If I’m tired of London, am I tired of life?
Our weekend editor Anna-Marie Crowhurst contemplates a life of ‘tumbling’ in haystacks
I am finding it hard to write this. Because I’m sulking. I’ve just got back from a long weekend in the country, precipitated by a friend’s wedding in Sussex (shout out to the DJ who played Whigfield!) and four days of breathing in fresh air, basking in glorious sunshine, taking long rambles over stiles and streams, drifting asleep to the sound of mooing cattle, watching bats dip over the meadow, and getting cosily hammered on rosé, I held an actual piglet while it squeaked and furiously pedalled its tiny trotters. I spent 20 minutes listening to a blackbird discordantly cheeping in a bush. I thought about playing a board game. I put my stupid phone down and read a book.
As with most things, books are how my yearning for the country started. As a child, The Famous Five’s jolly adventures had me aching for adult-free camping holidays on desolate moors, al fresco picnics made by ruddy farmer’s wives, and fruit-cake-fuelled bicycle tours through picturesque villages. Then in my teen years came the works of Thomas Hardy. I sobbed my way through Far From The Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, and obviously, the collected poems (#teenangst) in a romantic, bucolic fervour. Bodily, I was in a mock Tudor new-build estate perched on the edge of a brutalist New Town, mentally I was wafting about the countryside in a bonnet, gathering posies, and, er, tumbling in haystacks.
Naturally, I moved to London as soon as I could. And I have loved my beautiful, bounteous city and revelled in its copious entertainments and convenient transport links for all my adult life. But every now and then, the sweat and the scariness and the dirt and the din of it force me to escape to a place where I can be silent and still. In the country I spend more time outdoors (summer) and more time reading and writing (winter). I feel a sweet sort of relaxation letting my urban comforts fall away, just like that, and happily shrug off public transport and 3G.
Adjusting to rural life takes a little bit of doing. Country-dwellers have a thing called “just being friendly”, meaning that strangers will chat to you. Everyone knows that a stranger addressing you in a city would mean some sort of devilry was afoot. My friend recently got chased and shouted at on Oxford Street because she ran away from a woman who tried to ask her something. It turned out the woman’s eyesight was bad and she wanted help with the bus arrivals board but SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A ROBBER. Conversely, on a pootling country bus in Wiltshire the other week, I was engaged by a nice old lady who told me all about her dead husband and her recently installed underfloor heating (unrelated, I think). I actually quite liked it. Sort of.
The urge to idealise all things countrified is not a new one – the pastoral has been a theme for artists and writers for centuries, from the Ancient Greeks onwards. Could I live in the wilderness full-time, is a question I often ponder, as I avoid dogshit, dirty mattresses, groping hands, lurching drunks and pickpockets. But, for a start, all my friends are in the city. As is my work. There’s the huge issue that I can’t drive. Then there are the things I feel I need, like spin studios and art cinemas. It’s more than possible an extended bout of living and writing too remotely could foster some sort of Shining-type scenario. I don’t know if I can ever leave my lovely London.