A former British charity worker tells the quietly lyrical story of a peripatetic young adulthood.
In 1980, Ansell (Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills, 2011) began working with The Simon Community, a London organization whose members practiced voluntary poverty and helped drug addicts, the homeless, and other down and outers. Living with only the bare essentials—food, shelter, and donated clothing—the author was content. Yet he also experienced great pain by having to watch many of the street people whom he befriended die. By 1984, he was on the move again, this time with a girlfriend and a motorcycle that was “very nearly as old as [him].” The pair traveled and camped all over Britain, enjoying the scenery and freedom of having no particular destination in mind. It was during this time that he found his way to Deer Island, a “bleak, remote and wild” place that captivated him like no other and to which he knew he would one day return. After travels that took him to North America and Africa, Ansell returned to London in 1988 “with no money, no job prospects and no place to live.” He soon joined the ranks of London squatters and began living in abandoned houses along with other young people. For a time, he enjoyed the simplicity of his life, but the chaos and instability of his world eventually forced him out of a squatter’s life and back to the road, where he hitchhiked to Deer Island to make a moment’s peace with his life. Though short on personal details, Ansell’s sparely written account is still powerful for its meditations on the nature of human life in the material world. When stripped to the bone, all anyone really has are memories. And as he poignantly observes, “even they [memories] slip from our grasp if we don’t handle them with care.”
Stark but lucid, with moments of genuine poetry.