Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Art of Adventuring










I’m a big fan of the word ‘adventure’. Blame it on the books I read as a child: a steady diet of Enid Blyton and Eva Ibbotsen, among others, their stories stuffed full of scrapes and escapades and strange locations. I matched these with my own, small, imaginative adventures. Trees were climbed, dens built, and knees scraped (I’ve never properly moved beyond the latter: my legs are always inevitably peppered with bruises and scratches come summer).

It’s a word with all sorts of potential meanings. It can be amusing and slightly nostalgic, a la Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or the kind of 1930s Boys’ Own annual full of knitted vests and exclamations of “by golly!” In fact, take a look at the list of synonyms: caper, lark, frolic, jaunt. All sound like terms that could be clad in tweed and cable knit – or a nice cotton sundress - exclaimed in the plummiest of plummy tones.

It can also be reduced to travel-speak, ‘adventure’ being the best label to attach to jaw-dropping waterfalls or stunning vistas or sapphire seas or whatever other cliché you wish to muster. It can be sweet. Or unexpected. Or fun. It could even be thrilling (and a little self-knowing) – Margaret Mahy’s delightfully titled book The Blood and Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak as a case in point.

Some of the adventures I read about then I’m glad to have left behind (I know I’d be less keen on returning to the Famous Five, knowing how bigoted and snobbish Blyton was). Others are adventures I hope I dip in and out of for the rest of my life (Margaret Mahy is timeless, ageless, and peerless in her storytelling). But I guess I continue to carry all of them forward with me in my own thirst for adventuring. There may be less in the way of dastardly criminals, and the ginger beer has been replaced by gin and tonic, but I still love the principal of setting out somewhere – anywhere – merely with the intention to play.

In fact, the adult version may involve more long walks and better-prepared picnics, but it still begins from the same principle of pleasure: pleasure in the possibilities of the day ahead; pleasure in other people’s company (unless it’s a solo adventure, which I’m also a HUGE advocate of); pleasure in place and exploration and the potential for the unexpected. Sometimes the pleasure is also in the planning. Sometimes it’s in the spontaneity. Could be a tiresome clamber through a forest, a day in a new city, hours and hours of dancing, or the thrill of going skinny dipping on a starless night. The permutations are endless.

This particular adventure, however, was a rather simple one: the kind discussed months beforehand, then finally executed on a slightly grey day back in early summer. My wonderful friend Holly and I wanted to go to the Harcourt Arboretum, which sits just outside of Oxford. We dressed up, marshaled our supplies - pork pies, pink lemonade, crisps, a camera - then caught a bus out into the green. We spent several very merry hours wandering around from woods to fields and back again, staring down the peacocks, striking poses in the undergrowth, and chatting all the way.

It felt special primarily because we’d deliberately removed ourselves from familiar routine – which would usually involve some combination of charity shops, coffee, or sitting out in the sun with a glass of wine – in order to seek something new. And we were aware of our deliberate framing of the day as an ‘adventure’ in inverted commas: an excuse to gallivant around with more enthusiasm than strictly necessary, in more swishy florals than your average arboretum day-tripper.

Now, with all the trees stripped bare, and muggy rain on the way, an afternoon of lazy strolling with bare arms and legs seems like another world - as it does every year when the seasons shift. But there are other adventures ahead: blustery hills to scale, places to nose around, people to see, freezing waves to (maybe) brave, flasks of coffee to stubbornly, stoically drink outside in grim weather.

Both Holly and I moved away from Oxford at the end of the summer. This week, we're reunited in the countryside. Right this minute, we’re both sitting on our laptops, pretending to be busy with work while regularly distracting one another with very important conversational topics like dyed armpit hair, Church of England primary schools, good books, and the best contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. We’ve planned another set of adventures for the next few days. Hopefully some more walking and exploring. Maybe another shoot or two. Definitely a whole lot of cooking – and an even better, even brighter, even more brilliantly incongruous set of outfits. Of course.

Talking of Oxford, I have a piece in the latest issue of Suitcase magazine about mythology, ghosts, sassy abbesses, stone circles, and my own personal process of negotiating the city as both a space and an institution. It has the BEST illustrations alongside it. Suitcase hosted the most wonderful dinner earlier this week to celebrate the launch of this issue. That felt like an adventure all of its own: a delicious few hours of wonderful people, good food, and glittering, candle-lit conversation.


Both of our outfits are cobbled together from various second hand sources. If you want to know who wore blue and green best between me and a peacock, see this Instagram snap here.