I discovered something about myself the other day. I’m in Holland staying at my brother’s flat while he’s away on holiday. It’s the first time I’ve been here and I don’t know the area very well so I set off on an exploratory walk. Usually I walk in grids so that I can orientate myself back and the grids get wider and wider each day until I’ve worked out the topography of the place. Anyway, I set off and was having a great time. Everyone uses a bicycle here and it’s very tempting to do the same because you can travel a lot further, easier, using less energy. But I like to explore on foot, to fix in my consciousness the streets and houses, and where they are in relation to everything else. I also like to look in more detail at the houses and gardens, shops and public buildings, architecture, design and landscaping. So off I went.
It was a warm, sunny day and for once my hip wasn’t bothering me. I’d been resting it for a few days and that seemed to have paid off. I wandered around streets and shopping areas until I came to a long, straight road so I set off on that, having fixed the spire of the church as a landmark in case I got lost. I was determined to make the most of the day and my level of fitness. It had been raining for days and some of the paths were flooded but I plunged through, eager to find out where the road led to. I ended up near the motorway that leads into the Vlissingen, the next town, and followed the cycle paths that led me down to one of the tow paths along a canal (pronounced ‘kennel’ here). The sun was behind me, dark clouds in front of me, and I got an odd sense of dizziness and disorientation.
I thought I might be taking ill again but soon discounted that theory because I felt fine otherwise. I’ve felt like this before, so wondered if the problem lay in my ears and some sort of vertigo, which I have suffered from in the past. I checked this by shaking my head but the dizziness didn’t get worse so I ruled that out. I kept on walking and my mind wandered, as it often does. I remembered feeling like that on different holidays, particularly those in the southern hemisphere. I’d put that all down to jet lag, but as I was walking I became more and more aware of the sun at my back. I thought it must be giving me some sort of sunstroke, then for no reason a thought popped into my head, ‘East to West’. I had no idea what it meant but kept pondering. I’m not very good at direction and compass points, but with the sun at my back that time of day I was walking north along the tow path. So what? Then it struck me – most of my journeys at home are either west, from my home, east to my family and back again. When I go walking, I seem to go in the same direction and in all the houses I’ve lived in I’ve been happiest with my bed facing east-west. My current home drives me crazy because the garden faces north and is cold and dark. I had to change everything around inside which I now realize is on an east-west line. How odd is that?
I’m currently working on a novel that involves feng shui and compass points so that’s obviously why this has arisen. But I find it interesting that despite being someone who takes ages to work out directions, I’m suddenly consciously aware of them when I had little or no awareness before. I suppose it’s a bit like being on a diet and suddenly you notice all the adverts for food. Once an idea breaks through then your brain is good at spotting other instances and coincidences. Yet I do think there’s something inherent about directions that used to be vital for our survival and which we’re now losing. We no longer live and navigate by the stars because we have equipment to do that for us, but whatever homing pigeon facility we used to have as a species has not been eradicated completely. At least I hope not.
I was born in the North-East of England and now live in South-West Scotland. My main line of travel is along the A75 and A69 from home to family. It’s as if my body is attuned to travelling between those two directions. Even when I’m completely lost, in the dark and on unfamiliar roads, I can always eventually find my way back to either ‘home’. I’m an east-west girl with a spiritual home in Scotland and an emotional home in NE England, but even though the forces that drive me are much more than magnetic pulls, or waxing and waning of the moon, there’s no denying they have their effects on me. And home, at the end of the day, is really where you are.