I May Become Addicted to Athletics by 2012

Article excerpt

I've stubbornly spent August in Somerset, as I did last year, when it rained every day, usually all day. This year, we have had sunny breaks, and yesterday, I took my favourite evening walk up to Culbone church above Porlock Weir. Simon Jenkins says it is one of the smallest, most isolated and most picturesque churches in England. The sun shone through oak and ash and holly on to the dark mud of the footpath and the carpet of golden leaves that look like and occasionally are chanterelles. A squirrel rustled through the branches, an invisible woodpecker drilled, a buzzard mewed high above, and I could hear the waves of the Bristol Channel breaking on the shingle below. I always go into the church and sit for a moment. Samuel Palmer walked this way once, and Coleridge and Wordsworth knew it well. It is the path to Xanadu. When I walk, lines of poems repeat themselves in my head. It is the best of all literary landscapes.


I've surprised myself by watching some of the athletics this summer. They are compulsive viewing. I found them by mistake, tuning in to Gardeners' World, which I watch in deference to my presenter son Joe Swift, but Joe had been postponed because of drama on the track. How nerve-racking and brutal are these live events, and how intrusive the interviewers! You have just come seventh in the 400 metres, way below your personal best, and there is some guy squatting in front of you, seconds later, nostril to nostril, eyeball to eyeball, asking how you feel about it. And you have to gulp back your manly tears and be brave. It is hideous. How we love competition, defeat, grief. I don't understand cricket, and can rejoice only by proxy that we won the Ashes, but even I could see Usain Bolt streak ahead. I may become addicted in time for 2012.

Posters of Andrew Motion have popped up all over the village, anticipating his appearance at the Porlock Arts Festival (on 10 September). Everywhere has a festival now, and I am proud to be patron of ours. One of our regulars has been Graham Harvey, the agricultural storyline editor of The Archers, and last year we had Rose Tremain and Valerie Grove. Andrew spent seaside holidays in Porlock as a little boy, so it's welcome home for him. Stanley Johnson, the Exmoor-bred father of Boris, also appears this year, on the same evening as my husband Michael Holroyd and me. Boris's TV film last summer about his Turkish ancestors and his Exmoor "Granny Butter" was extremely funny. The juxtapositions were sublime. …