As a child, I admired characters, in life and on the page, who had no fixed abode in time or space. My heroes were loners who moved on at the drop of a (cowboy) hat. This was in me from the start and was fueled, too, in those rare moments when my father talked of his travels with the RAF. My maternal grandfather also played his part. One of the earliest pieces of advice he gave me was to beware possessions as they may well end up possessing you. Much, much later, I smiled to myself while watching the movie ‘Heat’ as Robert de Niro’s character, Neil McCauley, delivered the line: ‘A guy told me one time, ‘Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat…” Because, yes, that was it. In a way, it was what I aspired to.
I have always understood those creatures which choose the migratory instinct over the maternal, even though others may see this as ‘un-natural’. As soon as I could walk I was off. My maternal grandmother quickly nicknamed me ‘Dot’: I was off, at a cracking pace, into the distance. The dot in the distance. Ambulans solvitur joined me as my motto, and stayed. Walking does solve it, whatever ‘it’ is. I walk it out. The more I walk, the weller I feel. Kierkegaard felt the same: ‘Thus, if one just keeps on walking, everything will be alright’ (letters). Chatwin put it more sanguinely in ‘The Songlines’: ‘I had been sitting on my arse for a couple of weeks and was beginning to feel the disgust for words that comes from taking no exercise.’
For many years, I moved a lot and traveled very little. I was not myself and not at home. Once I broke through the glass wall around me, I grew into myself and learned to breathe deeply and fully. I do travel, and far, farther than others and not as far as some, and there’s farther still to go than I ever will or want to. Though I move and have no residential address, there are places I feel at home. These are the places I stay. There is a clear difference between living, visiting and staying. Living is what I do, gratefully, every day. For me, it has nothing to do with place, no connection with an address. Visiting happens with new places, or with courtesy calls to those who describe themselves as ‘living’ in a particular location. Staying is what I do when I find somewhere I like and want to get to know. That’s where I lay my (cowboy) hat. Before staleness sets in, though, it’s time to move – because there’s always back to come.
Is there a purpose? I cannot say. All I’ve talked of here is function. The best description was coined before I was born: ‘We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time’ (TS Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’). In any case, I shall leave the last words to a favorite of mine, John Donne: ‘To live in one land is captivity, To run all countries, a wild roguery; Waters stink soon if in one place they bide, And in the vast sea are more purified: But when they kiss one bank, and leaving this/ Never look back, but the next bank do kiss, Then are they purest. Change is the nursery/ Of music, joy, life, and eternity. (Elegy III: Change)