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Ashleigh


“It is the third day of the summer school and I feel dizzy with inspiration. The lecturers are opening up a whole new world for those who let them. The last three days have been a great outpouring of wisdom and I feel proud that I was chosen to be here. The tap has been turned on and knowledge is dripping from above. “The buckets!” I want to shout. “Get the buckets!” All I can find is my notepad and pen, so I write down as much as I can, scribbling in a frenzy, capturing as many ideas as I can. We are all stood at the gateway to a whole new kingdom and our lecturers are handing us the key.” 

It was a warm afternoon anyway as we stood with our drinks outside The Bricklayer’s Arms, but I was warmed even further by the lecture that Lucien had given before we finished for the day. He had shown us the contents of his sketchbook and dazzling beams of light projected from every page. He showed us a riverfront capriccio and it was so dreamy that I would have done anything to walk within it. I was mesmerised. It was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen.  Lucien's enthusiasm was infectious and I carried that creativity and warmth of feeling with me as I walked with you across London. 

When we finished our drinks in The Bricklayer’s Arms, we left Shoreditch’s hipsters’ paradise and walked to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant in Hoxton called Cay Tre. I sat across from Dorian and J.J, while you were at the other end of the long table and we still hadn’t had chance to chat.  Afterwards, Holly led the way to The Amwell Arms in Pentonville and the 30-minute walk west presented us with that very opportunity. I liked you straight away.  The kindness in your eyes was matched by the kindness in your voice. You told me about your life in Hamilton, Ontario and as we weaved our way through the residential streets of South Islington, I was soothed by the way you described your city. It was different somehow to the way someone from England tends to describe where they live. Your description was kinder and softer in content, but also kinder and softer in tone. You didn't skirt around the problems the city has faced, but you didn't use its problems against it.  It was more suggestive of the idea that it is the people that make the city and not the other way around. There was no point in your description that was set aside for cynicism; no point in which you would put it down, condemn it, succumb to negativity. You lived there and as such, you honoured it and you gave it the respect it deserved. You didn’t live there just to shift the blame.  You treated it as a living, breathing thing.  As a resident, I got a sense that you felt duty-bound to help it, and through your role in building heritage and conservation, you were doing just that.  It was a thoughtful description and I felt energised by it.  It was a breathe of fresh air in country so full of cynics, but I also realised that I was being carried along by your voice. Such vitality, such charming intonation! I could listen to you all day. I wondered if I could capture your voice in a jar and take it home with me. I wondered how I could get it into my sat nav.  I needed time to think that through.  We walked on.  

When we got to The Bricklayer’s Arms, I bought you a pint of ale and we sat with the others outside. There was a lot of crisscrossing of conversations while we were there and I mostly listened as discussions went on between you and Holly to the left of me and the boys to my right. At one point, while I was turned to Dorian and J.J, I overheard you mention Nova Scotia and in that instance a bell was rung. It took me twenty or thirty seconds to find the source of it, but it came to me. It was from an introduction to a poem written by Elizabeth Bishop I’d listened to recently. “This is a Nova Scotian poem about the east coast of Nova Scotia called “At the Fishhouses”, [which is] south of Halifax where there is very rugged coastline.” It had quickly established itself as one of my favourite poems, and when I heard Bishop’s brilliant reading of it, the poem planted itself right in the centre of my consciousness. I told you about it and how Bishop expertly describes a scene when she visited Nova Scotia.  I was pleased to find that you shared Bishop's fondness and enthusiasm for that region, having been there many times throughout your childhood and adult life.  Your eyes were two glistening charms as you spoke of the holidays you've had there and I was left in no doubt as to the magic this place possessed. I started getting nostalgic myself, even though I’ve never been, but it’s a trip that will become impossible for me not to make as my love for the poem grows.  

Then the conversation moved on, but I was still rooted in this place I had yet to visit.  I thought about its name for a moment, rolled it around on my tongue.  Nova Scotia.  It's a softly lyrical and mysterious name.  It sounded to me like a place that could exist anywhere, just as long as that anywhere is far away and slightly out of reach. And yet, in the mythical Latin beauty of its name, it could also quite easily not exist, or perhaps just exist as place from a long-forgotten fairytale, or as part of a wonderful dream or half-dream that someone had once.

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