As my working hours get longer by the day, hurrah for the good weather that makes the commute more enjoyable than the arrival.
My route to work takes me out via several picturesque, speed-cameraed, Waitrosed middle-class villages (Pangbourne being the unexpected exception, which rather wonderfully services its supermarket needs with a grubby Somerfield), then over the Downs, a switchback windy road that cuts a none-too-efficient path through the hills and fields between Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The steep climbs, hairpin bends and plummeting drops are agreeable enough when you love driving (check), have driven the road enough to anticipate its whimsical meanderings (double check), and can cope with the occasional pheasant running headlong under your wheels (triple check: I scream all the way to work after each traumatic collision). Hurtling to the top of steep hills and freewheeling into unexpected valleys feels somewhat similar to being on a swing in the playground and reaching the apex of the curve before falling back down – the same caught breath, the same rising excitement, the same sense of giddy abandonment (I know – what kind of bizarre thoughts did I have as a child?!).
Well now, Spring has Sprung into a faux-Summer, transforming the landscape. Huge swathes of the surrounding land, from roadside to horizon, are now colonised by rape seed plants, which might have an unpleasant name and smell disturbingly like an old lady’s jewellery box, but which fill the peripheral vision with a blaze of yellow. The clear early morning skies are the faintest, airy blue; the sunlight pokes exploratory golden fingers through the mist still clinging to the hilltops. Even the notorious Field of Pig Houses looks scrubbed and new on mornings like this, which I can appreciate even as I automatically reach down to turn off the airflow into the car as I pass (man, years of pig occupation have done NASTY things to that field).
The best is yet to come, however: in another couple of months, the poppies will arrive. There’s a field towards the end of this road through the hills that only becomes visible when you reach a gap in the hedgerows, having made one descent and started another climb. In early summer, the whole field is crammed with pearl-coloured poppies, hovering somewhere between pink and white, ruffling calmly in the wind. I always think the poppy is a very dignified flower – probably the War associations – and the unusual colour of these makes them stand out, ethereal and beautiful and sunlit, against the enthusiastic outreach of the rape seed on either side. They’re only visible for a few seconds as you reach the topmost point of the hill, just a single field’s worth of pearly white otherworldliness, but the car seems to suspend itself for a moment, while I catch my breath and look and look before remembering to drive on.
Who’d drive to work via the motorway, eh?