Peel Castle, Isle of Man
“It’s not normally like this,” has become the standard greeting offered me on debarking at the Isle of Man airport. The members of my family who live there claim I bring the sunshine with me, along with an atmospheric calm they find eerie. My father exclaims at the sight of a mirror flat sea, usually dappled by the wind whickering over its surface. My aunt remarks at the peculiar sight of smoke flowing straight up from chimneys rather than being whisked off over the rooftops. There is no chance to play the seafront game of catch-the-sandwich, as meals stay on their plates instead of flying from the café’s outdoor tables.
Whatever it is normally like in Peel, the contrast with my own normality is greater, and this is as wonderful a gift as the sunshine and glittering sea. As the London grime is gradually sand-blasted from my skin, and my legs bounce me over rocks and craggy hills instead of flat, gum-spattered pavements, the squashed parts of me revive.
There is a trick of the light at sea, which can make distant landmarks grow huge, then shrink and disappear entirely. Thus from Peel, if you stand on the sea side of the castle walls, you might see the Mountains of Mourne rising majestically as mountains should above the horizon, only to find the following day that the same strip of horizon is as bare as a scrubbed blue tabletop, with not a crumb of mountain to be seen.
Gazing at life through the distortions provided, not by mixing pockets of cold and warm air, but by routine, work, and the resultant daily effort to stay sane, similar tricks of perspective come into play. Sometimes I see myself clearly, a familiar if not exactly majestic speck floating in the midst of a gigantic world. At other times I can hardly see myself at all, and it can seem as though I have indeed sunk and been lost in a sea of necessities, requirements, duties and computer passwords.
Recently the self I know had been obscured in this way far more often than is healthy. But surrounded by the real, dazzling, freezing Irish Sea for the last few days, it bobbed back up again, and I was pleased to find that, despite having been below the water line for quite some time, no important parts were missing. My creativity had gone a bit wrinkly, but it revived remarkably quickly in the fresh air.
Even better, now that I am back in London my self is still growing clearer and clearer. This, I know, is because I am about to have a whole month off work to be only myself, with not one single gasping dip into the murky waters of office life. I am ridiculously excited about having this time, and about the unanticipated surfacing effect its promise is having on me. There is a darker side: extended periods away from ‘normal’ life like this are not frequent, and I wonder how long I would have had to wait without taking this break to be reacquainted with the parts of myself that had been longest out of view.
But, the Mountains of Mourne always reappear eventually if you walk around Peel castle often enough. I believe a dose of Isle of Man air, with or without the wind, will always bring my life, and my self, into better perspective.