10 Jan Time to disconnect
One of my joys in the B&B is gardening. I just love it – and hope that all the money and time spent in the garden is worth it in terms of seeing happy guests eating breakfast in the garden and the joy I get from making beautiful arrangements of flowers in the bedrooms. The garden used to be a cut-flower nursery some decades ago, so it is great knowing that keen gardeners have tended the soil and maybe even some of the cottage plants before me. Just as the house has always been a guest house, for over 100 years, the garden has produced beautiful flowers for a long time – and we are merely passing through, in a long line of care-takers. We have a responsibility to care and love this home and garden, we often think.
After a busy day with guests and my children, I really love wandering around the garden, doing a little dead-heading and squeezing the last beautiful moments out of a fulfilling day. Tonight I was trying to persuade myself to stop and go in, when one of our guests arrived back after an evening at the wonderful Theatre by The Lake in Keswick. When a guest books, sometimes you get a feeling you are really going to get on.
I knew from the booking she was Mexican, as is one of my close girl-friends. When she arrived we realised she was an academic – seeking a little refuge from the business of academic life – students needing a little of you most days, colleagues demanding all of you, conferences to go to, papers to write. In my conference days, I found that an extra day or two away from home – somewhere ‘away from it all’, away from colleagues, students and even family – ideally after a conference and buzzing with new ideas, was a place I could really think – and really write. I know some of my best papers came out of a few really relaxed moments on a beautiful beach in Cape Town and an afternoon spent by the Bosporus in Istanbul. So it’s rather magical to think that the Lakes are providing our academic guest with that space, and it’s delightful thinking our own B&B plays a role in this too.
The Lakes really are a place to ‘think big’: the vistas expand your sense of possibility and imagination; the mountains and contours demand respect for a sense of time and history, and understanding that change is generally slow, but that change is inevitable. Walking gives you a powerful sense of agency and confidence to get to the top, to see things differently from new perspectives.
So it is no wonder that we attract some academics and writers – looking for a space to think, to come up with new ideas, to see things anew. But generally we attract people looking to disconnect – even if it for a few days. It may be disconnecting from busy work lives, disconnecting from a painful relationship, seeking solace in the care for a dying parent.
After I had said good night to our lovely Mexican guest, I found her a little later still in the garden in the twilight. She was checking a few work emails – and said she needed to disconnect. I immediately said, yes, I need to disconnect too – but from my garden. I find it so addictive and so calming after a busy day sometimes it is very hard to stop – even when it is almost dark.
I was hit with the parallels with our guest – for all my academic life I found it hard to disconnect from work communication. There was an insidious pressure to be seen to be working 24/7 – to be seen to respond to that work email sent after 10:00pm, to show your constant focus on and dedication to work. This pressure to put work before family, before pastimes, before health even, was soul-destroying. In the conversation with our guest, I felt enormously happy that for me this pressure has been replaced by my love for the garden. Instead of closing down a full box of emails with a mixture of guilt and dread late at night, I have to walk away from the beautiful flowers and scents of the garden – knowing I will be re-connecting with them tomorrow.
That is the aim of many of our guests – to reconnect, maybe with their spouse, with a grown-up son or to a love of walking or climbing. The landscape of the lakes offers this reconnection – a sense of space, of possibility – through a reconnection to one’s self.