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Fallow

Alumni, 2004 - Nigel Cassidy

Think of it like a field, he said, that is left to lie fallow.

The fallow field. Left to its own devices, no longer forced to produce a crop. Left to just be. Left uncut. Left alone. What will happen? Weeds will come, inevitably, but so will wild flowers. (Some may say they are the same thing.) Emptied of use, emptied of productivity – left alone to just exist, to take up space and wait. Life will happen. This too is inevitable. Even if we take to our beds, the ultimate surrender, our hair still grows, as do our nails and the cycle of days continue.

From the upstairs window I see the man across the road mowing his lawn. He does this almost daily. It is neatly shorn, in lines. He mows bare-chested, in shorts. A springy sort of man. Young, possibly in his early forties. Their house, for there is a woman too, though from this distance she appears to be more like his mother than his wife. A dapper, small round figure, who like him (son or husband) is very brown. She, like him, is always busy around the garden or hanging out washing. They seem happy, jaunty even. Their house overflows with a profusion of hanging baskets and their garden is a riot of colourful rockeries. Neat-and-tidy bodgers, Dawn Wallace, that erstwhile Cambridge College part-time gardener would have called them. Maybe, but I like their bouncy contentment – that effusion of doing. No fallow field for them. Unlike their opposite neighbours who share their greensward. The left-hand side. Divided by a row of shrubs. Their neighbours’ side is uncut, unloved and devoid of colour. Not so much fallow as forgotten. From up here it looks rather like a before and after photograph for weed killer or a fast fly mower. Does it frustrate the tidy ones? Does he long to whip over to the other side with his machine and render perfect straight lines into that green? And she? Does she itch to place pots of geraniums under their kitchen window? She’s a little Stepford, my niece said of an acquaintance of hers. I understand, but I have to admit to a natural inclination towards the neat-and-tidy myself. Turn your world upside down, he said. Yes. I know. Let be. Learn to lie fallow.

In an effort to save money Aberystwyth Council are planning to introduce wild flowers into their municipal beds. Nice. I walk through the Castle grounds and just by the playground there is a bed of cornflowers. As they die that perfect blue turns white. And when we drive home from the BBC there is a perfect planting of red poppies, buttercups, cornflowers and daisies. He slows the car and we purr with pleasure. I tried it myself, in our little garden in Cambridge, sprinkling the little package of seeds under the apple tree. Some came, though not many, perhaps there wasn’t enough light. So much to learn. Dawn would come into our garden with dog and just do, confident in her knowledge and I would slink off inside, my neatness, like my tail, hidden beneath my petticoat.

Jane Austen stopped working when they moved to Bath. Her fallow period. No one really knows why. Too much excitement or too little peace. Did it help, that fallow period? Did it feed her soul? Did it prepare her for better work? Did she ache to be absorbed, to return to her ‘children’? Bath wore me out. I worked hard. Was prolific. I was spent. And then Norway and then here. Two deaths, one re-marriage. And now? I think I need to look at it from another angle. Detach myself. What happens when we are not working? Are we the same? The lying fallow. What is happening in that soil? All that inner replenishing, the just being of matter.

The last two morning walks have felt almost holy. Sacred. A sacred time. The sea is still, the air windless. Bated. The bated breath of morning. It is cut into by the voices of inebriated youths tumbling out of the Pier Pressure night club or sitting on promenade benches calling taxicab numbers on their mobile phones or big-thighed girls in shorts, make-up running, their arms locked into those of skinny-legged boys, shouting or crying. I walk past these scenes untouched. They don’t see me. By the time I reach Castle Point the silence has returned. The sea becomes a little wilder and the wind picks up, flapping and pulling at the flags that line the southern end of the Prom. I go home a different way, down past the Harbour and up Mill Street. A young man is vomiting in a flower bed, his arm pushing hard against the wall. A girl, his date, stands a little way off. Non-plussed, her faun-like legs jutting awkwardly from a tiny ra-ra skirt, her feet pointing inwards, she toys with her handbag, bored by the delay and offering no assistance. Is she used to this? Is this a regular occurrence or were they strangers till last night? I walk up over the Buarth and then down onto Llanbadarn Road. The streetlights come on at 5 am. A blackbird hippety-hops onto the pavement ahead of me, stopping briefly to point its one yellow eye at me before flying off.

So what of today? A neatening. A going through. It is enough for now. Just going through my plan chest drawers, separating the wheat from the chaff. A slow deliberate process. Making room. Letting go. Waiting to see what it is I am meant to do next.

I have my hung new magnetised pin board. There is a card on there, drawn by her over 25 years ago. Perhaps a little less. She drew it for me, I believe. Especially for me, though no doubt with a little coaxing. It was ever thus. Next to the card is a little plastic see-through pouch in which lies a dead sea-horse. A minute, perfect fragility. On the other side of the board a magnet holds an un-opened card. It is a line-drawing of Oslo’s City Hall. There is a needle and thread in the cellophane bag – the intention being presumably to create a final drawing by sewing around its lines. It reminds me of the paint-by-number kits I had as a child. I found them comforting. There was an order to them. Rules to follow. A tried and tested method. One couldn’t fail, so long as one kept within the lines. And yet, I wasn’t good at that. Not really. The paint bled. I strayed. A little spark of something other within me beginning to question.

I think of the artist Michael Landy who destroyed all his belongings. It was a reaction to consumerism, I heard him say during a radio interview. Such a powerful, almost violent act, one which he followed with a project involving a careful, painstaking, pencil-drawn documentation of every wildflower he could find on the London streets. You see, there is no black-and-white, not really, just a series of greys. Order and chaos. Productivity and fallowness. Now it is time for the latter, methinks. Yes?

 

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.