I’ve never been here before, but it feels familiar. I’m alone in a beautifully simple campsite at St. Martin d’Aubigny in the middle of the Cherbourg Peninsula. The whole country feels familiar, and what I’m feeling has a lot to do with the book I am reading here: “The Frequency of Us” by Keith Stuart. It’s about a very old man and his fractured memories of a long lost love. There is something strange going on and the book teases it out through the eyes of a psychologically very damaged young woman. It is set in the city of Bath, and hinges on the idea of a parallel universe.
Thirty five years ago I suggested to a (perfectly sane) young woman that we set off from the flat we shared in the city of Bath to look at houses for sale in Southern France. We bought two, and one of the very happy periods in my life was the adventure of restoring the houses, learning the language, and sharing the experience with our student-age children.
Early yesterday morning I left the mini-estate my daughter has bought some 50k South East of here. I spent a wonderfully relaxing week with her and her partner Dave, and I now see that what made it extra-special was seeing her so fulfilled and happy. She is living a dream which has haunted three generations of my family, and not always for the better. The challenge is daunting, but if anyone can make it work, those two can.
Memories are swirling round. There are not many of us hurtling towards 80 that don’t worry about memory loss. We know all about parallel universes – two important things to do on the same day but in different parts of the brain. You go into the next room to fetch something and can’t remember what it was when you get there. It’s because our thoughts get hijacked by different intentions or memories. Mostly it’s a handicap and an embarrassment, but what if there were something positive to be taken from this shifting kaleidoscope of glimpses from half a century ago mixed with those of a few minutes ago?
Perhaps there is. The return – triggered by the street signs, the posters, names, instructions – of all the phrases in French which I used to know is a clear positive, but perhaps the decaying synapses, the wavering intentions, open us up to a wider range of thought. It’s hard to pin down in writing, but because my closest living relative has made a big commitment to this place, I feel I must listen to all these old voices and be ready to change.
For now though I am returning to a passion I would scarcely have understood 35 years ago – my pictures. Here are some more glimpses of the elusive wildlife of La Bruyere. The grass is almost shoulder height until the rain knocks it down, which it did last night. The hare has been finding a way through it, but stopped to shake some of the water off his face and forepaws, sending out a shower of droplets. The deer too have problems with the long grass and this one was browsing in almost complete concealment.