Shortlist, The Alpine Fellowship 2017 Writing Prize
It’s always raining.
Of course, it’s not always raining. It just feels sometimes, oftentimes, that it’s always raining.
It was my idea to move here. The man reminds me of that. Often. Regularly. Of course, he reminds me of that because the seed was planted by him.
“What would you do if I died?”, I would ask.
Quickly. (Almost) too quickly, would come his response, “I would move to Wales and get a dog.”.
So, after so, so long in the city, after the jobs were done and the careers were undoubtedly successful, we felt we have ‘achieved’. We felt ready for a change. For a new challenge. For a life in the wild.
Well, a life that was wilder than our lovely little street of terraced houses in north London. ‘Urban’ north London, mind you. ‘Gritty’ north London. In truth, dirty, rough north London. Wild in its own way, but not wild in that natural way that television and books and poetry and history tell us we’re supposed to crave.
“Let’s do it” I said.
“Do what?”. He’s perplexed. Do what? What in heavens name could I possibly be proposing now. I’ve dragged him here and there. He’s suffered through the career changes and the mid-life crises of faith and humility and humanity and politics. What now?
“Let’s do it. Let’s move to Wales and get a dog.”
“You must be kidding.”
“No. No, let’s do it.”
So, we did it.
I knew nothing, really, of Wales. I’m from Alabama. There are mountains. There is rain. Lots of it. We have that in common. Wales is cold. Alabama is hot. I can manage that, surely. I haven’t been warm since I moved to this little island twenty years ago. I got this.
He knows Wales, the man does. He’s not Welsh, but his name is. His holidays were all here. As was his education. He’s long felt comfortable here. At home.
Have you been?
If you have, you know why we came.
If you haven’t, well, a large part of me wants to say don’t. I want it to myself. I don’t like to share. I don’t want to share.
But, nature is for sharing. And nature was incredibly generous with this little bit of space.
And, on the day we chose our house, nature was unusually free and easy with the sunshine.
The house was perfect. Something out of a film.
Really. It’s been featured in more than one.
And the landscape. Good lord the glory of the mountains in the sunshine.
The peace. The solitude.
Just us and sheep.
Not even our sheep. No pressure there.
So, we did it.
We bought it.
We packed up decades worth of love and laughter and friendship and happiness and pushed it into the back of a moving van.
We moved to Wales.
And we got a dog.
We moved in September.
It was magical.
The rain started in October. The end of October. 31 October to be precise.
Whether you are a person of faith or not, if you’ve grown up in what we like to call this western world, you’ll be familiar with the phrase ‘of Biblical proportions’.
Every single day.
When I was a child, in Alabama, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. ‘In the country’, as they say. They weren’t poor, not ‘poor poor’, not Alabama poor.
Most people in Alabama are poor. Certainly compared to most other people in the good ol’ U. S. of A. My grandparents were on the lower end of that, but not at the bottom. They lived in a house. A real house. Not one with wheels. That’s a big deal in Alabama. My house – well, actually, my parents’ house – didn’t have wheels. And my grandparents’ house didn’t have wheels. But the houses of most of friends did.
Anyway. I spent a lot of time with them, with my grandparents. At their house. In the country. It was hot most of the time. Hot hot. Not British ‘oh it’s so hot I must go sit in the sun’ hot or ‘oh it’s so hot a nice little shower to freshen the air would be lovely’ hot. Hot hot. Thick, sticky, hard to breathe, hard to move through, fly buzzing hot, hot, hot air.
And, of course, they didn’t have air-conditioning. A luxury for people with more ‘dollars than sense’ my grandfather used to say.
Yeah, well. . . .
And I remember sitting in their house, early in the evening, in the twilight, not quite day, not quite night, with all the windows open, hoping, praying for a bit of a breeze.
And then there would be a flash and a pop and the air would suddenly chill. Imperceptibly for the unfamiliar but enough for us to know, and then there it would be.
I still enjoy the sound of the rain on the roof.
It still gives me hope. That sound.
Cleansing. Refreshing. Reviving.
Even three months later. I like the sound.
Everything is wet.
Outside, the chickens are swimming.
Inside, there is dampness. Always dampness.
Socks, shoes, gloves, coats.
We had guests at Christmas. We had convinced them to journey up from London. To enjoy the stunning landscape and the fresh air. “We’ll go for a walk before dinner”, “we’ll work up our appetite with a brisk hike”, “we’ll walk off the calories with a little ramble”.
It’s raining too hard to see the gate to the track to the house. They have to call. Of course, there’s no coverage near us, so they have to drive to a high point and stick the phone out the window and shout down the line.
I trek to the top of the hill in front our place. Less life affirming than life risking since the winds have now picked up to gale force.
They find us.
But since the track is in danger of washing out, they leave their car at the (still barely visible) gate and pile into our wet, stinky, muddy truck and up the almost washed out drive we go.
I know they’re looking forward to a nice warm house with a lovely fire. Somewhere they can relax and experience the perfection of ‘cwtch’, something that exists in Welsh but not in English. Something I can’t wait to offer them.
And so when we arrive in my beautiful movie set perfect house and I enter with the eyes of my London guests it’s a bit of a blow to realise it stinks. It stinks of wet and of dog and of a litter box that is clean but that is always damp.
We sit in front of the fire.
We do not walk.
We can’t. If we’re not blown away, we’ll drown.
Back to a dry house.
That doesn’t smell of wet animals.
“Did we make a mistake?” I ask the man.
“Do you think we did?”. It’s the safest of all possible replies.
I don’t know. It’s not my answer. But, I don’t know. I look out the window. I can’t see the mountains. I can’t see the sheep. I can’t even see the garden, truth be told.
“It’s not always like this, you know.” So says the farmer who owns the sheep and the land surrounding us. “It’s true, my parents moved from this house of yours because it was too cold, but this is really a lot of rain, even for us.”
I know I should focus on the fact he’s telling me that it doesn’t always rain like this. Instead, what I hear is that my house, my house that I love, was deemed too cold even for the hardy Welsh farmers whose ancestors built it.
Will I freeze to death before I drown?
“This is the worst rain we’ve had in as long as I remember.” So says the farmer on the other side of us. “Really, this is not usual. I hope you won’t give up on us based on this.”
It’s nice to know they want us to not give up.
“I think we should stick it out” I say. “It’s not as if we didn’t know Wales was wet.”
“Okay” says the man. “Besides, we have the dog now.”
It’s on the news. The rain. Though we had identified the situation weeks before, this is the first time the broadcasters, the journalists, the media are using the phrase.
This is when it becomes official.
More rain than Noah.
And, then, one day, it stops.
Then it’s not.
It’s not raining.
And, then, the rain stops. And, the sun comes out.
And there is light.
And there is warmth.
And there is, I do not lie, a rainbow.
Yellow and golden strong and watery light and a rainbow bouncing off the sides of ‘my’ mountain.
And the rain has washed and washed and washed.
And life has been reaffirmed.
And there is nature in all of her stunning beauty.
“I’m glad we moved to Wales and got a dog.”
“Me too, love. Me too.”