“A good traveller is one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveller does not know where he came from.” – Lin Yutang
Years ago I read about a man who packed in his job, bought an old mobile library with his savings, and set about converting it into a home on wheels. Stories of this sort can start a person dreaming. Imagining a nomadic lifestyle, with the freedom to roam wherever. I did the job resignation bit (many times) swapping some mind numbing routines for something a little more adventurous, and with less responsibility. Like the time we took off on a whim to travel Scotland and its islands. As it was, the caper was unromantically short-lived, due to Mags succumbing to infected blisters. Our time away, though, was anything but boring. An alcoholic lunch in Ardrossan, stormy crossing to Arran, a bluebell wood with herons nesting in the treetops, camping on a beach where the only flaw was the washed up, rotting calf that came to rest overnight only yards away from our tent flap. More of that, another time, perhaps.
I’ve almost finished ‘Stopping Places’ by Damian Le Bas, the author from Gypsy stock, who writes of his quest to understand more about his people and their travels. Several times I’ve paused to share short passages with Mags. Sayings that I’ve only ever heard my Grandad use. Familiar lifestyle habits of a man who spent the larger portion of his life working in the woods, making hazel hurdles and thatching spars, bundling up pea and bean sticks and securing them with twists of green wood. I know he had dealings with Gypsies, particularly those who camped close to his woods at various times of the year. One man, George, a gigantic figure to a small lad, in heavy brown jacket and trousers, used to call on Grandad from time to time, with some implement or other that he couldn’t sharpen or set the teeth on. When the job was done, he’d thumb coins from his hand into Grandad’s palm. This may have been the solitary thumb’s only real use. The rest of his fingers had been lost to a circular saw blade.
My Gran’s twin brother, Jim, definitely had something about him that was unsettled, nomadic and, like my Gran, he had a love of horses. Both their father, and paternal grandfather had been grooms. An explanation of sorts, maybe? Jim ran away to join a circus at the age of 16. A little known fact that has come to light in the years after his death. But showmen, circus folk and Gypsies are itinerant, and it’s so tempting to speculate that Jim might have been trying to connect some dots. Like Damian Le Bas, maybe he had a strong inner sense of belonging that required investigation.
I don’t think I’ll be pulling up sticks any time soon. Reading about the escapades of others will do me fine. Speaking of which, I must check out ‘Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn. Not least because part of her journey takes her along the coast of Cornwall, the only place I’ve lived, other than Hampshire where I actually felt I belonged.