Sunday, 21 October 2007

Move to the country - a word to the country mole

Did anyone read the diary of a country mole in the Sunday Times? It chronicled the move to the country of a city girl and her family, a disastrous move which ended in their return to London. From the very first article her entire unsuitability for the project screamed out from every paragraph - self pitying, self obsessed, with a mind as closed as a clam and the resourcefulness of a used tissue. (Life being what it is, I shall now somehow meet her and she will be utterly delightful and I will be unable to look her in the face.)

So I thought I would have a try at some advice for those considering relocating: what is life in the country really like when the weekenders go home and it is raining again?

You spend a lot of time on your own so you need to like your own company. Days can pass without a soul coming along the track and you can find yourself hanging around in the post office, as desperate for conversation as the old lady on the bus who lives on her own. You need to use the internet, to email and to phone and to hold onto your friends. But you also need to get out and do things, not specifically looking for friends, most of all not seeking "like-minded people" - vile phrase - but being open and interested and ready to be involved. Building a new network will take time and you will likely end up being friends with older, younger, richer, poorer, different people to your city friendships. If you are not out there, it won't happen.

Paradoxically, along with more solitude than you are used to, goes less privacy, in fact no privacy at all. Everyone knows who you are and where you have come from. Everyone knows if you have visitors, where you shop, when your son in getting married. Sometimes your neighbours know more about your family than you do, or it feels like it. It's a reasonably benevolent interest: you have become part of this community and the interest just goes with the territory. Smile, answer all questions easily and openly. Never be secretive, it is a waste of time, and don't lie unless you have a fabulous memory. And never forget that the person who is interrrogating you in the newsagent is very likely to be related to the person you moaned to in the post office. There is no better advice than your grandma's: "If you can't say anything nice, say nothing."

The seasons are huge and overwhelming - spring so utterly beautiful it knocks you out of your socks, autumn rich and full, a summer's day a piece of paradise. But winter hounds you in a way it never does in the city: the dark and the wet keep you housebound and, when you do venture out, the world is mired in mud. You live in fleeces and wellies and you wear so many layers, even in the house, you look like a tennis ball on legs. You need a plan for winter: books to read, curtains to make, novels to write, friends to visit even though they would rather come in spring. You need to internet shop so that there is always a delivery van bringing lovely goodies in from the outside world. The marking of the seasons by festivals and ceremonies happened to help people to survive through the desert of winter so you need to throw yourself into Bonfire night and Christmas, stepping stones across the wilderness of dark and wet.

You really do need to like the things that the country offers you. If you love gardening, have always hankered to grow your own vegetables and long to prune apple trees and make jam, you have a focus for your new life. If your interest in plants is in looking at them and your passion for food needs delicatessens and fabulous new restaurants you would be better in the city.

One of the greatest privileges of living in the country is living somewhere beautiful. You know if you are the sort of person who responds to light on the hillside with a singing heart. You know if you were the kind of child who loved the nature table and have become the kind of adult who is interested in identifying which bird is filling your ears with song. If a tree is just a tree and all birds are indistinguishable shades of brown, there is not a lot of point in living surrounded by woods and wildlife.

There is not much consumerism in the country. The latest, newest, biggest and best tend to pass us by. Heels and handbags are an irrelevance. Botox and cosmetic surgery belong to another world. Cars need to go, to carry the load, to cope with the mud and the snow. An open topped Merc would get you laughed at rather than admired. Shoppping is not a pastime if you have to drive for an hour and a half to get to a shopping centre and if the audience for your fabulous fringed belt is a couple of incurious cows.

So that is about it really: no shops, restaurants, theatre, fashion, privacy; much mud, cold, beauty, beetroot, birdsong; silence, stars, buzzards soaring and circling, rain and wind in your face, snowdrops, roses, compost, log fires, chickens and a warm, perfect egg.

Take your pick.

25 comments:

  1. So true, all of it. And stop telling them how you did it 'in town' too. My former life may as well have been on Mars!

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  2. Well you haven't put me off, you've actually made it sound very lovely, loved the bit about having a plan for winter, but you didn't say that usually none of it gets done

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  3. i am saving this post and reading it over and over again. it's eloquet and wise.

    i have thought a lot about whether or not i would be suited for this kind of life, and while i think i would be--i like being alone, i do respond to the light on the hills, i have no terrible secrets--i am not entirely sure.

    my job makes it kind of moot right now, but i will not be working forever (i hope).

    i also love the "tennis ball with legs" image. you are quite the writer.

