Remember how you used to hear it…

9/7/2016 The other evening while driving to a concert I was playing in, the gleeful thought appeared in my head, as it does on a regular basis still: ‘… and I get to live here ALL the time!’.

The memories from my childhood and later times spent in Suffolk are tinged with the wrench of having to go back to London after a few days or weeks. My father’s moods – steadily increasing depression at the prospect of having to leave his beloved house and garden as the end of the holiday approached – are also engraved on my memory. There were things that, as a child, I looked forward to in going back to the city – principally going back to school, which I enjoyed up to the age of 14, and seeing friends there – but these gradually became fewer as I got older.

Particularly in later years I felt the crucial necessity of catching at least a little part of each season in Suffolk, especially May and June, which have always been my favourite months. I had a keen sense of what I was missing out on when I wasn’t here. But it surprises me, having lived here full time now for nearly five years, that I am still struck by this ecstatic thought, if it could be called a thought. It is more like a revelation that strikes me at random moments.

Nevertheless, it is a very different experience living here permanently, being responsible for a place and always having too much to do. Living and working in the same place always has its challenges, no matter how beautiful the location. Sometimes I feel the only way to switch off completely is to go out on an excursion to see new or familiar parts of the countryside, rather than to stay at home.

But when I went out into the garden on Sunday morning to sit in the sunshine for a few moments (as I intended) with my creature companions, suddenly I became aware of the birdsong and it instantly transported me back to the many summers spent here as a child. And as I caught my over-busy mind thinking about what I should be doing this morning – practising the cello for my third concert of the weekend, for which I felt ill-prepared, or cleaning the little shed for the arrival of two ex-battery chickens that afternoon – and yet feeling completely exhausted and without the necessary energy to do either, I realised the discrepancy between how I used to hear that birdsong, and how at that moment, as in many moments these days, the birdsong was in danger of becoming a pleasant background noise.

Remember how you used to hear it, I told myself.

(Download audio file here)

I focussed on the sounds and tried to empty my mind. After a while, I went to fetch the sound recorder. I started to notice the buzzing of flies: an irritating sound indoors, but, outdoors, it complements birdsong to become a reassuring sound of summer sunshine. I realised only afterwards, when listening to a series of radio programmes on farmland bird identification in the hope of improving my abilities in this area, that one comforting sound I associated with long summers in the garden was missing: the purr of the turtle dove, named after its ‘tur tur’. Tragically its population has apparently decreased by 90% since the 1960s. I shall listen out for it with extra care this summer.

After spending a few minutes capturing the sounds, I was better able to focus on them, and enter into the associations they had for me – part nostalgia of course. It became a kind of meditation. Listening and being in the moment of beauty.

This is probably the key to learning again to spend some moments relaxing in, and fully appreciating, my surroundings, without being distracted by the many tasks that remain undone, and always will remain so, whether they are the same endlessly repeating tasks or new ones. And, although every year I make an extra effort to let go, it is also probably the answer to my inescapable sense of desperation at not being able to grasp the seasons as they pass by at seemingly breakneck speed.

‘Time is nothing, joy is everything’…

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