lots of good intentions about making.
The piece finally had its first public screening in 1999, as the last piece in my Small Change concert, almost 20 years after the afternoon walk it describes.
The absence of simile and metaphor until the last sentence remind me now of the numb detachment that I then felt—a sort of English sadness that wasn’t to be verbalised.
It was cold today. The sun shone from a cloudless sky into a thin, misty haze that hugged the frozen ground. Sunlight shone back from a sheet of ice on the lake and glinted from a hundred ice fragments strewn across the surface by the town children and left to lie amongst the debris of fallen branches. Several small boys and one small dog dared the thin ice over the shallows, grinning defiantly but stepping gingerly. Ducks paddled and splashed in the few square metres of unfrozen water by the island. A flock of sullen geese huddled together at the lake’s edge, jostling for food thrown by the townspeople who, in their turn, huddled round a wooden hut for cups of steaming tea, silent, English, carefully not jostling. Further on, a handful of dedicated golfers swung clubs over frost-covered grass.
We walked on through paddocks of grass and frozen mud; through fields of winter wheat just sprouting; over stiles; over tiny footbridges of wood or flint; past brooks that gurgled over ice-covered banks and minute waterfalls. The sun sank, slow and red, behind misty, blue-white hills and black silhouettes of trees. We walked back through the long twilight. A heron laboured into flight from the water and then disappeared gracefully among the trees. A hare, waiting motionless until almost underfoot, darted off through the tussocks of grass and reeds. Squadrons of geese, honking raucously, flew slowly in roughVformations a few metres above our heads, away from the lake, towards the hills.
Summer is a dream I had once.