‘Oh, I’m so lucky!’ my mother exclaims, whenever she remembers where she lives.
Standing on her garden wall, you see Ventnor falling away below you in higgledy-piggledy terraces down to the sea, and the Channel stretching out. France is over there. Thataway.
I don’t have the English Channel, but I have taken to thinking the same way about the river Cam. I live three minutes away from this. I am still overwhelmed by the fact that I am lucky enough to live here, and I’ve been doing it for nearly a year so.
There’s something about living near water, I think. There’s the huge, calming vastness of the sea. The river doesn’t quite do that, but it’s full of life and activity. The ducks, the rowers, the houseboats, the swans – there’s always something going on, always something to look at, and you have to go out very late at night if you want to be sure of not meeting anybody.
The days draw out, and even on work days I leave home in daylight and I return in daylight, and I cycle to the shops, or I walk to the pub, or I sit by the river and eat an ice cream, and I watch the ducks flying downriver and the boats hauling upriver and the swans nibbling at the grass from the bank, and the trains pelting over the bridge, and I think, ‘Oh, I’m so lucky.’
I love living near water. One worries, vaguely, about flooding and cliff falls, but they haven’t happened yet. I’ve always lived either near water or within earshot of a railway, or, as now, both. The one time we did flood we were way out in the country, and that was the river Teme remembering its prehistoric course and coming straight through our cellar. It was all right: we lost the freezer, and that was about it.
I love the trains, too, but in a slightly different way. Water is huge and full of activity; the trains are contained. Human creations, orderly, predictable, going where they’re meant to go. They make me feel safe. Even in the awful bedsit, the worst place I ever lived, I heard the trains rattling past at night, down in the cutting underneath my window, and I could think, ‘I can get away. If it gets too bad, I can get away.’
Here, I have trains and water. This is what makes me feel lucky.