Is it really the place’s fault Mr Hobsbaum? Hardknott and Wrynose Passes, Lake District National Park, England
Expatriated now by two summers and Christmases, I’ve found myself seeing in my second new year in exile from the land of my birth. My dearest Albion reduced to recessive nostalgia. This scepter’d isle but a figment of a life lived and abandoned like the shedding of a skin that restricts the blood from nurturing the vital organs. The viscera a Gordian knot that I fumble somehow unable or unwilling to untie.
You’ll likely not understand this feeling but you will most probably sympathise, unless you too have taken leave of your home to become a stranger in a strange land, from being a stranger in your own. And the older you get the further into the furnace you reach, to where you somehow become unrecognisable, for you have now truly crossed the Rubicon, a relic of the life that once was.
I find myself reminiscing as I review pictures taken from an autumnal trip through the Lake District four or five years hence. From Eskdale to Ambleside we climbed the steep Hardknott Pass through the Duddon Valley to where the Wrynose Pass continues, taking the road to the Langdale Valley and on to our destination.
This minor country road carries us up the steepest gradients in the country, on a road which at times is barely more than a car’s width across. The time of year is perfect for this undertaking as the numbing throngs of the summer tourists are now absent to where good fortune can still bless you with clear skies and moderate temperatures.
I recall this day being such, as I further wonder to myself what kind of person should want to get away from it all in such a place when everyone else has already come to the same conclusion and beat you there. Having attempted both, I’d even go so far as to wager that coming to the Lake District in the summer is much like going for a relaxing drive around Manhattan Island at five on a weekday.
Thinking back to trips such as these, there comes an ineffable longing for this country and more so when absent from its shores, yet it can visit such a profound melancholy upon the ones who stay behind. Indeed, as a young man, common sense and a restive disposition have moved me to resist an existentially moribund condition brought on by such poisonous inflictions as inhibition, reticence, guilt and indolence to name but a few.
As I fight these misgivings most foul, some with great success and others with little, so too have I fought the compelling brutality that Britishness in all its prosaic and desultory guises can visit upon a sensitive soul, and circumstantial personal experience has seemingly left me little other choice.
Forced up and out it seems, through formative years of propriety and decorum where so-called sensible men surreptitiously opine thinly veiled judgements behind a carefully metered composure, all against a backdrop of my darker liaisons with the salubrious facets of misadventure and a joyful inquiry into the darker recesses of self-abandon.
Somehow I remain unable to secure purchase between the competing forces of romanticism and liberal radicalism on the one hand, and a more cynical, enlightened and analytical rationalism on the other, though I have most pompously and self-indulgently managed to fashion a flimsy explanation as to why the confounding situation I now find myself in is somehow the fault of the country to which I was born.
If not the country then it most certainly must be the insufferable privileges I underwent as a child. Failing that, I doubt it so unreasonable then to locate the tipping point as the recklessly irresponsible exposure to reason that a red brick university degree in philosophy afforded, along with the voluminous cheap or free alcohol to scupper whatever remained of adroit social dexterity and personal vaulting ambition.
Whatever it is that remains of these circumstances, it is beaten and hollowed through, compounded by the annihilation of self through self-revelation. The inability to exist in one’s home might be England’s fault or it might not, but one thing is most certainly axiomatic – the infernal corporeal experience pivots on these notions of national identity and as such we are damned to be assigned.