Country Life

I hadn’t realised quite how much I’d come to hate my job until I lost it. Rather than plunging deep into ‘how do we pay the mortgage’ anxieties I found myself literally dancing round the garden. It took me a full week to come down from that euphoric high.

That’s not to say it didn’t put a major dent in our finances, one we’ve never fully recovered from. All those wannabe writers out there who occasionally email me asking for advice? Working as a freelance isn’t easy, especially when you find you’ve morphed from being a highly-paid radio and TV rent-a-gob into a self-identifying food and features writer. Hint: do NOT ask me who will publish your work unpaid. That is taking the bread from my mouth and I never react well when deprived of food.

I was prompted to write this after reading an article by Helen Cullen in the Sunday Times magazine, describing how she and her partner coped when they abandoned London for life in a chilly borrowed cottage in the Irish countryside. They only lasted a year but she finished her book before they hot-footed it back to the UK capital.

Of course, they had the option to move back to the metropolis. Most people (I’m not counting MPs and bankers) who shift to the country sell their London houses to buy something bigger and/or cheaper elsewhere and can never, ever afford to move back. Brexit and the new rules governing buy-to-let landlords may have softened the London housing market, but rest assured, property is always going to be more expensive there than pretty much anywhere else in the country. Moving out is a one-way ticket.

We bought a ramshackle old house in Suffolk and for a while shuttled between that and our home in Islington before realising that the cost of running two places was going to break us. So we moved full time to Suffolk, my husband’s natal county, and let our London house. Now we’re in the process of selling it. So that’s it. We are officially country folk.

Image of Suffolk house

Do I regret it, this big move from what had been my home for so many years? Some of my more urban friends were appalled when I told them we were leaving London and at one time I would have agreed with them unthinkingly and wholeheartedly. Leave London? Are you insane? No galleries, concerts, theatre, ballet, opera? Well, actually, we have all of those to some extent in East Anglia but the truth was we didn’t really use London to its full potential when we lived there. It was more the fact that we knew all that cultural malarkey was there if we needed it that provided the comfort blanket.

I miss my old friends. I know they’re only an hour or two away but I can’t just pick up the ‘phone and nip out to meet them for a movie or simply a drink. I have to book train tickets and try to cram as much into a 24 hour period as possible. Dentist? Check. Hairdresser? Check. Coffee/lunch/supper/a film/a heart to heart with someone who’s known me long enough to get my sense of humour and overlook my character flaws? Check.

I miss being able to order the occasional takeaway when I don’t feel like cooking (Deliveroo has never heard of Suffolk) or nipping out to a restaurant that doesn’t involve a 40 minute drive each way. I miss London’s huge wealth of ethnic food shops. I can get the same stuff here but I have to order it via the internet. My husband has taken to telling people I know all the delivery drivers by name. Not true, I only know Oliver that well and I frightened him one day when I suggested he may as well just move in. No, really, Oliver, I’m not that sort of middle aged woman. It’s Mrs Portly, not Mrs Robinson.

I have made new friends. This has taken time and requires effort, especially when you work from home and don’t have kids. No water cooler conversations, no meeting other parents at the school gates. And though people in Suffolk are generally kind and friendly, moving to a traditionally Conservative county when I’m a died-in-the-wool pinko hasn’t always made for the easiest dinner party conversations. I did mention I used to live in Islington, didn’t I? And was a member of the chattering classes?

‘I think I’m an endangered species,’ I told one woman at a neighbour’s table.

‘Oh really, dear, why’s that?’ she said.

‘Because I’m the only Labour voter at a table full of card-carrying Conservatives.’

[pause]

‘Oh yes, dear, I think you are.’

I tend to avoid politics now as a conversational gambit, if only for the sake of my own blood pressure. I have connected with people in different ways and I have friends here now who I know I can rely on and for whom I would jump through burning hoops (only if pushed, don’t try me too hard).

I’ve reinvented myself work-wise. In my younger days I was a hard news reporter in TV, covering death, doom and disaster (murders, politics, the occasional war and sometimes skateboarding ducks) before ending up in that much-loathed job as a business reporter at the World Service. I mean, come on, I can’t even balance my own cheque book AND they insisted I work 12 hour overnight shifts. My sleep patterns still haven’t recovered. Nice people though, if you’re reading this, former colleagues. Formidably intelligent, too. I liked you, I just didn’t like the job. Do you think it showed?

