I found myself thinking today about this woman, the one I met in Oxford about a million years ago, in a previous existence in which I was this smartly-dressed person who lived in London and commuted daily to a 9-5 office job, and sometimes escaped to Oxford on a Saturday afternoon – I ventured to the Botanical Gardens on one of those trips, and that’s where I met her, the poet with the wellies.
Wellies, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this term, are what the Brits fondly call their wellington boots, i.e. waterproof boots made of plastic or rubber – sturdy practical things that you wear if you’re a child or if you’re a farmer and have to walk through lots of mud. Or maybe if you’re into serious country walks. Or, if you’re a smartly-dressed London office person like I was, you might consider getting a pair of pink or floral ones and wearing them ironically.
The poet was wearing the plain black variety. Totally non fancy, sturdy things, that looked like they’d been through a lot. And she was there for her daily appointment with the dove.
At least I think he was a dove. Some kind of bird, definitely, who came to meet her in a set place at the Botanical Gardens every day at one o’clock.
Those trips to Oxford always left me feeling like it was a special, almost magical place, a place where anything could happen. Of course Alice in Wonderland was written there – where else could someone dream up stuff like that? Meeting that poet only confirmed my impression.
I don’t remember how we got into conversation. I do remember her telling me about her daily appointment with the dove (and she also told me what she’d named him). And I remember her taking me into one of the greenhouses and showing me some of her poetry. (why in a greenhouse? all I can say is, it made perfect sense at the time.) And I’m pretty sure she told me about how she was selling greeting cards or something that she made, through some local set up, something that sounded very bizarre to me – but then, I was living a very ordinary, structured kind of life, working for a firm of tax advisers, where everything was organised and orderly and, you know, normal.
I also remember that I had some of my own poetry with me (how come?) and I showed it to her.
It’s all a very fuzzy memory. This must have been sometime in the second half of the 90s. A lot has happened in my life since then, so much that it really does feel like some previous existence.
What made me think of her today?
I was doing something that felt kind of crazy, in a creative sort of way. Not that this in itself is unusual – I’m doing lots of creative stuff these days. But this involved going outside and sticking something I’d made in a place where others will see it. I’d seen something that someone else had stuck on one of those boxes on the street (gas company boxes? something like that) – something crazily creative that made me feel very excited, like I’ve discovered a kindred spirit, and I felt I wanted to respond somehow. So I made a picture to respond with (because pics is my main creative language these days) and printed it out, and today I went back to that box to stick mine underneath that other one.
And I was thinking stuff like: I wonder what that person would think if they saw me. Would they be surprised that the person behind this crazy creativity is a frumpy grey-haired middle-aged woman, wearing sensible velcro sandals with socks underneath? My sandals made me think of that poet and her wellies. (She definitely was middle-aged. At least. She seemed ancient to me back then, and I was in my thirties.) I remember her saying something to me about how I need to become more… what was the word she used? practical? pragmatic? something like that. My feeling was that she was telling me to enter her sturdy welly-wearing world, warning me that walking around with my head in the clouds won’t work long-term. Telling me to be more… down to earth. That’s it.
Which I sort of did, and not through conscious choice on my part. When I left London and went to live with my friends in North Wales who ran a retreat house, the deal was that I’d live with them and help them out. I learned a lot of practical skills, and a great deal of my prissy townie ways were chiselled away. It was a very different way of life, much more down to earth, with much less by way of creature comforts. Going out in the rain to fetch another loaf of bread from the spare freezer in the garage is just one tiny example of the day-to-day life I experienced there. I mowed the lawn and washed the kitchen floor and painted one of the guest bedrooms and sanded a door and pulled out dandelions and, oh, yes, cleaned out the water feature – definitely the smelliest task I’d ever had the pleasure of doing… and that meant washing the stones in a bucket of cold water… and, oh yes, there was the time I de-cobwebbed one of the outhouses because we were going to turn it into a prayer cell or something. Lots of fun, lots of new experiences, and by the end of my time there I was a different person. That poet with the wellies would have been pleased.
So there was my time in Wales, learning different ways (and exchanging some of my townie gear for more simple and practical stuff). And there was a gradual change of perspective over time – becoming less materialistic, and not caring any more about looking trendy, not having that desperate need to fit in. Add into that the general aches and pains of a body that’s not getting younger, and that means I’m focused more on wearing stuff that’s actually comfortable.
So here I am. I do wonder if that person who made that art thing that I responded to (pat yourself on the back if you still remember that I mentioned it a hundred years ago in this rambly post) would be surprised to see the frumpy grey-haired socks-under-sandals person behind the creative message I left them. Or maybe, just maybe, they’re also non-stereotypically creative…
I don’t even know where I get this idea from really, that creative types should be young and cool and trendy. Now that I think about it, I don’t know where that comes from. Thinking about specific people I’ve met who are artists or writers – no, they were not all super trendy, or young, or… anything really. Just humans with a creative spark. Different shapes and sizes.
Hmmm… I wonder where that silly idea came from. Anyway, if you’ve made it up to here, well done for following me down this rabbit hole. Let me pour you a cup of tea… oops, got to get the dormouse out of the teapot first…