We’re planning to go back to Iceland this summer.
I’m very happy to be in Cornwall. I enjoy my new job and the new house. Every time I walk to the shops, past the moored boats and the Georgian terrace, I have a moment’s smugness about living in Falmouth. Before we moved, lots of friends and colleagues reminded me quite how far it is from west Cornwall to London, and predicted that however much I liked the cliff walks and the light on the sea, it wouldn’t make up for being six hours from the British Library. I was right and they were wrong; the British Library is always full before you can get there from Canterbury in the morning, much less Cornwall, so it’s effectively closed to anyone who doesn’t live in London anyway. I find the idea that living a certain distance from London is a form of hardship rather odd – growing up in Manchester, London was mostly for airports, and I rarely bothered to go from Oxford. I’ve had two London trips since we moved to Falmouth, and both were delightful in a way that London can be only when being there is an occasional treat. I bought the sort of clothes you don’t find in Cornwall, spent an afternoon at the V and A and caught up with friends, but my daily life – my work, my family, weekends on the coast path – are here now. And I look forward to the five-hour train journey: a pile of books, a picnic box from the Pea Souk and a sea view, all counting as ‘work’ – what more could a busy parent want?
But still, Iceland calls. I’ve been back every day in my mind, remembering how we watched the snow-line on Esja, Reykjavik’s mountain, like a barometer, and how I checked the northern horizon for aurora every night before bed, and how much the cream buns on Shrove Tuesday mattered when winter was going on forever and we seemed to have been living on beans and skyr for weeks. I wonder how people are doing, not the friends with whom we’ve stayed in touch but the students I saw every week for six months, the children’s teachers and class-mates, the people I interviewed for Leave of Absence. I don’t think I noticed the equinox a couple of days ago – we don’t need the lights on at supper now and the sun (and the seagulls) are up hours before the alarm goes off in the morning – but I remember how important it seemed last year. There were still weeks to go before anything like summer, such as leaving the house without gloves and a hat or seeing anyone else on a bicycle, but the year had turned. We were on the way up. I can see that it’s perverse to miss the cold and dark, and maybe an easy self-indulgence when the camellia in the garden has been blossoming since Boxing Day and it’s already warm enough to picnic on the beach. It isn’t exactly the cold and dark that I miss, but the idea of winter, the way we knew every day that we were moving towards the light. Or towards the dark; the Arctic winter is a kind of death, but I respected the sense of mortality I had in Iceland. We are all, after all, moving daily into the dark (or light, if you prefer – it doesn’t make much difference), and it felt right to live in that knowledge, as if the Arctic circle were a kind of post-Christian memento mori.