Buffy Sainte-Marie said it best. ‘The lights of town are at my back, my heart is full of stars./ And I’m gonna be a country girl again.’ At least, I hope I am. But if I do manage to pull off this long-awaited move to the country, it will all be thanks to a Spectator reader.
It was years ago now, I had a very nice letter from a gentleman who lived in the Surrey village of Ripley, about ten minutes from Cobham, who recommended that I move there. That must have been stored away in the annals of my brain, but deep in the annals, because, after scouring Cobham and finding nothing I could afford, it still didn’t occur to me.
I went way down the A3 and looked for land around Farnham and found a cottage with no central heating and one acre for £720,000. But the agents wouldn’t give me the time of day, because they were so confident they would get that price or more.
And then I popped down the road to Ripley to go to the small supermarket there, as I often do. I’ve been there a hundred times and never seen anything up for sale. It’s a one-street village with a vast green behind the main drag, hidden from view. But this time, I parked my car round the back of the shops and saw a cottage for sale right on the green.
I made an appointment to look round, and as soon as I walked in I felt it. Unfortunately, I had taken the ex-builder boyfriend with me, because the agent had told me it needed ‘a bit of work’. And the builder boyfriend didn’t feel it at all.
As I walked round going ‘Ah! I can put the piano here!’ and ‘Oh! A kitchen up some steps! I lived in a cottage with a kitchen up some steps when I was a student!’, the builder grumped and groaned, opening doors to rooms then shutting them again declaring, ‘Don’t even go in there!’ He pronounced the bathroom a natural-history project and recommended we alert David Attenborough to the things that were growing between the tiles.
He said the walls would need stripping back until we were taking the place virtually apart. It would need rewiring. It would need a new kitchen, a new bathroom. It couldn’t be extended because the neighbour had stuck a lump on the back of their kitchen, giving them right to light. You couldn’t go up into the loft because the roof space was ‘all wrong’.
‘It needs a gut!’ he proclaimed, uttering the four words that he thought would frighten me most.
But they didn’t, because I liked the feel of it. Outside, we thanked the agent, got in the car, and before I could say ‘I’m going to put in an offer,’ the builder said, ‘They’ll never sell that in a million years!’
But he always says that about houses. And they always do sell. So I decided not to listen to him. I asked for a second viewing and went round again on my own. Without the backing track of the world’s most disgruntled ex-builder boyfriend, it was wonderful.
Yes, it needed the carpets ripping up and the walls replastering and a new kitchen and bathroom. But it had the original wide oak floorboards. Nothing had been chavved up. No fake-flame logburner slash TV. No jack and jill sinks. No bifold doors! This might be the only house left in the south-east of England without bifold doors!
And best of all, out of the front window was a sea of green. And not green that I would have to maintain. Green that someone else looked after, that I got to enjoy free of worry, with my horses in livery ten minutes up the road.
Fine, it’s hardly the Plains Cree First Nation Reserve in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada, birthplace of Buffy. But then again, Buffy did end up living in Hawaii, after marrying and divorcing a surfer.
I put in an offer and, after being pushed up a little, had my offer accepted. A ‘Sold’ sign is outside the door. My London flat is on the market with a steady stream of viewings by young professionals who don’t seem too bothered by the EU referendum, despite the scares.
And so I was happily driving along in the car on a sunny day, London to my back and Surrey up ahead, when Buffy came on the radio: ‘I’m going to be a country girl again.’
With an old brown dog and a big front porch and rabbits in the pen.
All the lights on Tooting Broadway don’t amount to an acre of green (Ripley green, obviously).
That’s why I’m going to be a country girl again.