‘Moving to the country hasn’t been a walk in the park’
Do you dream of escaping the drudgery of urban living? The reality is far less idyllic, as Hettie Harvey discovered
Iwent out for dinner a few weeks ago. Once, that wouldn’t have merited a mention, but since moving out of London to live in Shropshire six months ago, I don’t get out much. In fact, it was only my fourth night out since the move.
As it was, I sat at a table of 12 Londoners on a weekend jolly, and found myself struck mute as, around me, people discussed everything from the general election to the Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain (I had to look it up later). When my husband Dominic and I moved, I gave up my journalism career to look after our children, George, three, and Arthur, two, and I have barely kept up with the news, let alone things cultural, since. I haven’t had to discuss anything more serious than the supermarket list in months.
At that dinner, I realised with rising panic that I had become completely out of touch. So I kept quiet and hoped that nobody would notice. But as a well-educated woman still (in theory) in possession of all my faculties, who until recently worked full-time on a national newspaper, to find myself unwilling (and, frankly, incapable) of joining in was alarming. It’s one of many side-effects of our move I hadn’t foreseen.
When Dominic and I first decided to up sticks and move our family out of the city a little over a year ago, we had, like most Londoners, certain preconceived ideas of what our new life would be like. The decision had come down to practical issues: worries about money, the London schools lottery, commuting, pollution. Crime certainly played a part; in the city, our front door was double-locked day and night, even before there was a shooting at the end of our street; and a woman was stabbed outside our house at four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon.
Fuelled by our addiction to Escape to the Country and long evenings spent hunched over RightMove, we had feverish dreams of selling up our Finsbury Park home and swapping it for a huge, ramshackle (yet cosy) farmhouse, with flagstones on the kitchen floor, a dog curled up by the Aga, in a remote location (but close to a shop and a lovely pub) with beautiful views. The usual. And of course, there was the idea that our life there would be one long afternoon curled up by a blazing fire eating freshly baked (by me) cake, having been on a bracing walk on which our apple-cheeked children would have gathered bugs, birds’ nests and wild flowers.
Not that we were entirely naive, but between wanting to believe that we could build a better life for our family, and people’s assurances that we would be emotionally, physically and financially better off, perhaps