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The Odd Shower or Two

Saturday, 24 January 2004
written by Teresa

Returning to England in mid-winter is a bit of a shock. We left the warm dryness of the American southwest to arrive in the dark wet reaches of Manchester on Christmas morning. On a good day, one on which there are only occasional showers rather than persistent horizontal driving rain, daylight might stretch to seven and a half hours. Use of the term daylight is of course open to debate as there are a significant number of days when the ambient light level remains at something resembling dusk, before slipping back into full darkness by four o'clock.

Gone are the vast open spaces of Nevada and Arizona with their sparse vegetation, replaced by a landscape neatly parcelled into small fields framed by hedgerows or dry-stone walls. The grass remains a vibrant green; the land is sodden, surplus water lying in huge puddles, footpaths transformed into muddy byways. On the higher land, where the sheep wander in their winter woollies, the colours are the muted greens and rusts of open moor land hidden and revealed in turn by fast moving banks of low cloud.

Living in my home country I never stopped to consider how familiar everything was, how I had an existing and expanding knowledge of how things operated. I know the language and terminology to use in the post office or bank, how to access the remnants of the NHS system, the etiquette and norms required in numerous social settings. In my new country, all aspects of life have a slight edge of the unknown, creating an underlying ambience of low-key challenge, which admittedly decreases with time but I still find myself grateful that I share the same language, more or less, and to some extent have a similar cultural background. However, if I forget and ask for chips, they arrive looking suspiciously like a bag of crisps; in certain parts of the country my pronunciation of certain words, like "battery", causes confusion on a massive scale, the listener flipping through a range of their own vocabulary looking for the most likely fit and in the process throwing out; bath-salts, bath-powder, bathroom, in an increasingly desperate attempt to understand. I can tell I'm in danger of going off on a tangent here, the relevant point is that Britain remains my default setting, so that for instance, driving on the left hand side still feels more natural and comfortable even after five years of zooming along on the right; I don't have to stop and think about how a public telephone works; I can go to a supermarket without being confused by ninety seven varieties of peanut butter and so on. As Sterling has observed before, the place looks very different in it's compact density of buildings and while to him this may appear a little oppressive at times, to me it is ultimately familiar and normal. In some deep intrinsic way it will always be home, even if I never live there again.

New Year's Eve, during We had come to spend time with family and so our weeks were split between Manchester and Cornwall. The highlight of the Mancunian part of the trip was Vinny and Aileen's New Year's Eve Soiree where a select but motley crew of friends gather over a sumptuous and prolonged multi-course meal, interrupted at the appropriate hour for fireworks and followed by post-prandial drinks and charades. By six in the morning, the last people had left and we were able to collapse into bed having seen the New Year arrive with a certain touch of panache.

We left the wet expanses of the northwest and headed to Cornwall to stay with Solanna in her little granite terrace down in Tregeseal, just outside St. Just. We had hoped for more clement weather but by and large, the rain and mud kept us off the footpaths except on a couple of occasions. The second of these was to go on a guided tour with the local artist, Jonathan Middlemiss, to see his work on the coastal path at Kemyel Crease. As we left Lamorna, the wind was whipping the sea into a wonderful white edged frothing mass, breaking with force against the rocky cliffs and ledges whilst away from the shore; white caps rode towards the land. Bramble Bird The work at Kemyel is a sculpture project stretching along a short piece of coast path creating and reflecting a sense of journey through various gateways leading into a progression of different spaces. Each piece is made from the natural materials and forms found along the path. Coming into the tunnel at the beginning of the work, the wind drops, the light fades and there is a sense of being cocooned, held safe and protected by the earth itself. There is a stillness and expectancy here that bears fruit as we step out into the open space beyond. Hearing Jonathan talk about the process of developing the work was a rare insight into the creative process. This was the story of a personal journey interwoven with a sensitivity and appreciation of the natural environment. This was not the stuff of "art-speak" or pretension but an open and naked glimpse into a vision that has been translated into a space that offers the opportunity of making ones own journey and connections.

Our return to the US approached with startling speed and whilst the notion of returning to the warm dry air of Arizona appealed, it was tinged with the sadness of leaving family and friends behind, until next time.

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