NS July 5th, 2010
I picked up my bag, kissed my sleeping husband on the cheek and slipped out of the silent house just before 7am. The children were still at their grandparents’ house, there for an overnight stay. No teary goodbyes, no last-minute reminders to NH, no prying of clinging fingers from my legs.
Fresh air and sunshine hit me full in the face and I smiled to myself as I walked towards the station. I would not be returning for 36 hours.
At 1pm (after an unexpected and expensive taxi ride from Hereford) I arrived in Hay-on-Wye, a small village-like town just over the border into Wales, home to nearly 40 second-hand and independent bookshops.
I browsed, I walked, I bought, I read. I had lunch at a table outside a cafe and watched a local parade of children dressed in outfits representing cultures from all over the globe in honour of the World Cup. I had many coffees and a scrumptious ice cream. I dined alone at a gourmet gastropub that evening and listened to the conversations in that wonderful lilting Welsh accent all around me as I pretended to read my book. I read in bed until my eyes were heavy (which was relatively early) and had a full 8 hours sleep, uninterrupted. It was bliss.
And the books. Oh, the books! I couldn’t get enough of them. Second-hand book shops are my biggest love after my family. The musty, ancient, knowing smell, the haphazard organisation, the creaking wooden floors and the wise, silent, grey-haired proprietor watching over his or her precious wares — I love every single aspect of it. If I’d had a car or a pack mule with me, I’d have bought way more than I did. As it was, I had to settle for 3 small paperbacks (one on my current fascination with Marxism, one volume of obscure poetry and one children’s book for Noble Girl) and 1 hardback pregnancy and birth book to add to the collection I am trying to amass so I can lend books to my doula clients.
Visiting a second-hand book shop is like going to see old friends.
In addition to only running three buses a day, which was a bit of a shock to this London girl, the town of Hay is trusting.
It was such a positive, uplifting experience, being in a small, close-knit community again. In fact, the only bit of negativity I ran across the entire weekend was this childish scrap of cruelty tucked between two books.
Poor Jessica Smith. Sounds like she knows a right bitch, with poor grammar and spelling to boot.
On the journey home, which took a little over 7 hours on a Sunday, I met a couple travelling around the UK on their honeymoon. They were from the States too so I wished them a happy Independence Day, seeing as it was the 4th of July. They asked where I was headed and, not lying, I said ‘back down to London’. They assumed I was a fellow travelling tourist and I didn’t correct them. For just a small part one journey, I did feel like a lone tourist, visiting places and spaces in my head I hadn’t explored in a very, very long time.
I put my headphones back on and slid down in my seat, watching the rain lash the windows and sheep frolick in the green hills. I closed my eyes and smiled, needing nothing and no one needing me for just a few hours more.
Happy Independence Day indeed.