When I was growing up, every three years or so the following conversation would take place at the dinner table:
“Your Dad and I have decided that the house/yard/land isn’t big enough, so we’re going to be moving to…” The next day, a For Sale sign would appear in front of the house I’d been thinking was a staying house, and thence would start the familiar routine of investigating new houses and packing up beloved toys. There were no staying houses. That’s not necessarily a complaint, by the way; it’s made me more resilient to change as an adult than I might otherwise have been. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s with a partner and a babe that we moved to a staying house and thought that was it. Fifteen and a half years ago.
Red brick, flat fronted, not particularly big. Situated in a tiny hamlet where the social divide was neatly signposted by the council: “Upper W….”, “Lower W…”. Know your place. And over the years, I did get to know it: the woods and the hill that stood guard over us all. I shopped at the butchers and the bakery; sent the child to the local schools; attended coffee mornings; made the occasional friend.
I have clambered over the hill forts and run down their ramparts; poked sticks into streams and lingered by lakes; said hello and goodbye to countless other dog walkers, apologised to countless non-dog lovers; watched the moon over the house change shape. I have picked up fossils and pebbles and leaves and feathers. Dawdled in the nature reserves. Gathered armfuls of cow parsley. Breathed long in the deep blue scent of the bluebell woods. Laughed at the colony of rooks cawing haughty disdain on anything not in a tree, and seen them fearlessly set after patrolling hawks.
Got twigs in my hair, bramble rents in my shirts, grass on my jeans. Mud on my boots.
There have been lambs, calves, countless songbirds, the occasional jay. Wildfowl and beetles. My favourite buzzard families. Once, a red kite. Deer disappearing like ghosts into the tree lines: tiny muntjac creeping along on stiletto hooves and giant roe stags making gurking noises at does. Grass snakes and lizards. Toads and newts. Endless fecking daddy longlegs. Bats on the wing, the rare cat-grounded pipistrelle. The owl that hunts and hoots every night by my window.
Every winter has seen the advent of the Great Muddening, and spring has brought the lemony-rose, bridal fouff of cherry tree blossom. Summer hazes over cornfields and cliched autumn mists that somehow still manage to take my breath away. Picked blackberries and sloes, sniffed out the wild garlic, pondered but never picked the mushrooms.
But everything changes. An early-learned lesson that I’m grateful for.
The babe is now a teen and off to sixth form college; in two years time she’ll head off to university and a life of astrophysics. The costs of living and driving keep rising. The Great Muddening lasted so long this year, I thought the dog and I might never dry out. The butchers is closed, the owners retired, and the bakers is now owned by others. And the loneliness I may have mentioned at the beginning of the year? Well, it hasn’t really gone away and it strikes me now that being as isolated as I am is not, for a natural loner, the very best thing to be. I am missing great chunks of my red-headed funny fire-cracker of a niece growing up, diffusing the tense stuff of life in her uncomplicatedly happy way. I could do with a regular dose of uncomplicated happy.
So the Teen and I are moving. Not just yet; there is a house to be found, and a great deal of sorting out to be done. Closer to my family and my work, closer to her transport to college. Closer and wiser and a lot less on my own. No longer entirely rural.
This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. “There’s nothing to keep you there.” No, there really isn’t. Apart from the wild tangle of memories and associations, but I am expert at uprooting myself. Pack lightly the good memories, ditch the bad with the unwanted crockery. Carry your home with you.