Exams are over, and summer appears. It is such a surprise that I use up a whole roll of film in a week.
Jonny is still staying with me in Canterbury, and waits patiently while I catch up on my sleep debt and spend whole days in bed, writing blogposts and reading books and watching films. (He shows me Enchanted and then persuades me to show him the BBC's Henry V although I am a little bit Shakespeare'd-out.) But there's a trail we have been wanting to walk for a long time, which leads from my old home on campus to the coast, and at the weekend we pack a rucksack and I sling Acer over my shoulder, and we catch a bus to the top of the hill and set off for the sea.
There's a spot on the way I want to show Jonny. It looks very different from the last time I was there, but still as special as when I first found it. I tell him about when I came to shoot my birthday picture, and how I set up my tripod in the water, and how quiet and secluded this place is although it isn't far from the path. I take a photograph of it on film to put up against my birthday portrait, and when the film is developed I think about how the two images prove how photography does not show the truth of a place at all, but the truths of it.
While I am taking pictures Jonny climbs trees. (This is not unusual.) I haven't quite got used to new Acer's focus ring yet, and there is a small crack in the canister, so this one comes out blurred and dip-dyed in sunlight.
It is a little bit past midday. (We are still not early risers...) At the church at the top of the hill we wait for a young family to continue their walk, and steal their bench for our lunch spot. The little girl has picked a handful of flowers while her parents ate, but she has left them on the bench for us when we sit down. Jonny has made ham and cheese sandwiches, and brought apples and crisps and water, and the very last chunk of my exam chocolate. I point out parts of campus in the distance while we eat, and a family with lots of dogs and children and wellie boots hustle by.
Around the corner from the church, and we are further along the path than I have ever been. We come to a road and cross over, and the track narrows between hedges and cow parsley. It leads us through a farm, but we can't work out what they are growing on their bushy trees.
It is the hottest day of the year so far. I've brought my coat for later, rolled up like a sleeping mat on Jonny's rucksack, but I lose my cardigan too in the afternoon sun. Jonny lets me use him as a leaning post to take a photograph of the clouds above the branches. A rabbit scuttles through the hedgerow in front of us. We walk hand in hand while there is no one else around.
Gradually the path winds its way into a wood. Jonny and I are talking about something I can't remember, but which was so important I forgot to take photographs. I'm starting to flag in the heat when he produces a cellophane bag from the side pocket of his rucksack. "Emergency dolly mix", he announces. Lots of kisses.
We get a bit lost. Jonny is convinced he can figure out the way, but then realises there's no phone signal for GPS. We try a good old fashioned Ordinance Survey map, and decide to turn right. A woman on a horse trots past, and a pair of runners overtake us. The forest drops away very suddenly to let a line of telegraph poles through. The wires hum and buzz over our heads. I wonder where this group of ladies are heading.
A little further through the forest, a left turn and a steep hill. We cross a busy A-road on a bridge - I could hear the traffic from the wood. The hills roll in the distance, patched green and bright yellow, and very far away I can see the tops of windmills which make up an off-shore wind farm. We wonder how far there is left to go.
On the other side of the road we cross through farmland and past a barn full of cows, and emerge on to a road on the outskirts of Whitstable. I am a bit tired and there aren't many pictures here, but we follow the road and pass Morrisons and take an urban footpath down the back of some housing estates. Lots of people are out to enjoy the warm weekend weather: a man with his toddler son, an old woman with a mangy dog, high school girls in short shorts. Although we've run out of signposts we keep heading north, and then we pass a car park I recognise and cross a road I know, and we are on the quay.
The beach is very full. It is late afternoon, so Jonny suggests we go into town until it is quieter. I take him to a tiny independent bookshop crammed into a nook on the high street: my favourite find in Canterbury. Inside it is full of classics and children's picture books and birthday cards, and upstairs there is poetry and Shakespeare and travel guides, but nothing on photography. Because it is so small and books are bought in bulk, there are often novels on sale at very cheap prices. Jonny picks up a copy of The Great Gatsby. Tucked away in a corner I find a tin full of Steve McCurry prints to stick all over my walls back home.
We buy fish and chips from the shop next door, and then drift back to the beach.
It is quieter now. We share our cod and chips on a sandy part of the pebble beach. I watch a pair of sisters playing with their dad, the toddler care-free in the sand and the elder girl cautious about stepping in the mud. Seagulls circle over the fishermen on the jetty and a windsurfer brings his craft to shore behind them. I find a shell the size of Jonny's palm.
We sift through my picture postcards. McCurry's photographs make me want to get on planes. They aren't political and they don't carry undeniable messages, but they are beautiful works of art. He never misses. I want to learn to use colour like him.
