Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Compass north can wander many miles apart from true north, and it alters every year; so explorers travelling to the Pole must start by drawing on their map a line that shows in clear detail the effect of magnetism's range. Then, compensating for the angle, steer a course that, whatever happens, will not change. Life’s sometimes not so simple to control and even the familiar can appear quite strange as lost among the stars we try to recognise our Pole and set a direction there that never wavers. I used to think I knew the way to reach my goal but never found a compass fine enough to chart the demi-semi-quavers of my heart.
Before they built the wall (in our opinion, in completely the wrong place) and marched along it shouting orders at each other we tried to reproduce the more refined and delicate pleasures that we'd left behind in Italy, only to discover that no wishing wells could ever produce figs or olives from these cold English hills. But you, my sister, knew how to entertain, offering the food of gossip and the wine of intelligent conversation, so that for a while we could forget the weather, the dirt, the wild brutish ways of men who brought the British mud into what passed for home, demanding the same carnal pleasures we'd enjoyed in the sunshine and soft beds of Rome. At least it isn't necessary here to flee our homes in summer, in search of cooling breezes. Here in this fort, cold winds and driving rain seek out our bones each day regardless of the season. It didn't trouble us that we'd be written out of history. Our men might punctuate their long dark days with oaths and curses, skirmishes with local bandits. We exercised the calligraphic skills we’d learnt before our exile, committing to these tablets words that did not need to be preserved, but on the other hand might last two thousand years. We knew such correspondence could be used to comfort, offer culinary and herbal hints and even to arrange a birthday party. And so, my sister, friend, all is not lost as long as we can write to one another. Rome may rise and fall, history cover all our private rooms with peat and mud, but hidden or discovered, our gentle unimportant words will last for ever.