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Coniston Water: On there being no Pure

I’m back filming for Escape to the Country and away from Daniel and the dog for the first time in months. The first time filming in a year.

And after a day shooting in the Lake District, I leave the crew and head down on foot to Coniston Water.

Like a piece of wrap-around sound art that has no holes in it.

The night is dark and the air is strangely noisy. I know there are thunderstorms across the country. But we’ve had ours. The air is cool and silky.

But the sound of the river I’m walking by. The numerous holidaymakers heading back into town. The drinkers on the bench. My footsteps. They all fold into themselves like music. Like a piece of wrap-around sound art that has no holes in it.

Even at the lake edge, at Coniston Pier, it’s busy in the night. Families throwing stones for their frantic dogs into the dusky grey water. A couple of girls having a moment with a bottle of wine on the jetty. Evening smokers. A girl throwing stone and after stone after stone. Ripple after ripple ofter rupture.

His heart turned to water, his head shattered into ripples

In my mind the water stretches out, mirroring the dark hills. Stretching off into the north – pale grey, pinkish, profound. And there are ghosts.

The ghost of Wordsworth who in my memory stole a skiff here when a young teenager, on a night like this one. Sailed off alone, illicit, into the throbbing quiet and the open water. And freaked out in the middle of the lake. Sailed right into the massive stillness and power of the mountains and water and freaked out. His heart turned to water, his head shattered into ripples, empty and terrified. The ghosting vastness of something other, something out there, something in here. Too big, too much, too everywhere. And panting he sails back, ties up the stolen boat and takes his guilty, beating heart back to the soil.

Here, fifty years old myself. Not a child anymore.

And that memory is encased in memories of Reggie who loved Wordsworth and turned him into something I didn’t recognise. A shaman, a seer, a psychological wizard.

And JH Prynne, my tutor at Cambridge, who also unexpectedly adored Wordsworth and saw something I didn’t. Something I couldn’t quite reckon with.

All these older men, fathers perhaps and old and snow-haired Wordsworth too. And yet he was young man much younger than me at that moment. The child being the father of the man. But who am I in this? Here, fifty years old myself. Not a child anymore. Where am I?

In clearer, tarter terms: external world, inner soma and language.

And I suddenly – as I walk home, – have a glimpse of a truth that has been growing in me like a sticky ball of allusive light. The truth I alluded to when speaking to Jane on the Zoom call this week: the truth of where we are right now. Whether we got there through distraction, drifting along on the shoals of thinking. Or we placed ourselves there with chiselled effort. The salient point is that we are here. We don’t excise ourselves from the picture like the (pseudo) Buddhist advise. But stay sailing on, recognising more and more of the things at play.

There is language and memory and thinking.

I am here on this road and William and Reggie and Jeremy are also comically there as well. There is no pure Coniston Water moment. No re-run of Wordsworth’s terror. There is this ball of outer and inner and in-between. Or in clearer, tarter terms: external world, inner soma and language. There are the rising ripples of energy in my body, I have been noticing more and more. And the movement of food in my bowels and the need to shit. There is the fizz of anxiety when walking past those drinkers again. The shadow of Prynne, and Ray, and Wordsworth and why there are so few women in this picture. There is the big shadowy, mountainous hills behind the town. The feelings of my body, the smell of a hot English evening after rain. There is language and memory and thinking.

And this is it. There is coming home and there is writing this. And this is now this. All there ever is, is this.

I’d love to know your thoughts about Conistan Water. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

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