Tuesday, July 6, 1982

The importance of living

At ten, after much messing about, Dad and I set off; it was my first hike since last August.

We parked at Bethany and had a look round a second-hand book shop where I bought The Importance of Living, a sort of personal philosophical reflection by Lin Yutang. I hated the crowds of trippers and youths who hung about; I felt oppressed and cornered. We took the road out of Bethany toward Delphstones and branched off on a battered concrete and sand path sign posted “Tunscarr Crag 2 miles” which became grassy as it headed over the moors. We ate our dinner amid spectacular views.

The going got heavy over hummocks and squelching bogs and we aimed for a gap between the hills, dropping down past a remote and old-fashioned ramshackle farm that was overgrown with nettles and dandelions. The yard was full of hens and ducks, there was a goat with one horn and a wire hutch with faintly quacking ducklings. 

A picture of amazing colour presented itself just beyond the farm: a purple and pink rhododendron standing atop a wall stained blue and green by lichen. For the next hour or so this gaunt square farmhouse surrounded by a huddle of dark trees, the wall a splash of colour, and the tiled roof glinting in the sun was all we could see, receding at our backs. Our path was long and straight and well made and lanced across the moor back toward Bethany. We saw an Emperor moth caterpillar and the sun came out, but across at Tunscarr Edge we could see stormy grey sky.

Back in Bethany church yard, still and warm, not so many people, and I was sad to be finished. The church yard was packed black with gravestones, tall weeds growing between, forgotten tragedies, entire families dead within months of one another.

We wandered round the Helen Vaughan museum and it was all incredibly sad somehow, and not just that this, her home, is trampled through by strangers, but other stronger feelings too: something unbelievably tragic about the glass box with a dress worn by Vaughan herself, its faded, stained and crumpled material still holding the shape of the body now dust under cold Bethany church stones. It must be reassuring to believe in a Heaven where we all meet again.

There was a drawing by Vaughan as a girl, and I leaned in close to see the sheen of the pencil marks in the light, engraved deep into the paper, just as though newly drawn. But most powerful of all, a lock of her hair, still fresh and glinting gold beneath the glass case . . . so immediate still . . . as if it had just been plucked or fallen. A lock of hair: there's something so human to grasp about it, a trace of an owner gone forever. I felt like a trespasser as I stood in the study upstairs filled with her possessions, and for an instant I imagined it was still her world, her house: a rustle of fabric on the stairs, a short fragile figure before me. . . .

A mood of utter sadness as we drove back, emphasised by the yellowness of evening. I felt depressed, but it was quite a good run back through Buckedge, Midgeroyd, Dowthorne, Haley Hill, getting home in time for Aunt Shirley with her piercing nasal voice.

I felt quiet.

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