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.