Town and country

On Tuesday I went to Manchester for an appointment. Now I go to the city every week to look after my young grandson but that day tends to be spent playing with cars or at the park looking at animals or practising my football. He is three and a half and already becoming better at football than I am but I think I might have another year or so before he realises. My son tells me that he was about seven when it dawned on him that he was considerably more skilful than I was. I never get into the centre of town, rarely shop and don't have time to think.

So on Tuesday I went shopping. I am not a shopper really. I have never understood how some people find it recreational. One of the great things about internet shopping is that you don't have to trail around getting stuck behind people who are barely moving or stand waiting for lifts only to be walloped in the ankles by pushchairs. You don't have to take piles of clothes into a changing room only to find that nothing fits and that you look considerably better in your own clothes than the ones you fondly thought would transform you. You might discover that everything you like is vastly expensive but at least you can sit at your laptop with a cup of coffee while you do and you don't have to drive round for hours looking for a parking space. But shopping at John Lewis in Cheadle is a fairly civilised affair on a quiet Tuesday afternoon and I browsed about for an hour or so, quite surprising myself by enjoying being out in town wearing something other than jeans and a t shirt and with the dirt on my fingernails fiercely scrubbed away.

But I did find myself struck by how new and expensive the cars in the carpark seemed to be and by how easy it would have been to spend a fortune on things I had not even realised I wanted until I stood in the shop looking at them: fabulous shiny kitchen gadgets, transformational cosmetics, a beautiful red jacket for £150. Perhaps not. I bought a new yoga mat (how can I have possibly lost a bright purple yoga mat which was last seen in my car? Surely anyone who wants a yoga mat is an unlikely thief?). I had a cup of tea in the cafe and watched people go by: the retired in their thousands, young mothers with pushchairs, a whole world of people I never saw when I was at work. And then I drove the hour and a half home.

And I was struck as I haven't been since I stopped going to London every week at how different life is here. I never tire of the beauty of this area and I don't, I think, take it for granted. But somehow on Tuesday afternoon I saw it again with fresh eyes. I turned off the A55 and almost immediately got stuck behind a tractor. Once I would have been twanging with frustration at crawling along the road. Now I hardly care. It is time to notice the great harvest of rowan berries this year, huge clusters of the clearest, shiniest red against the pinnate leaves. The Clwydian hills pile gently up on the sky line against a pale blue and white sky. A blackbird whizzes across the road in front of the car and dives into the hedge. Outside one of the farms the verge has been planted with dahlias, great purple, yellow and orange spiky flowers that make me smile. The tractor pulls in to a gateway to let me pass and I wave my thanks.

When I get home I go down to let the hens out for a couple of hours. They charge off up through the kitchen garden, along the path by the greenhouse, clucking and scolding, to their favourite scratching place under the trees. Everything feels slow and soft and quiet after the city. A buzzard mews, high above the valley. I see that there are two of them, turning and rising on the thermals. Lower down a crow flaps off into the oak tree. I thought the swallows might have gone but there is one here still, wheeling above the hawthorn hedge. They will be gone any day now.

I find a huge growth of mushrooms on the chippings pile. They are beautiful, alien but glorious, erupting up out of the mountain of shredded branches left when the trees behind the house were cut back.

The peacock, who arrived by himself one day when I was walking the Offa's Dyke path and seems to want to stay, is scratching about in the bottom of the new native hedge. Sometimes he tries to attach himself to the chickens but they always manage to leave him behind somewhere. He seems quite happy, although how you would know whether a peacock was happy I am not sure. Hens now, I have had them long enough to know.

The valley settles around me, green and brown and gold and quiet under the late afternoon sun.


  1. Wow - your very own feral Peacock! How fabulous! I have to make do with a Robin...

  2. I'm so jealous of the peacock. I like being out away from it all too. I miss city life and complain about not having things at my finger tips or around the corner but then I go to the city for something special and feel all closed in. Nice to visit but I could never go back.

