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Rambling - a moment in time

"One cannot fix one's eyes on the commonest natural production without finding food for a rambling fancy." Jane Austen

You must be able to tell I'm getting a bit desperate - another trick to stimulate thought again. This time I am returning to my 'moment in time' run through of the photographs I have chosen to illustrate the main pages of this website. So here I am actually rambling - through the Umbrian countryside, back in 2012.

Once again we found the most amazing house - there it is in the background of this photograph - and yes, all that land belonged to the house, and there is my lovely friend Sue making one of her wonderful paintings of the scene. The house was perched high on a out in the countryside with 360 degree views of what seemed to be all of Umbria.

And one day we decided to go for a walk - out of the side gate and along the path which passed by. We had no idea where we were going, nor how long it would take. Was there an end point, and if there was would we reach it anyway? We did not walk fast, we ambled and chatted and occasionally stole some cherries from the laden trees that we passed. In many ways it was an unremarkable walk, fairly flat, and fairly featureless I suppose, grassy fields, and woody copses, with cherry trees and wild flowers scattered here and there along the way. If I had been concentrating more I would probably have taken more photographs.

I'm sure there would have been much to see, but I see that I have just one of David picking cherries and one of he and Mike ambling along ahead of myself and Sue. And yet the memory of that day remains. A golden moment in the Italian sun.

We rambled (the activity of walking in the countryside for pleasure - Oxford Dictionary) and as I remember that walk, a whole host of other memories of that particular holiday come flooding back, and, continuing on - well rambling (straying from one subject to another - Macquarie dictionary) a whole host of memories associated with our earlier lives together at university were revived as well.

Incidentally - as a rambling aside - the Cambridge dictionary, omits the pleasure from its definition of rambling - 'the activity of going for long walks in the countryside'. Merriam Webster on the other hand, regards rambling walks as 'proceeding without a specific goal, purpose or direction - wandering from one place to another' and the Macquarie is even more damning by saying that rambling is 'wandering about aimlessly.' I take issue with the last two in particular. We may not have had a specific destination in mind when we set out - other than getting back 'home' that is. After all, how could we? We had no idea where the path led. But we did have a purpose - to go for a walk, to enjoy the sunshine, get some exercise, discover something amazing perhaps, and most of all to enjoy each other's company. We also did not 'wander about aimlessly'. We followed a path to see where it would go.

The Oxford dictionary has an additional, slightly different definition - 'travelling from place to place, wandering', which leads me to think that the Oxford has a rather higher estimation of the notion of rambling as an activity than the others. 'Travelling from place to place' is what all of mankind did once upon a time, and some still do. There remain a few nomadic societies, and there remain vast numbers of people who love to travel - to discover, to learn, to absorb other cultures, other landscapes - the wonders of the natural and the constructed worlds. And sometimes alas, it has to be said, to bend them to their way of thinking. Indeed it could be said that the most frustrating thing about COVID has been the inability to travel, to wander the world, to momentarily escape from the stresses of everyday living. Travelling from place to place, wandering, also led to the discovery of continents, of whole new civilisations, and now of the planets and the stars. The destination of all of those explorers may have been defined, sometimes only in a vague way - find a better route to the spice lands for example - but the actual journey was new and therefore unknown.

Rambling is slow. There is no urgency to rambling. Which is why children - small children anyway - don't ramble much. They are in too much of a hurry to find the next amazing thing or to catch up with their friends, their siblings, their mum and dad.

Ok that was a rambling aside because I love that photo. Oldest grandson striding ahead, with the others trying to catch up and at the same time make sure the youngest doesn't get left behind. The emphasis is on the others, not much on where they are or where they are going.

Rambling as a writing style - which is what I do - was, I found, rather derided by all of the dictionaries. 'Too long and confused' - Cambridge (how do they know how long it was?); 'lengthy and confused, inconsequential - Oxford; 'straying from subject to subject' - Merriam Webster and exactly the same from Macquarie. I confess that you could apply all of those definitions to myself, particularly the Macquarie. I'm just not that good a writer and I do go on a bit. But what about others - regarded as geniuses by others. What about James Joyce - particularly in Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake? They are long, very long rambles seemingly going nowhere at times. What about Proust, whose sentences are long, long, long, and often contain digressions that jump from one thing to another, but which nevertheless encapsulate a whole experience or memory on the page in vivid detail. What about Virginia Woolf and all of her disciples and 'the stream of consciousness' style. I guess what makes them great, is the fact that they probably don't actually just write in a free-flowing, let's see where this goes, manner. In fact they have doubtlessly planned it all out. Every word. Or at the very least gone back and rewritten over and over again until perfect.

I suppose I write as I think - jumping around here, there and everywhere as the thought takes me. Like today. So I will stop - with a picture of a rambling rose in France somewhere and a poem - or a fragment of a poem from Yeats.

The rose, of course, has been artfully trained to look rambling and I have no doubt that Yeats spent hours and hours on those few words.

"From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged

In rambling talk with an image of air:

Vague memories, nothing but memories."

William Butler Yeats

But no - I'll give the last word to Joyce:

“Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.” James Joyce, Ulysses

And I really should find a place for the Jane Austen quote (at the top of the page) on my Home page. It sums up what I try to do I think.


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