I fell into my current work almost by accident. I’d set up Mrs Portly’s Kitchen as a bit of fun and it led to an offer of a column from the editor of Suffolk Magazine, for whom I still work. I owe her a lot (thank you, Jayne) because she set me on a new path.

That led to me building a network of friends and contacts among the region’s food producers and writers, a return to print journalism and this year to the launch with Catherine Grassin Hart of our new business, Made In East Anglia. We aim to provide photography, recipe development and web design to the region’s food and drink producers and it’s taken off very nicely, thank you.

The house is still ramshackle but it’s improving bit by bit as we bleed money into it. My husband, known on these pages as Him Outdoors, is outdoors as I write, slaving away in the kitchen garden. It’s three times the size of our London allotment but he still complains that it’s too small. In the summer, at least, we are pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to fruit and veg and it’s a boon to be able to cook and eat our home grown produce. We keep hens but he draws the line at pigs or goats, the spoilsport.

One London friend joked a while back: ‘Whatever happened to the Linda who used to wear red suede stilettos?’ The answer is that she lives in slippers and wellies and as a consequence her feet have apparently spread and she can’t wear high heels any more.

Nor does she want to. These days I’m built for comfort, not speed, not that I was ever very fast teetering along London pavements in those heels. I have become something of a country bumpkin. I was honestly appalled at the rudeness and aggressive stupidity of London drivers when attempting to navigate my old patch in a hire van the other day. My mouth occasionally falls open when I sit at a pavement cafe in central London and watch the passers-by. I may have to get a straw to chew on and start wearing a smock.

But do I regret moving to Suffolk? Not for a blinking minute. Now, pass me those garlic scapes, I’ve got Londoners coming to dinner.

38 thoughts on “Country Life

  1. Loved reading this! Your house is gorgeous and I like the way you are dealing with it slowly and carefully rather than rushing in armed with Farrow and Ball paint charts. Suffolk is wonderful and although I love living where I do, I often feel a pang for a thatched Suffolk pink cottage or that wonderful Suffolk accent.

    • Hi Penny, thank you. I confess some F&B has crept in but phase umpty-ump of the renovations should get underway later in the summer. Suffolk is a lovely place to live. Lx

  2. Another wonderful piece Mrs P and something I wholly relate to! Love and miss you from the other Mrs P xxx

  3. Absolutely loved the tale – actually scrolled up to read it for a second time πŸ™‚ ! Having made quite a few tree- and sea-change moves for various reasons myself during the past few decades can both relate and smile at many of the comments ! . . . Oh, used to love the day new season’s French and Italian shoes were advertised . . . hmm! did not know how many firms make quite adorable sneakers . . .

  4. I enjoyed every word of this piece and I hope you are mighty proud. You sound so happy and right where you should be. As for your humour – very much appreciated!!! Now back to my own slave masters, oh, I meant adorable boys. N xx

  5. What a lovely Saturday morning read – I’d have been rather scared of you if I’d known you’d previously been a red stilettos sort of dame!!! Isn’t it funny how life can deposit us, like driftwood on the tide, to new places and lives? Lovely reading about your previous incarnation πŸ™‚ X

    • Hi Jen, thank you. Yes, um, I had a bit of a thing about red shoes. I wonder if they make wellies in red for anyone bigger than eight year olds? At least you’d see me coming. πŸ™‚

  6. I have never been a great fan of London, but my choices and life brought me here and I have tried to make the most of it. As I grow older I find it increasingly more “difficult”: crazily expensive, pretentious and often plain exhausting. I live in Highbury and I think I go to the West End once a month, to an exhibition maybe. Otherwise I stick to my local area. It might be a cliche but mega cities like London have lost their human touch: yes, the do often “work” in terms of job opportunities, culture, diversity ecc… but, I often wonder, at what cost?! I rarely see elderly people around in London (unless they are really wealthy and healthy), most to the local shops have gone, very little sense of community.
    I also lived in the country side, in Dorset: beautiful places but with their share of flaws: in my local village there were no food shops at all, apart from people selling fudge and a small tesco, one bus every hour to connect u to the nearest town (hence the car became essential), lots of empty, second homes, depressing conservative vies (ah, bloody europe!)the norm. We sold the business (that was killing us) and came back (we always had a place in London), but as I said “our London” is indeed very, very small and sometimes “unreal” .
    I wonder if the compromise would be a small provincial town..but definitely I do not buy either London or nothing

    • Your village in Dorset sounds like a veritable metropolis compared with ours – we all got very excited when the petrol station re-opened because it meant we had somewhere to buy a pint of milk! As you know, we used to live in Highbury as well – I still love Islington and feel at home there but times and priorities change. If it gets to the point where I can’t drive a car any more, I may wish I was living in a small market town, but until decrepitude strikes, I’m happy here.