  3. Thames Ditton is as close to city living as I ever got, I dont think for a minute I could dwell in an urban environment for long, and sadly my little spot of heaven is rapidly been turned into what I hate most.

    I loved my jobs in London, but hated the commute, the dirt, the noise. Working from home now is great, but can be very isolating.

    We have some big towns about 12 miles away, Reading, Basingstoke, and Winchester and Southampton a little further afield, but like you, shopping is not a past-time I enjoy;unless its books, and then its a vice.

    Having met the Peacock, I have to say I rather liked him, even if he did make me feel dreadfully frumpy.

  4. an hour and a half! to go shopping! no wonder you hate it. I huff and puff and rarely go and Cheltenham's only about ten minutes. WIth you on the expensive cars. Ours are only 02s and am stunned at the shiny monsters, the 08s and 09s.
    Peacock is lovely, that blue is lovely. we have a duck. not quite the same. And when I say we have a duck, I mean a duck has arrived, and poddles around so quietly confidently that it's really rather charming. Lolly thinks Lunch but isn't allowed within lunging distance.

  5. Mrs J - the peacock is oddly tame for one who just turned up!
    Cathy - just how I feel, could never go back.
    Zoe - with you on loving the job but hating the city and on the isolation of working from home.
    Milla - I could go shopping to Chester which is only 40 minutes away, although I probably know Manchester better. It seems that the less I shop, the less I want to shop!

  6. I do so agree with you about the not knowing you wanted it till you saw it! So MANY things. It always surprises me that there are so many people shopping too. What do they buy? I'm happy though with my grandma's kettle, higgledy-piggledy crockery and an eclectic mix of overalls and wellies...
    And a peacock come to stay - that's very original. How’d he get there? Intriguing. Does he call?

  7. One thing I enjoy about shopping in John Lewis is the kitchen department. I could drool over their goods for hours! But I'd still nmuch rather be back in the hills!

  8. There is a peacock in the grounds of the Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry - he just arrived and has been there for years now. N would love a peacock but the neighbours were anal enough about chickens so we won't be going down that route. So with you about shopping - yuk yuk and hot sweats.

  9. Ah, now, shopping. I DO hate it when I go to purposefully buy things - it never happens - but I love just going for a wander and finding things by accident.
    Oh, for a peacock. I think our garden would look just dandy with a peacock. Gerry and Margot over the front wall would burst a blood vessel!

  10. Love your peacock. You are honoured to have him call on you.
    You live in such a beautiful spot but I do love shopping! I would hate to shop on line. That would be a terrible chore. I do like to touch things & feel things before I buy!
    I like to be on my own when I shop though!

    Those mushrooms are pretty. I would be scared to eat them though!

  11. You are so lucky to have a peacock - now I'm thinking of the red jacket - trimmed you know with a couple of feathers - well the beast must moult sometime and there you would have something that would stand you in good stead anywhere. No one could accuse you of playing inferior football in such garb and indeed once worn I am sure it could catch on. What turquoise feathers could do for a red jacket they could do for a Liverpool (or even Manchester) shirt though I'm not sure they would go with sky blue. Where do people get the money to buy all these new cars? Obviously they've been making economies - shedding peacocks left right and centre no doubt.

  12. I had to move away from towns when I got epilepsy - all the movement, and moving aside, and light through railings . . . increased the number of fits I have.

    I love it where I live now but there are things I miss - not shopping though! (Never shopped.) But theatres and galleries and museums and orchestras and operas and . . . I feel a bit of me has withered because I can't get to them.

    John Lewis - anything would look good in a John Lewis shop. It's something to do with the lighting.

    Peacock - I don't have a peacock in the garden but I have had half a mouse two mornings running. (Not of the same mouse.) (Not even opposite ends.) (Unless it was a two headed mouse.) (Very was!)

    I do enjoy your writing.

