Welcome to September

In August challenge
August 31, 2009

Well, I did it. Went to wander around Hampstead today in a celebration of newness that is quite surprising when you consider that I was at school in Hampstead for seven years.

First, to Fenton House, a National Trust property up a steep hill near Hampstead station, which has beautiful gardens you can look at for £1 and ancient apple varieties from their orchard for sale in cardboard boxes at the front. The scent of these apples was absolutely intoxicating. They smelled like fresh-pressed apple juice and cider, like the summer sun filtered through leaves into their flesh.

Then to the gorgeous Everyman cinema to see Moon. The cinema doesn’t really count, because I’ve been there before, but I haven’t been to *that screen* before, so maybe it counts anyway? But if you haven’t been to the Everyman, go – they serve food and drinks at little tables to eat while you’re watching the movie, and if you have someone to snuggle up with there are sofas for you to do it on too. Or if you just like sofas. Also Moon is proper old-fashioned ideas-based, thoughtful, absorbing sci-fi.

Finally, a little treat for the way home, from a patisserie I used to pass by all the time when I was going to school but never went into:

And now I’m done. Well, there will be some posts reflecting on what I’ve learned this month. But I can say this: while I don’t want to carry on seeking new places at quite such a pace (for one thing, I’ve missed going to some old favourite places), I don’t want to give up. So I think I am going to commit (or commit to try) to go to a new place *twice a week* from now on. Which is a lot, really, as an ongoing committment. But I’ve loved this so much.

I must go to bed quite soon, but as a final thought, here’s something I was reflecting on today.

We live in a world created for us by the industrial revolution and the Victorians. The industrial revolution meant that most of us were no longer working in the glorious (alright, often rainy and cold) outdoors anymore but in clattering factories or offices. The Victorians brought us the suburbs and the idea of the commute. Buy a house in the suburbs with a little garden, travel from it every day to your office and back.

But the Victorians also understood that man cannot live by home-and-office alone. Many other innovations in our society date from their time: public parks, municipal baths, libraries, cafes and restaurants, public museums, galleries and even public benches. They understood that these spaces are necessary, to provide us with the variety and sense of interest in things outside ourselves that we no longer get naturally from the changing seasons of the agricultural year.

At the start of August I thought that my problem was that, as a writer, I could too easily spend whole days indoors, never going anywhere. But now I think that it’s not much of a solution even to go into an office every day and come home again. In the past 40 years or so, many of us have replaced the variety given by street-wandering, public-space-using, municipal-facility-visiting with the variety offered by the different screens in our homes: TV, computer, mobile phone. And much as I love my tech, it’s not as good.

So I’ve come away from my little project with a deep sense of probably a very obvious point: it is extremely important to leave the house very regularly and go places that are not your office. We need to experience the changing world around us with our noses and our feet and our hands, not just our ears and eyes through a screen. I don’t think there’s been any very profound change in me over the past month except for this: I think I have had more moments of happiness. Which is pretty big, in a small way.

So probably everyone else in the world but me knew already about the importance of leaving the house. Anyway, I know it now. Happy September 🙂

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