Been away for a week in splendid isolation in Norfolk; in a tiny 150-year-old cottage on the coast, without TV, without phone, without Internet(!).
Though confusingly in the East, Norfolk is kind of like the Mid West of England, minus the epic scale (an oxymoronic analogy?). Almost Illinois-lite. Huge skies glowering over unreal flatland; 18thC wooden windmills dwarfed by a field of their elegant contemporary electricity-generating descendents. Marshland suddenly surrounding rows of tiny one-up-one-downs built for farm labourers in the mid-19thC and now sporadically containing tourists. Twitchers in matching kagoules watching Marsh Harriers perform at 50ft, whilst the USAF and RAF scream around 20000ft higher (not a little unsettling, given the current situation). Sand dunes offering gritty-eyed protection-of-sorts from the salty whipped sea fret. Amidst widespread cliff erosion, forgotten hotels and abandoned WWII gun emplacements slowly fall into the arms of the welcoming North Sea. Tiny villages with oversized medieval churches (remnants of early wealth through wool and land). Plenty of psychogeography to conjure with (links to Vikings, Denmark & Holland, in place names like Ostend & various '-burghs'; and in that it was once the same thing); later links to the founding fathers of the US, many of whom came from Norfolk way: in that broad accent, language itself (those '-burghs' again), and a shared emphasis on God-fearin', exacerbated by the bleak climate, exposed to raw Northern currents.
Jonathan Raban (one of the finest writers on 'place' there has even been, imho) is brilliant on the quiet yet pervasive English Christianity his father practised as a vicar in East Anglia/Norfolk - a countryside where the weather and landscape is gentle compared to the US, but raw compared to the sheltered rolling hills of much of England. This, as opposed to the wild religious fundamentalism of the mid-West of America, generated by the insanely inhospitable climate, with biblical-strength storms and inhuman temperature extremes. See Raban's 'Passage to Juneau' for more. These two areas feel linked none-the-less, almost as if similar cultures in neighbouring petri-dishes, exposed to varying degrees of climatic intensity in order to test humanity's reaction.
So, in a week when the English countryside allegedly moved to London, I decided to go the other way. And there's something about real country life that's hugely appealing for a week every 52, where your only thoughts of an evening turn to peeling spuds and gathering wood for the fire, odd salvoes from civilisation garnered from Radio 4.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not about to go all mild-mannered libertarian, a-huntin' and a-fishin' and a-startin' Design classes at the Village hall. An episode of The Vicar Of Dibley guest-starring Ted Nugent. For me, the lack of grass is always greener. I'll always prefer city life, and everything it stands for (words which may come back to haunt me on the seemingly inevitable arc towards middle-aged conservatism - if they do, you can shoot me on sight). However, the isolation afforded by holing-up in the middle of nowhere is hugely compelling from time to time. Ironically it's usually a luxury accessible to only the urban elite these days, whether in Maine, Provence, or St. Ives - and for people like me, via a lucky freebie from girlfriend's aunt's friend.
Anyway, I've been able to read and read, which is also a huge luxury. Got through some books I'd been meaning to finish for ages i.e. Weinberger's 'Small Pieces Loosely Joined' (thumbs up!) and Greg Egan's 'Permutation City' (thumbs in a parallel dimension!); hugely enjoyed Chip Kidd's 'The Cheese Monkeys' and Herrimann's 'Krazy & Ignatz 1925-1926' (connection, readers? Both covers featuring lettering by the God-like Chris Ware); re-read some classics in the light of recent thoughts (Stewart Brand's 'How Buildings Learn'); and started Barabasi's 'Linked' and the second edition of Erik Spiekermann's and E.M. Ginger's 'Stop Stealing Sheep'. Brief notes on these to follow.