  13. locksparkfarm - the peacock doesn't call - yet! He may have to go if he does.
    SS - I admit to liking the kitchen department too. It was a Kitchenaid mixer that I was feeling I needed!
    SBS - if we decide to move the peacock on N could give him a home, it would only be kind.
    Kitty - now your garden would be much more suited to a peacock than ours. He is in the post.
    Maggie - I do like him really. As you say, it is a bit of an honour.
    Fennie - the peacock is shedding tail feathers so I could go into millinery in a big way. Do you think it would be hit by the recession?
    3c - I do know what you mean about the good things of the city and occasionally I need a fix of streetlights and galleries but mostly I am very content to be here.

  14. It is good to know what makes you happy especially if it doesn't cost anything or not much. Your peaceful life sounds lovely although I am quite content with my own. I can go shopping without getting in the car as I live on the main street of a small town. I quite enjoy it, but then it can be completed in under an hour which might include several stops for a chat with friends.
    I envy you your peacock but they do screech rather don't they?

  15. Shopping is not for me unless it's plants or books. Manchester is not for me either although I do enjoy the Christmas market there. I must be in a minority as I have never visited the Trafford Centre. Would rather venture into Liverpool or Chester if I have to go shopping. I smiled at your remark about the state of your fingernails :)

  16. What a beautiful post. I agree - as a transplant from the city to the country, I enjoy the gentler, slower rhythm of life in the country. And for those who say "there's nothing to do out here"... well, gosh... just open your eyes!

  17. The peacock is absolutely beautiful.
    I agree with Elizabethm about the less I shop the less I want to shop.

  18. What a fabulous description of city and country life. I'm with you, though. I really prefer the country. It is busy enough, but usually much quieter, than in town. Thanks for sharing your day.

  19. You've described just how I feel when I come home every day - that lovely feeling of coming into a softer place.
    There are peacocks around here - escapees from Royal Roads. They make the stranget noise.

  20. I missed the shopping gene,althogh I do or rahter did ahve a weakness for the remembered smell of John Lewis Fabric department, all the dressing in the cotton and I adore charity shops and jumble sales. If I go shopping I rarely buy anything for myself but I am lethal on the internet. Without me Amazon and Ebay would sink into oblivion.

  21. Rosie - I do like the idea of being able to walk to the shops but then I would lose my view!
    Anna - I so agree, I hate the Trafford Centre although like Chester and central Manchester. The Trafford Centre makes me feel quite queasy - all that consumerism in one place!
    Teresa - you are so right. I never run out of things to do.
    QMM - it is funny isn't it? Shopping is definitely an addictive thing.
    Dimple - thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it.
    pondside - at the moment the peacock is quiet. if it starts to screech we may reconsider its future!
    HAH - with you on Amazon as have a serious book weakness. So far I have resisted ebay.

  22. A lovely post. I think I respond to the town/country thing in the same way. I too can stand and crave things in John Lewis. (The Cheadle store does seem quite a civilised place.) Coming home though is a different matter - the sense of space, the air and feeling in touch with the land and the seasons. City shoes off and wellie boots on. Bliss. I think we've gone native

    PS I'm sure he's a happy peacock.

  23. ElizabethM, this is such a nice description and I feel (like you, I am not working for the time being) suddenly so many things take place in the foreground which were hidden or not visible. I would not like to have a peacock but an old growing turkey instead. Peacocks make so loud noises (they speak French: calling Léooon, Léooon!) and we had them when we spent holidays in Cornwall. They woke us up far too early and pecked on the window seals.
    If I had the choice, I would always go shopping to Chester and leave Manchester where it is.... Me too, since living on the country side I don't long for shopping anymore.

  24. That was a terrific post - I happened to have exactly the right music on my headphones when I read it (Martina Sorbara, if you're interested) and the rhythm of the prose matched perfectly. A great way to end the working week.

