I am a big city girl – always have been, always will be I’m afraid. I’m not a fan of camping holidays (it’s been twenty years since I last slept in a tent) and I don’t jump for joy at the chance of attending an outdoor picnic in the park. I’d rather just sit at a table when I eat.
But I can’t stand the thought of spending the hot, humid, sometimes rainy, summer in the city. So as soon as my children finish school for the year, we swap London for a rural, rather insular, part of Sweden where my parents have a holiday house. I’ve come here every summer since I was little and I call this my spiritual home.
This place – a flat, baguette-shaped island off the Swedish east coast – is an acquired taste I realise, and I don’t kid myself that my British-Caribbean husband and daughters love this part of Sweden nearly as much as I do.
I am just grateful they agree to come here each summer and with time I hope they might grow to appreciate it almost as much as I do.
For me, no summer is complete without a lengthy stay in this old-fashioned, beautiful if dusty, asthma-inducing, fly-infested house, accompanied by daily walks.
Near our house, in the outskirts of a farming village that has seen more prosperous days, stands a lonely tree in the middle of a cornfield. Although it is of a common Nordic variety, it resembles, I think, a sprawling African Acacia tree, albeit smaller.
Whenever I have a few moments alone, I steal away from the house and take a stroll down the country road, past the tall cornfields, past the grazing cows and the smell of fresh manure – and past that tree.
Sometimes I stop to look at it, half-expecting to find a cheetah resting in its shadow.
I wish I were brave enough to make my way across the cornfield to the tree and touch it. But I dare not. The farmers here don’t always look kindly upon summer residents from the big city, such as myself.
What they don’t know is that this tree is my muse, my companion and my healer.
The pale blue sky sits so low above the farmers’ land that it seems as if the clouds are within my reach. Alongside the road, poppies, irises and sorrel stand tall, in defiance of the strong winds that are a common feature here on the island.
Vibrant colours surround me, reminding me of a Van Gogh painting. This is my Arles, I muse as I stroll down the road.
Here, nobody cares what you look like.
Here there is no need to be fancy, cool, successful, or anything other than oneself.
Here is the only place I know where I can truly, and simply, be who I am.