Even so, part of me shirked at buying the pictures, and shirked again later when I was blu-tacking them to my walls. Late last year I travelled to London on my own one evening to hear McCurry speak at an event. He told some stories behind some of his photographs, and a little about what he looks for and how his work has evolved. At the end they took questions from the floor. I asked what advice he had for a young photographer looking towards a career in photojournalism. You? he asked. I was standing up at the back, a young girl in a dress among mostly older men. Yes me, I said. He stalled a bit, talking about the importance of learning good portraiture and understanding light. Yes yes, I though, good, these are things I'm doing. He's saying they'll be helpful later. But then he started talking about fashion photography. You see, he said, it's a very demanding career, photojournalism. You have to travel away from your family, and you have to be very physically fit and strong. It can be very dangerous. As a girl...
The outpouring of outrage on Facebook afterwards lessened the sting, and people quite rightly pointed out that it's just a generation which and well, things are different for female travellers. But to be told by an idol that you can't do your job, not because of your work but because of your gender, was my first taste of a slap in the face from patriarchy. Sitting on the beach with the photographs I remind Jonny of it all, and he reminds me what he said afterwards. Give it thirty years and wait until you're asked to do a talk at the Royal Geographic Society about your photography. Then send him a free ticket.
We get ice creams and make happy conversation with the couple in their ice cream van, and eat our 99s as we wander a little further along the beach to be alone. There are children digging in the sand which the tide has left silk and smooth, and on the horizon a cargo ship moves steadily east. We lie on the sand and read our books as the sun sinks very low. I am finding things out about North Korea that I want to share, but most people don't like to be reminded of horrible events when they are enjoying an evening on the beach so I bite my tongue. Jonny asks what I'm reading about, and when I won't tell him he says he will read he'd like to read the book himself. I think he means to do it for me.
It is almost time to walk back into town and catch a bus. (The return journey will take half an hour when walking took us three.) I try a picture of the two of us, my camera set up on the pebbles at a slant and the sun pale pink on the horizon. If there is another day as perfect as this before the end of the summer I will be so very happy.
Monday is a bank holiday, and we don't realise until we arrive in the centre of Canterbury. The town is aswarm with locals and tourists, and the air is muggy and filled with European languages. I have come to show Jonny our cathedral, which we haven't visited together yet, but there is a queue which stretches all the way down the cobbled street. We duck back and order lunch in a little cafe instead. There is a lovely view of the spire from up close, but a sign next to the window says the real sight is the stonemason's yard below. The cathedral employs thirty stonemasons to restore and repair the building, and source their material from Caen in northern France. Jonny admits he'd give up his engineering degree if he could find well-paid work as a stonemason, and tells me why. I know nothing about it, and enjoy being enlightened.
A big family with lots of children crowd into the small upstairs room with us. They are German, and I can't really understand a lot of what they say with only my two years of high school language classes behind me. The children, on the other hand, all translate the menu with glee, and order with lots of please and thank-yous when the waitress arrives. (She has to explain the concept of a ploughman's lunch, though. Small things make me remember that my culture is a culture and not a norm.)
After lunch we find the queue for the cathedral has disappeared, and it is less busy than I expect inside. We sit in the pews for a little while to take in the grand scale and the light, and because it is on the hour a small service is held at the front. I show Jonny the big bell which belonged to a ship lost at sea, and the dogs at the feet of the bishops entombed in the trinity chapel. The cloisters are quiet. The cathedral cat is asleep on a chair outside the nave, and we spend some time working out who all the people are in the stained glass windows. I want to show him the library, with its copies of Kyd pencil-marked by renaissance students, but it's closed today. Instead we go down to the crypt, and Jonny tells me about why the heads of so many statues are missing. As we are leaving the choir starts their practice, and choral music warms the stone space like sweet honey.
It's time to move on. We pack rucksacks and head north to Lincolnshire, where Jonny's father grew up. Now the family is restoring the cottage's original features. There are low ceilings and wooden beams and a great inglenook fireplace on flagstone floors. It is a lot of work, and I don't see much of Jonny for a few days. Instead I finish my book on the DPRK and label a pile of photographic prints with descriptions and dates, and explore the local farmland to find my first Summer Onehundred. The weather gets warmer and warmer. We sit out on the grass and Jonny makes me a daisy chain. Day one is laughter in the rapeseed field.
Home – proper home – again, thinking about America in the car and my summer project which has turned into a countdown. Norfolk is hot and lethargic. I can’t sit in one place. On a whim I call Alice and see if she’ll have me in Cambridge for the weekend, and hop on a train. While I’m there I have the joy of meeting Louise Spence.
We spend most of the day sitting in a buttercup field, and nip around the botanical gardens before they close. Lots of talk, lots of laughter, not nearly enough time. I blog about it here.
The next day I get very sad news from home. Alice mops me up, and she and David take me punting on the backs where the water is warm and calm. We pass under Tom’s window at John’s and tell him to let down his golden hair. In the evening we meet other familiar faces at a pub by the river and eat in the glow of fairy lights and old memories. I take the train home and meet Jonny, and we choose flowers for Mum from the market. The summer starts to blossom; ahead are long, warm days and little adventures with the people I love.