They say that moving house is the third most traumatic thing after death and divorce and they’re right about that, I reckon. For the past few weeks and months I’ve been treating our London house not like the beloved home where I’ve spent 12 happy years but more like an anonymous shell where I just happen to eat, sleep and work.
I used to enjoy having new friends round and hearing them wax lyrical about the niceness of the wallpaper or the size of the bedrooms or the delightfulness of the view over the park, but not this year.
I used to spend hours in the garden, but I’ve scarcely been out at all — not to weed, not to grow tomatoes, not even to smell the scent of my favourite Souvenir du Docteur Jamain. I used to play tennis in the park with mates down the road, but I haven’t done much of that either.
This was all a cunning ruse, of course. What I was trying to achieve was to trick my brain into not being bothered by the fact that, after 25 years in the greatest city on earth, I’m quitting London for good. And it worked pretty well till right up to the last minute when suddenly — I suppose this can’t be avoided — the wobbles began.
My old insomnia made a brief, ugly reappearance. I vacillated between the moronically distrait, the morbidly gloomy and the intensely irritable. Worse, everywhere I went seemed to prompt cruel, mocking, madeleine-style flashbacks of significant moments past: the section of my office floor on which Girl was born; the colourful insects we’d painted one summer on the side of the Wendy house; the markings on the kitchen wall charting the kids’ growth from toddlers to teenagers; the place at the bottom where Beetle the cat was buried and also the guinea pigs Lily Scampers and Pickles Deathclaw — victims all of local devil-dogs which had leaped over our garden wall to savage them to death on our lawn… .
And now all that’s over and, though the move was less than a week ago, London feels like it belongs to a different lifetime in another universe. Like it or not, we’re country folk now. You can tell by the fact that it’s owls you hear at night instead of sirens; and that it’s mud, mud and more mud you bring in on your shoe instead of dog poo; and that, when you run out of milk or need to pick up a newspaper it’s no longer a one-and-a-half-minute walk to the corner shop but an epic quest requiring approximately half Opec’s annual petroleum output.
Not that I’m complaining, you understand. Not in the slightest. My biggest worry of all — apart from the wind farms — is that I’m going to enjoy this rural idyll rather too much. In London it’s easy to work: everyone does. But here in this 18th-century stone cottage in the prettiest part of Northamptonshire, slaving in front of a screen seems like an affront to decency and reason. What the hell am I doing writing articles when I could be:
• Going on a long, long walk down the Jurassic Way.
• Spotting three types of woodpecker in the nearby woods.
• Taking pot shots at bunnies and wood pigeons with Boy (who has grown noticeably less appalled by the isolation and boredom of country living since a kind friend lent us his killer .22 air rifle).
• Burning stuff because, hey, burning stuff is cool and there’s loads of space around us so we can.
• Having long, involved conversations about optimal short cuts and preferred supermarkets and the food quality in various local pubs.
• Swimming in the lake in the — did I mention this? — 2,500-acre, oak-studded, Capability Brown-designed parkland.
• Chatting to Geordie, one of our instant new friends who lives on the same estate as us, used to play bass in a well-known rock band, and conveniently has a cool daughter the same age as Girl.
This morning we had breakfast in the sun outside the house, in a garden far larger than we could ever have afforded in London, surrounded by birdsong, whispering leaves and baa-ing sheep. And I thought to myself: ‘This is unreal. For the past 25 years I’ve been driving out of London every other weekend to reach this stuff. And now, here it is on tap. For ever.’
Then, to make it even better, Ben our landlord came round, with Geordie and another couple of other friendly tenants. I’d let slip that there was a chest of drawers I needed to rescue from the shipping container at the local self-storage so Fawn no longer has to keep all her clothes in a box. In London, to do this I would have had to hire a man with a van at great expense. But in the country, things seem to work differently: if someone has any kind of problem you rally round to help. And the distinct impression I got was that they weren’t doing it out of a sense of obligation, but because they actually wanted to, because it was communal and fun. Afterwards, we sat around in the garden, drinking coffee and chatting in the way you almost never have time to do in London because there’s so much else to be getting on with.
You know what? It’s going to be tough but I think we’re all going to cope, just about, with our new rustic hell.