I turned seventeen last week – celebrating with a picnic, a healthy dose of vintage clothes and a walk in the bluebell wood. This last activity didn't start out as an intentional tradition, but in the same way as a well-liked phrase may quickly become a mantra, so a stroll in the evening light has become a required part of my birthday. Wandering through the blue hush is a fitting conclusion to the day’s festivities.
This year the walk was shoehorned together with some photography. I climbed over fences in a vintage Parisian dress from ‘Les Marches aux Puces’, complete with a netting underskirt that scratched my legs and caught on the barbed wire as I scrambled. The heels came off to scale the huge water tank though. It stands like some kind of monument, the arrows pointing off towards trees and blue flowers.
Bluebells are bright crests to the grass waves. They are somehow unexpected wherever they grow – appearing in forests, along roads and spreading out thickly across hillsides – enhancing the location wherever they pop up. The atmosphere in our favourite wood during bluebell season is hallowed. It's the kind of place where one can imagine lying down and falling asleep for days, perhaps curled up under the base of an uprooted tree, such as the one pictured. It certainly lends itself to fairytale fantasies – although I like to subscribe to the Angela Carter school of thought, whereby the heroine can rescue herself from scrapes and mishaps without assistance. This wood was not full of wolves or witches though, and the only scrapes were the ones found on my shins.
The English landscape is usually characterised by greens and browns. Bright tones appear in the wild flowers that tumble down lanes and across banks: pink clover and ragged robin, or yellow buttercups, dandelions and celandines. But these are still not quite as startling as a blue flower. Candia McWilliam, in her breathtaking but relentless autobiography ‘What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness’ describes them as such: “… [blue] flowers are frail like faded, worn cloth or like those patches of sky. They are remote, as though glimpsed. They are slips of things, a hint, like young people in the one summer when they know they are lovely but do not know the effect of it, or the sea around the next bend, or fresh water between mouth and thirsty throat. They are half-seen. Once you have lived for a certain time, a blue flower makes you both satisfied and sad.” Her use of imagery is masterful, and the story told is truthful, persistently self-analytical and as brutal as it is beautiful. I bought it from Primrose Hill Bookshop during a fleeting trip to London, recognizing McWillliam's name from an Oxford podcast I had listened to the previous week. I was mesmerized by the way she spoke in her lecture, and even more impressed with her writing when I flicked to the first page. I cannot overstate the thrill of discovering a new author or novel among shelves and tables heavy with offerings. I would happily work - or even live - in any independent bookshop, particularly one such as Daunt or Persephone (speaking of which, I was shot in the latter for Elle Japan – the photo will be on my press page shortly!) However, I now have enough books of my own to open a small bookshop or library, with new birthday additions including Alice Oswald’s ‘Dart’ and Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’.
You can tell the age of a tree by the number of rings inside the trunk. As humans we don’t have a similar marking system – there's no new blotch or line that appears on the morning of each birthday. It's a more subtle process, body and face growing and ageing incrementally. This is matched with gradual internal change. The self, like a bluebell, can grow and wither and experience renewal year on year. My hope is that the twelve months ahead are filled with opportunities, experiences, interesting people and creative endeavours.