  7. I loved this piece, and it reflects something of my own journey from unreconstructed city girl to resolute Country Mouse. I still love my periods in the Big City – fairly frequent, as I’m there to look after grandson William (though this does bring a take on the city which certainly doesn’t include high heels) – but I’m always pretty eager to return to fresh air, the dawn chorus and infrequent bus services. And I really need to get to Suffolk. It’s a county I don’t know, and as I may have said, it’s the Family Seat (agricultural labourers. Bottom rung)

    • Thank you, Margaret, I’m pleased that you enjoyed reading it. I enjoy visiting London too and I’m lucky that I have family and friends who’ll put me up for a night or two. But I’m glad we moved here. And yes, you really must come for a visit sometime and investigate Suffolk – it’s a lovely county. Very, very different to Yorkshire, of course, but as long as you don’t mind leaving behind your beloved hills for a few days, it has its own attractions. Lx

  8. What a great post – you’re such a good writer Linda. I’m really happy about this new chapter for you. We didn’t live in a city at all, but we moved to the country and love it. I do work very hard doing the gardening, and if that ever gets too much for me I’ll consider another option. We don’t miss neighbors, and like you, order much online. Get a goat for your husband – he won’t be able to say no!

    • Thank you, Mimi, that’s very kind. If you ever get fed up with doing your garden, feel free to cross the pond and do mine! I think Him Outdoors would be unimpressed by the gift of a goat – maybe I’ll buy him one via Oxfam. I once sponsored a Naked Mole Rat for him at London Zoo, so there’s a precedent. πŸ˜‰

  9. Fantastic piece πŸ˜€ Hubby and I are having a talk about a similar scenario every once in a while – moving out of our just-outside-of-the-city-center but way-too-small apartment into something bigger a bit further outside. Of course it’s not London (infamous for ridiculous rents for piles on top of piles of stressed-out people over here), but for us, too, a move like that would be a one-way ticket. I’ve always lived like we do now, absolutely everything in walking distance, every convenience a city has to offer just 10-15 mins away, dust colleting on my driver’s license, so I can’t even begin to think about whether I could live “out there” or if I would go bananas after a month. On the other hand, when I see a beautiful house like yours, big garden and all – especially on a day when “humans!” being stupid in the streets drive me nuts – I wish I could just say going ahead would be the right thing to do. Hubby, having grown up in one of the sattelite towns nearby, “hates the big bad dirty city” but, at the same time, cringes away from the daily car-avalanche aka work commute he would have to face should we go ahead with a plan like that. I suppose, there’s no easy way out of that stalemate for now, but reading your story has given me a lot to smile, consider, picture and think about, thank you for that~ πŸ™‚
    By the way, knowing my weak spots, hubby actually tried to bait me with a couple of goats in a big garden~! Because “No egg is worth being beaked by an enraged chicken first. We both like goats. Get some goats.”

    • I like your husband already. πŸ™‚ Honestly, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. In my younger days you couldn’t have dragged me out of London kicking and screaming, but my priorities shifted with time and changing circumstances. When we first moved here I spent half the week in London and half here but now we both work from home, so life is a good deal easier. I don’t spend hard-earned cash on expensive takeaway coffees either! If you ever move, you’ll do it in your own sweet time when you’re good and ready. Lxxx

  10. Love this post – one of your best as it’s clearly interwoven with a great mix of feelings from ridding yourself of a hated role, to the initial fear of missing out, the dread and excitement of what you’ve taken on and how you’ve come to flourish where you are. Having been lucky enough to stay at your beautiful house and seen how you just ‘fit’ in Suffolk it’s clearly you in your element. And Him Outdoors, he’s clearly in his too! xxx

    • Yes, he’s in the kitchen garden as I type! We’ve just picked asparagus, broad beans and strawberries and collected the eggs (and mucked out the hens, oh the glamour). Thank you, lovely woman, I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. Love, Lx

    • Thanks, Nicola, that’s really kind. I suppose it helps that having married a man with Suffolk roots I’d been coming here for years before we moved here full time. As Mike would say, thoroughly Suffolk-ated! Lxxx

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