This week I’ve been meaning to revise. I have an exam on Thursday, for heaven’s sake, I ought to be at least reading a book. It is paramount that I stay in my room despite the utterly glorious week-long Californian paradise-weather we’ve been having and study, study, study. It’s for exactly that reason, then, that I’ve been out of the house this week more than usual.
It’s not just the sun. I don’t normally care much for the sun. I don’t tan. I don’t burn easily either, for that matter, I just get somehow even paler and if I’m not careful my arms get a little itchy from heat-rash but ultimately hot weather does nothing except provoke me to change shirts in the middle of the day. But good weather makes being indoors suck. It’s usually warmer than it is outside – stuffier, too. My laptop, already quite old and prone to overheating, is like a hot water bottle under my hands. My window faces the sun most of the day and so if I dare try and use the computer between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon the sun will glint off the laptop screen and blind me. Good weather makes you feel like you really ought to be outside. It reminds you how much time you spend indoors and it reaffirms the old adage of the agoraphobic, Internet-bound nerd.
This week I’ve been exploring a few places. A friend of mine and his lovely fiancée invited me to explore some woods on the other side of Canterbury and I happily took up the chance to shirk my student responsibilities. We wandered around the gorgeous forest and, like children, explored the local wonders. We watched anthills slowly consume all the debris around them and we watched some strange grub-like creatures bumble about the clovers. We saw a delightful little woodland clearing where the grass was as green as it comes. We found a caterpillar hanging from a high tree branch at head-height in the centre of the path and watched it dance around like one of those acrobats hanging from the ceiling by long silk strips. I was also subject to an explosion of scribbly death when it turned out that the strange, fuzzy black lump by the roadside was animal droppings covered in flies who burst out like shrapnel when I got too close. I also bet my friend he wouldn’t lick an aphid on his arm for a pound just to see if he’d do it. I am now one pound poorer.
Today I went with the same friend (sans fiancée) and walked around the fields behind the university. We found a bunker, presumably from the 1940s, abandoned in the hedgerows. Canterbury is one of the largest cities closest to then-occupied France and was none-too-far from Dover Castle where a lot of the defence against potential Nazi invasion was orchestrated. We discussed the secret plans to defend Britain conjured up by Churchill and the other heads of state in the event of a land invasion of England. There were certain towns, those with historical moats and castle walls, which were planned to destroy the bridges leading across said moats and hold out against the invaders with enough supplies to last five years.
Standing there, peering into that long-forgotten concrete pillbox, I mused on how terrifyingly close we came to being occupied or at least invaded by the German army back then. Living in Canterbury must have been a stressful thing – so few miles separating its citizens from a French coastline where, I like to imagine, Hitler stood, watching the cliffs of Dover, shaking an impetuous fist. Now the bunker, no longer needed, lies forgotten and overgrown in the hedgerow behind a university where many of the students are German, English, French and from futher afield.
I’m reading the papers these days and wondering what the big guys sitting in Downing Street or Élysée Palace or the Bundeskanzleramt are going to do about the Eurozone. I’m reading lots of opinions and lots of predictions and I don’t know enough to be able to say here what I really think about all of it but nevertheless when I look at the last century of European history I can’t help but marvel at how far we’ve come. At the start of the century we were baying at each other’s throats, in the middle we were split down the middle and pointing weapons at each other – weapons that could wipe life off the face of the earth several times over. Now some might say we’re baying at each other’s throats again – this time over how much money should be going where and what we’re supposed to be doing as a Eurozone. But when I look at the crumbling bunker in the Canterbury fields I realise that we’re nowhere near the hatred and fear we once held for each other. We’re closer than we’ve ever been before.