One thing that I left out of the account of day one was the somewhat unusual conversation that took place between the hours of midnight and six am. Now, despite having a somewhat overactive brain, I’m not actually given to debate, and especially not on the matter of religion. It’s not that I don’t think about these things, just that I tend not to discourse on them. I find that with only the slightest stimulation, my brain goes into hyperdrive and simply won’t shut up and go to bed for hours like an errant child.
Which is why, when talk turned first to the supernatural, and swiftly after that to religion, I tried first of all to steer the conversation away, and when that failed, resorted to a clever little tactic I learnt in debate club. For anyone not skilled in the art of debate, I’ll fill you in. What you do is, take your fingers, put them in your ears, while simultaneously going ‘la la la la’.
I tried this for a while, and soon realised that the discussion was continuing apace. I had no choice but to get involved. In those hours before dawn, we discussed religion, the place of God in society today, what would happen if God as a concept were to be ‘phased out’, and if so what would replace religion, Dawkins, before finally rounding up with a discussion on relationships and gender roles. It felt like I hadn’t used my brain since university, and it took me a while to be able to talk eloquently or with any sort of structure. I didn’t entirely manage it, not while the sky was getting lighter and the gin and tonics were still in my system.
It did make me think, though. We get so out of the habit of debating (‘philosophising’ as Chekhov always called it, to my delight) once we leave our years of study, and the power to reason slips floppily away. Blancmange brain, I call it. I think it’s incredibly important to keep this at bay, and I’m keen to start reading more, and…well, thinking.
At around 8am, I woke. Shards of sunlight broke their way into the room, and despite having to keys, and both Sean and Nanna being asleep, I knew I had to explore. Harwich is so full of history, and not just in that ‘ooh, every house has a plaque’ way. It’s more a physical thing. You can feel it seeping into the walls, the buildings, the atmosphere. It sounds like utter rubbish, but there’s something there. (Not just my hangover)
Morning turned to afternoon, my two companions woke up, and it was time to face the world. We drove through spectacular countryside, pitched up in a delightful town (Maningtree, I believe) and perused the local market. I was already delighted enough, and yet still we drove on. Eventually we rounded a few narrow lanes, and there we were. The most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
We’d eventually found our way to Constable’s old stamping ground (for want of a better phrase), Flatford Mill. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt quite as calm and at peace as on that day, with the sun beating down the back of my neck, bare legs in the river, with swans and boats drifting aimlessly along around me. We spotted where Constable had painted from, examining his perspectives. We sat in Flatford field for ages, eating elderflower sorbet, letting every worry unfold and escape.
After experiencing the wonder of this stunning little place, we rolled on to Dedham. Sean showed us ‘Camp Musical Theatre Jesus’, hanging on the wall of Dedham church. With apologies to our Lord Jesus Christ – this was a Constable interpretation, and….wow. If you listen very, very carefully, you can actually hear the great JC singing ‘I am what I am…and what I am needs no excuses…’ I was utterly captivated by the old school at Dedham. Rusty bricks were carved with the names of schoolboys, on the day they left to go into the big wide world (probably still Dedham, for most of them…) We saw dates from the 1700s, and there was something so strange and humbling about touching a name like that.
Far too soon, we were back in Harwich and packing our stuff. Cider in a pub courtyard, a lot of thank you’s later, a long drive and infinitely more car dancing later, and we were home. Perfect weekend.