I am on the move, having finally sold my house. It is a very nice house, an easy to manage house; modern, insulated, on three storeys and a stone’s throw from the centre of the city. As I can walk to the cinema in five minutes and the nearest wine bar in three, there are a number of friends and acquaintances who think that I am quite mad. They will have that diagnosis confirmed when they see where I am going; a village in the middle of nowhere with a population a little over a hundred, no shop, no pub and a Vicar of Dibley – a roving vicar – who does services for animals and pets. Worse, I am going into rented accommodation and it is not of the modern variety; it is ill-acquainted with the twenty-first century. I will have to tussle with a Rayburn and learn about the septic tank. But it has ensnared me. I stumbled upon this magical place when I was looking for property to buy and I simply couldn’t break free of the notion that it was calling to me and inviting me in.
I attempted to buy a bungalow in the village with the most amazing view of gently rolling countryside and in addition of the most marvellous wrinkly tin village hall plonked in the front garden. I have a passion for vernacular architecture. The bungalow has now sold and I will be renting, something I haven’t done for almost thirty years. There is a curious freedom to renting. I could go anywhere; I toyed with Italy. Why not, I thought, get away from the gloom and ice and chill of winter and go south? But while I like to think that I am an adventurer, I suspect the adventures in an obscure area of North Norfolk will do for me.
I am doing all the things one does when on the point of moving, I am going through my stuff. My last move, post-divorce, was a painful affair and packing up the family home of sixteen years was unbearable; a lot of memories and hopes went to the dump along with the rubbish. Yesterday, I shredded the divorce file chopping up the hurt and anger that went with it. This house, when we arrived, felt like a hotel; only with very little furniture. It had been the show-house and was immaculate, with cream walls and a sophisticated neutrality that seemed to show up what was left of my furniture and my ramshackle little family.
In the intervening years an entire new community has grown up around me. Literally. For five years I have watched as roof trusses were craned across my patio and the old factory chimney was demolished, and I have lived with a level of disruption and noise that is inevitable when one lives on a building site and pretty disastrous when one wants to concentrate on writing and, more importantly, think. Even as I type, the next stage of the regeneration of this area is taking place and a pneumatic drill began at seven-thirty this morning and will not cease until dark. They are converting a lovely old building into chic apartments that would have been completed years ago had the global economy not slid off the shelf. I have made the best of it helped by having quite the nicest neighbours possible; my lucky buyer will inherit them.
City friends are prone to cautioning me about the countryside, they talk darkly about life in the nether reaches of this ‘early’ county. They forget that I was brought up on the edge of a village in the countryside and spent my days wandering about the meads chattering away to unlikely characters and wondering at the natural world. They also forget that this city isn’t going anywhere, I can come back. I might well come back; I might need to come back, when I have had enough of the isolation and the weather and I am decrepit. When I shattered my elbow two years ago I spent months trying out being old; parked in hallways awaiting collection, having my food cut up, struggling to dress and wash, so I know what’s coming; but it’s not coming yet. So it’s now or never for me and the countryside.
I wonder how such rural isolation and visual joy will affect my writing and my creativity generally; I plan to resume painting. I wonder how I will sleep, when I can’t hear the sirens on Grapes Hill at three in the morning and instead I am woken by foxes or the dawn chorus; or a vast farm vehicle negotiating the minuscule byway. I wonder if I can do this. Today there is snow and ice, even in the city. But even here I am trapped, my daughter cautioned me not to go out, the pavements are covered in ice and I daren’t fall again. Here, I have to haul my shopping from the carport up to the kitchen on the middle floor, in all weathers, with my one good arm, there I will park right outside my kitchen and unload. There is evident urban poverty too; shops are vacant and beggars are common. Practicalities matter where ever you are and they are not necessarily easier in the city.
In my rented house I am going to have a pantry, which is the source of a quite ridiculous level of joy. Another passion is storage and in particular comestibles and dry goods, stored in Kilner jars. It’s not just this vintage fad; I’ve been at it for years. There is nothing I like more than a row of goods neatly stored and labelled. I am also getting great pleasure from the runs to the charity shop and dump – paring down to the essentials – losing the burden that comes from keeping too much stuff. I don’t know how any of this will affect my writing; I have just completed Casting Shadows a novel set largely out on the meads of my childhood. Next, is a novel set in Islington in the nineteen-seventies, all of which I will be imagining while looking out of the study window onto a rural scene. I am hoping to find tranquillity, although that might just be a state of mind. What I do know is that tranquillity cannot be accessed when there is a jaggedly, pneumatic drill thundering outside my study window and a vehicle that continually opines ‘Stand clear, stand clear. This vehicle is reversing.’