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  4. Yes, I think you've put it perfectly Elizabeth. Perhaps this should be printed out and offered by estate agents!! Also loved your last blog - those dear little eggs and all those walnuts too. I now have walnut envy! xx

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  5. Hi Elizabeth. Put this on my comments page and then realised you may not see it! No, you don't have to use paypal - you can send an order via the contact form on the site and send a cheque instead if you prefer. I realise not everyone is happy to use one or other method. Oh and by the way, I quite enjoyed Dave being humble too! xx

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  6. Perfect, perfect - how I wish every townie thinking of moving to the country would read this and ponder deep.
    All so true. I well remember trying to engage shop assistants in conversation as I hadn't seen a soul all week (this when Adrian was in London during the week)....and I can't number the times I've been told I was
    a) having another baby
    b) moving
    c) having an affair
    d) getting divorced

    All news to me!

    I am so glad I didn't read the column....it would have wrecked the day... jxxx

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  7. Very well said, excellent advice. I've always felt it's pioneer country here - you have to be a bit intrepid to enjoy it.

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  8. Very sensible words of advice. Country living is not all that the magazines tell us! but lovely too, I could never go back to a town.

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  9. Beautifully put - still glad I'm country lite, though. The winters sound scary. Am sure I'd just be biding my time waiting for spring and get even worse SAD than I do now with the dying of the light and all that.

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  10. Makes me feel I want to move to the country. Don't see a lot of people where I live at the moment. I know they are there but they must have secret lives.

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  11. So very true as well about the stepping stone 's through winter any excuse for a celebration is grabbed! I also find i get so used to wearing layers and wellies i forget and go to town looking like a country frump....
    xxxxxxxx

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  12. Fabulous! Couldn't have put it better.

    Crystal xx

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  13. I think you should send this to the Sunday Times!!!!!!Brilliant, Em.

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  14. Just caught up with your wonderful blogs. I identify with so much of what you write. Your life in Wales sounds a lot like mine and your description of what country life is really like, that is spot on. Yes, send it to the Times!
    Caitx

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  15. Very good, very wise, very true. And reading through the comments - yes, Pipany, I have walnut envy too, as I add another tree to the list. And ExmoorJane is right, you get discussed no end. All I have to do is wear a loose shirt and I'm expecting! (wishful thinking from a village full of MIL's friends).
    Where we are, rural but near to the market town, my sister has the open topped Merc and I write about Botox etc for a 'living' (ha ha), so we're perhaps not so rural, but still what you say is so true.

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  16. Great stuff. I wish I'd read it before I moved to the country! Despite being a townie ecapee myself, I loathed those columns too. I stuck it out and wouldn't be anywhere else now.

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  17. am on a catch up after computer decided not to play ...brilliant blog Elizabeth...loved the tennis ball on legs image. Loved the eggs and walnuts as well...was it quince? Looks like it to me.Havent forgotten about the walk but it may have to be next spring now to get enough light.

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  18. am on a catch up after computer decided not to play ...brilliant blog Elizabeth...loved the tennis ball on legs image. Loved the eggs and walnuts as well...was it quince? Looks like it to me.Havent forgotten about the walk but it may have to be next spring now to get enough light.

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  19. Well done you, you have captured it so well. We get a lot of people visitng who want to move here, and I can't blame them, just so long as they arrive and don't try and change it!

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  20. Excellent advice - should be required reading!

    Here in Northumberland we're just entering tennis ball mode now, I think - oh, you missed carrying a hot water bottle around with you and the dog pinching it every time you put it down for a moment.

    Off to read the rest of your blog at leisure. Such pretty eggs, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my Bluebells might start to lay soon.

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  21. just caught up with this. I read it too and was shocked at how stupid she seemed. Living in the country isn't in the same league as choosing anew bag, more along the lines of how you will live your life for the enxt 100 years. And the gossip is great isn't it? downsides and upsides to it all, of course!

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  22. Hello again, Elizabeth, and thanks again for your message to me.

    What you wrote (and I at last got to read) is marvelous. Genuine. Wise.

    Remember that I live in New York
    City, a place that many people also contemplate moving to (especially when young, energetic and full of dreams.) I also feel that I could offer them lots of measured, experienced encouragement. It is a wonderful environment, but not for everyone.

    I do look forward to communicating with you more as winter comes upon us!

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  23. Lovely post. The Sunday Times should have you as it's Country Mole.

    I do agree though that moving from London to the depths of the country is not for everyone and not necessarily the idyll it might appear to the uninitiated. Country Living is one of my favourite magasines, but it does present an idealised version of living in the countryside. You are so right about winter being the pits. The dark, the mud, the long grey days, when all you can do is light the fire, read a good book and find that that is enough.

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  24. Hello Elizabeth,
    I've just found your blog, via Malc's (the edge of nowhere) and am reading yours from the beginning. Hence a comment in 2010 to a post almost 3 years old.
    I pine for a place in the country. You have put into words just what I long for, and what I want to leave. We have fruit trees and veggies here in town, but also a small son, and a husband with a city-dependent job. I can't wait until I can make the move somehow, to a small farmhouse. Thank you for such lovely writing and gorgeous photos.

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