  25. Am so with you on the shopping thing! How did we ever survive without internet shopping? Hate the getting dressed "up" just to go to the shops, putting on a bit of make up, when I love to be bare faced.........

    We had 3 peacocks that adopted us about 5 years ago (they left home from a neighbouring farm - seemed to like our brand of wild bird seed!) and they used to roost on the roof of our barn. Unfortunately, one by one they disappeared until the last one was run over! Can you believe that? Still can't imagine how someone would fail to see such a bird!x

  26. This is a beautiful place you call home.
    The peacocks over here were once used as watch guards in colonial times for their shrill pitched cry warned of intruders.Perhaps yours is waiting till he settles in!

  27. That is it ... I often wonder how to describe the noise that the buzzards make as they circle above our house and they do mew, such a good description Elizabeth.

    Everything you have said in this post echos with me and I love how you express it.

    I never really understand how peacocks can just arrive in a garden - you would think the original owner would notice their peacock has gone missing, unless of course they are mightily relieved to be free of the dreadful noise that they can make.

    Have a lovely weekend.

  28. Ooh yes"! I drool over John Lewis kitchen department, too!

    Cheadle is quite good for shopping, and I too love sitting in the cafe there watching the world go by. Well, when I manage to get up there! Must try and have another go before the Christmas crowds get going. Otherwise its internet shopping for me too!

  29. How brave of you to venture into the big city. Since I left London to come and live here in the Marches I have hardly been back, despite missing it madly.

    Your drive back sounds idyllic and I'm sure getting home to chickens and the peacock is a great pleasure too after your day sampling the bright lights.

    Ahh, John Lewis, my favourite department store; I really must go and get a fix soon.

  30. Here I am for my slice of bara brith! Your post says just what I feel when I go into town and return home. Even the red jacket struck a cord - yes that is lovely but will I wear it where I live? That peacock sure looks happy to me. I knew you would enjoy your retirement - joy seeps out of every word of your post!

  31. How fabulous to have a peacock, if not a little noisy! I remember Percy the Peacock at the Royal Orthapaedic Hospital SBS.

    I abhorr shopping other than Christmas shopping but I tend to go to craft fairs etc for that. If I have to get anything I do it online where possible. My friends think I'm strange to hate it like I do but I can't think of anything worse than these huge retail centres. I might just about cope with Chester...and Ludlow of course.

    Ah, wish I'd been there. How fascinating.

    Now, I'm not sure when you will pick this message up, hopefully not long.

    Dulwich Divorcee has tagged me to blog my favourite fave film characters and I'd love to hear yours... pleease...
    So when you have five minutes...
    COnsider yourself tagged!

  32. mountainear - yes I agree, we have gone native!
    Bayou - well this peacock is quiet so far, and we like it that way!
    Edward - thank you. What a great comment and I hadn't come across the music before and love it.
    Woozle - I like the idea of barefaced shopping.
    Miss maddie - hmm, not sure about the idea of a guard peacock!
    Karen - thank you. I imagine where you live is quite similar and can understand loving it.
    Gilly - glad I am not the only one with a weakness for JL kitchen department. Just the best bit!
    Friko - I don't miss the city oddly although I do like the occasional fix. Always glad to get back though.
    Weaver - thank you. I am still not calling myself retired (too young, too poor) so will one day have to decide whether I am unemployed or just unemployable!
    BSM - thanks for the tag. I will have to think about that one as I am much more a reader than a watcher. Mind you, Katharine Hepburn in the African Queen leaps immediatly to mind!

  33. Thank you for this beautifully thoughtful and descriptive post. I so enjoyed reading it and settling down into the peace and quiet and satisfaction of it. So much truth here too, about what it means to really life a life.

    What a special gift seems to have adopted you - that beautiful peacock!

  34. I'm not a keen shopper - mainly because there's no spare money and if I'm not in jeans I'm out of my comfort zone. But you sound very comfortable and happy so the change in your lifestyle has clearly worked well. And, yes, it's so good to come home!


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