Monthly Archives: August 2012

Edges to Middle

We’ll be leaving Cornwall next year. I’ve accepted a new job, as Reader in Creative Writing at Warwick, starting in September. I’m so pleased with the job that I want to hug myself every time I think of it. The Writing, Nature and Place MA in Cornwall has been shut down, and at Warwick I’ll be part of a team of writers running an innovative and substantial undergraduate and postgraduate programme in a new building designed for the purpose – a very rare treat for academics in the Arts – and all sorts of good things will be possible. We’re planning a module tracing a river from source to sea, some writing about abandoned buildings, and maybe even a bit of knitting…

It will all be good, but it does mean leaving Falmouth. Not immediately. I’ll commute weekly for the first year until the children are at better points in their school careers for another move. (The seven-hour commute is going to be just fine. All the trains will run on time. I’ll never miss a connection, never have to stand for several hours, and there will be no lengthy delays caused by such unpredictable events as falling leaves or the wrong kind of rain. I’ll get lots of work done in peace and quiet on Virgin Trains. La la la. I have my fingers in my ears and I can’t hear a word on this subject.) Sometimes, walking the coast alone in the evening light, or picnicking with my family while watching seals from a cliff-top, the move seems like such a tragedy that I seriously wonder if I can commute three hundred miles in the long term. There is, after all, rumoured to be a member of my new department who commutes from Provence (though that would take rather less time than from West Cornwall, and probably cost no more. Perhaps we should move to Provence.) I’ve lived by the sea, one sea or another, for eight years now, and it seems a terrible thing to turn inland. As one of my colleagues said when I told him I planned to leave, I like edges. I do like edges, walking along them and writing about them.

But visiting Warwickshire these last few months, I have also seen advantages in the middle. There are the obvious ones: being one hour and not six from my friends in Oxford and London, being able to go to parties and plays and museums without needing to spend, and justify, several days and hundreds of pounds in the process, being able to go abroad in one day rather than three. I knew about those all along, and they were never reason enough to leave Falmouth. But I wonder now about hills and rivers, the comfort of a landscape densely inhabited for thousands of years. There aren’t many really old buildings in Cornwall, not in the way that there were in Oxford and Canterbury. It’s hard to see the outlines and ghosts of life before the Industrial Revolution, difficult to sense earlier footsteps under my feet. Every journey starts by going east for at least a hundred miles before there’s any decision to make. I’ve never felt peripheral here in the way that some of my colleagues do, have almost always been sure that wherever I am is the centre of my world. But I like the idea of having the whole compass of directions around me, the north of England where I grew up and still, in some fundamental way, feel most at home, the flatlands and big skies of the Fens, Wales where my godmother lives, and London and Heathrow and the way to the big world lying in a circle around me. As we face another move, I’m thinking a lot about belonging and dislocation and landscape. I wonder what it will be like to feel England all around us, to be encompassed by land, and I can imagine that it might, actually, be rather pleasant.