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March 22, 2021


I was up at sunrise, something I don't often manage to juggle with my erratic sleep patterns, but it's always been a long-term aim. When I was around 10 or 11, I had an aunt that had purchased a Dormobile - an ingenious British van of the time, with a pop-up roof, sleeping cots and small kitchenette. She took me for a trip down to Cornwall, in Southwest England. We broke the journey at Dartmoor, and she got me up at dawn. That must have been my first real experience of early morning. Children sleep late, and are confined to the house, and my parents never took me on camping trips or anything like that. I remember being awed and amazed, there on that early start at Dartmoor, by the smells and the light and the birdsong. I felt so alive, and the world felt so fresh.

This Freer was my favourite aunt; she had remained unmarried, and was always doing things differently from the rest of the family; later she fell in with the gypsies; she had an idea of living permanently in one of their caravans. On this particular trip to Cornwall, she was taking me down to see a friend of hers who ran a railwayman's hostel - I wasn't sure what that meant - near the small seaside town of Par or Parr. The place was an old mansion that went by the name Trenython. It was set in one of the few remaining stands of ancient forest, in its own grounds. The gardens were amazing, besides growing vegetables for the inmates, there were, beyond a secret door, woods that seemed half-wild. Children of the employees took me for walks and told me stories of having seen pixies, so I kept my eyes peeled for pixies where-ever we would wander.

It was quite a house; you have many such converted old mansions in Britain, but this must have been one of the best. It had massive staircases and Italian marbles that had been a gift of Garibaldi, who was said to have visited. I had a room to myself with a high ceiling and huge windows overlooking the bay. I guess they were bay windows. It was a marvelous experience for a snotty-nosed Yorkshire lad with working-class parents.

Here on the patio, the wind chime tinkles, accompanying birdsong, which still has that early morning intensity that fades throughout the day. Birds flock to villages in this country, because there is more on offer here than in the surrounding wasteland. Though we spoil the land with our concrete, at least we bring shade trees, water, green things, fruit, and swarms of insects for the birds to enjoy.