This has been a week of not being at home and I am filled with a need to stay here and be quiet.
On Sunday I caught the train to Exeter to visit my parents who live near Okehampton on the edge of Dartmoor. Ian and I had been going to go together but his sister is in hospital, his father worried and not able to get about very well so we decided he would stay home and I would go to Devon. I love seeing my parents. After all this time I still look forward to a visit (although living with them would drive me quite quite mad). When I got off the train in Exeter my mother and my niece were there to greet me. My niece is ten, all long legs and brown hair, and just getting to the age when the woman she will be catches you unawares from time to time and looks out of the child in a move of the head or the line of her cheekbones. My father was waiting with the dog by the exit, sitting on a bench and shocking me as he stood up to hug me with the grey age in his face. He is having a lot of pain from his foot and he had aged five years in five months. My parents were young when they had me so I am used to the idea that they are healthy and vigorous. They are also adventurous, optimistic, hard working people, always up for a challenge, embracing change, full of life. They have travelled round the world and renovated three houses since they retired. This last one they took on in their seventies, moving to be nearer my sister but buying a larger, older house than the one they had prematurely downsized into a few years ago. They hated the littleness and the modern style of this sensible choice (Did we know they would? Yes we did. Would they listen? Would they hell.) Taking on another challenge energised them all over again and after claiming they were looking to make their lives easier a couple of years ago they also adopted a collie last year. I love them to bits but I do tend to think they are immortal. I hugged them hard.
So this was a chance for a couple of days doing things with them instead of breezing in and breezing out. We went to the RHS garden at Rosemoor and wandered around in the sun and showers. It is sheltered in its valley and damp and warm. Everything was about four weeks further on than it is for us both higher and further north. Tulips sang in bright orange against dark red wallflowers, pear blossom glowed white against the deep green of yew, even the early apple blossom was blushing pink amongst the tender pale green of new leaves. I am overwhelmed for a moment by how impossible it is to make a garden on my hillside. It won't be like this, I remind myself, not even in miniature. It will be a mixture of the practical, fruit and vegetables and greenhouses, and the sort of plants that will bloom up here on the hill, a farmhouse garden drifting back into the landscape. I am beginning to see it in my head.
We eat out at a pub which was built in medieval times around two stone menhirs, an extraordinary place which holds onto to its dark and warm sense of self even though its dining room is full of white linen and glass.
The next day we get up early and drive up to my sister's. The idea is that she and I will take her dog and my parents' dog up onto the moor for a walk before we go out for the day. She has guests staying and they ask to come too. This does wonders for my morale because her friend is so much less fit than I am (not a sentence I write very often) so that instead of traipsing along at the back which is my role in family walks these days I am striding out ahead, stopping for her and giving her a hand up the steep bits as we climb the nearest tor. Devon is spread out around us in a huge sweep of view, rolling away and blurring at last into the horizon. We come down by a clear watered river which runs in slow whirls over dark brown stone. One of the dogs leaps in. Around us the walls are covered in deep green moss and the trees are just coming into leaf. It is cold though, too cold for April, and we walk as fast as we can to keep warm.
In the afternoon we go to a nursery (you may feel there is a theme developing here). It is called Endsleigh and if you love plants and gardening and are anywhere near Devon, go. It is a gently sloping site in a narrow valley built in what seems to be a huge Victorian garden divided by many gently crumbling walls into great spaces full of plants or polytunnels. It is about as different as a place which specialises in plants can be from a garden centre, no tat, no inside, no overheated half hardy annuals in trays rushed into the outside for instant gardening. They have trees and shrubs and hardy perennials, which appear to be organised along some pattern which I can't readily discern. The plants are clearly loved and cherished even though some of the fabric of the place is fading away. We wander and exclaim and call for each other. My sister who is also making a garden eventually begins to put together a trolley full of shrubs and perennials and chooses a ten foot high magnolia "Hot Flash", an example of which is blooming spectacularly with creamy yellow waxy flowers in a polytunnel. The people who run Endsleigh are knowledgeable and helpful and I have to keep slapping my own wrist, I'm on the train, mustn't buy, can't buy. Just fabulous. Coming back the five of us peer out from the foliage, my nephew like an eight year old green man, surrounded by apple and pear.
And on Wednesday it was off to London with the familiar pang on leaving them all, the guilty sense that there is never enough time. Work is a whirl of run throughs for a big proposal, adrenalin pumping. I have dinner with younger daughter at a great Chinese restaurant in Charlotte Street and think for a moment that I love this dual life until the next night, when I have to stay away from home again, finds me longing to be back in my own place. Quite suddenly my tolerance for being away from home and from Ian is gone. Enough, enough. I want to go home.
Friday starts with a breakfast presentation at Simpsons on the Strand in a glorious panelled room which has hardly changed for a hundred years, except for the dreaded powerpoint facilities, a screen obscuring the hunting portraits along one wall. I eat a full English breakfast of scrambled egg and bacon and sausage and act as a facilitator for my table as we discuss tax problems in three case studies. All of this is fine, the food and debate keeping me alive and engaged but as soon as it stops I just need to go. I want to be home. London is cold and home at last after the familiar train journey and falling out of bemused taxi ("I didn't know there were any houses up here.") is colder still. The East wind cut through my city clothes as I fumble with my door key. The cats are pushing at my legs, the black one wailing disapproval at how long I have been away.
Inside I put the heating on and change into jeans and fleece and woolly socks. Filling the bird feeders, sorting out the greenhouse, inspecting the garden, checking the hens and bringing in logs and laying the fire takes me nearly two hours. I have changed. I used to leave home (not this one though) on a Monday and return on Friday, missing my family but busy and buzzy and high on work. Now I don't want to be away for that long, for this long. I want to be here. I sit by the woodburner and drink tea. I just want to let the place seep back into me, sit down, slow down. I want to be home.