When I was young, I had so many grand dreams and ambitions. My younger brother and I dreamed of escaping our “boring” hometown. I told my mother I was too important to learn how to cook – though she insisted. She still insists that I learn how to perfect my sorbet and meringue.
In my thirties, I took stock of my life and contemplated its meaning, and went off soul-searching. But really, it’s just this:
When I was a teen, the love stories I read were almost exclusively about the Knights Templar. Till this day, I couldn’t walk past a book, be it historical or fiction, about the Templars without buying it…or at least, stroke the cover lovingly and devour the pages lustily. I particularly love first editions though I can’t afford these collectors’ items.
And as psychologists will tell you, the people we spend time with and the books we read become us. I live the Templars legend and have a long and abiding love affair with old castles and battlements. The one I love most (though it is not related to the Templars) is Portchester Castle, which is not far from my parents’ house.
I used to play here when I was young, and in the warmer months, my brothers and I would fish for crabs in the moat and the creeks, using bacon pieces tied with a long string.
I know every crenallation by heart. I feel as if they are engraved in my soul.
I used to come here with my parents and brothers, and a decade later, I brought my children, niece, nephew and the important people in my life to this same, magical place that never seems to change. There’s something very powerful about the connection.
It is the most meaningful place to me. Two summers ago, I was lying on the grass here with my partner. A murmuration of starlings flew overhead, and I started telling him the stories that my parents had told me long ago about these birds.
“I want my ashes scattered here, as per my last will and testament,” I reminded him.
“Mine, too,” he said serenely.
“But you’re not from here!”
“I am now,” he said, and I looked at him, lying contentedly on his back, eyes closed, his hand unconsciously placed above his heart. Decades ago, he was the young man who came to Winchester to study and over time, he became one of us Hampshire folks. Someday, I will write a book about Portschester and it will be a story about a love that finds its way through rocks and crevasses and crenallations to flow freely into the ocean beyond. I love you.
Find the real world, give it endlessly away
Grow rich, fling gold to all who ask
Live at the empty heart of Paradox
I’ll dance there with you, cheek to cheek
Your Dawn in me…I’m drunk, stammering –
A thousand thousand words go dark –
Lightnings are dark – to us – to this:
Identity’s boundless worlds-wide blaze.
– Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
(Translated by Andrew Harvey from A Year of Rumi)