The Sunday Telegraph - Stella
What Katie did next
Katie has moved back into her rented cottage, but fears the novelty may have worn off
Is village life the paradise our columnist once thought it was?
I FEEL AT HOME in the barn, the valley and Penberth. Pottering around past signs saying ‘Watch out for ducks’, grinning at warnings posted on the local Facebook group, cautioning that cows have been spotted loose on the road.
I drive around, saying Cornish place names out loud – Trewellard, Lamorna, Porthcurno – rolling them, strangely delicious, in my mouth. Sometimes, I listen to the Welsh singer Gwenno, who recorded a whole pop album in Cornish, harmonising in darkly textured words that reflect the rough land.
I lose myself in a dream world in the valley, only to be jolted back to earth by news that building work has finished on The Mousehole cottage, so I’m free to return.
In some ways, it’s exciting, returning to my little fisherman’s cottage, able to wander Mousehole’s pretty, weaving streets and stand at the harbour wall with other locals, shouting, ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ahh!’ at the waves, as if we’re watching fireworks.
In other ways, the novelty has worn off. Now back in the cottage, I find myself not charmed, but irritated, by people staring into my windows when I’m writing or sitting half-dressed. I’m frustrated by messages pinging in from people saying they’ve noticed my lights on, so I must be in, or they’ve spotted me that day in the shop. Someone I’ve never met messages me to say he saw me out driving my car. And although it is friendly, I’m surprised by how suffocating it feels.
One day, I am standing in a shop doorway, taking photographs, when a woman walking past loudly tuts, ‘You’re not trying to hide it much.’
‘Not trying to hide what?’ I ask, confused. ‘That you’re not from here,’ she says. ‘I live here,’ I cheerily smile. ‘Where?’ she demands to know, wanting my full address and to know when I moved in.
A friend who moved from London to a village in Hampshire says this is what all villages are like, telling me stories about her neighbours commenting on her boyfriends and when she’s lost or gained weight.
Another friend who’s moved to Gloucestershire describes one local woman confronting her, saying, ‘We all know you’re that rich Londoner.’
‘Reputations move around fast,’ another friend warns me. But I am too late. I hear from a neighbour that I have broken ‘the Mousehole code’ with something I have written in this column and a villager has taken umbrage. Another villager calls me to tell me off. For a week, I panic, as the granite walls of the slim cottage close in and I become overwhelmed by a feeling that I have already lost the new start I ran here to gain. I find myself longing for Penberth’s deserted cliffs or even London, where it was easy to be anonymous.
I remember first moving to the capital and being overwhelmed by the possibility of reinventing myself. How I loved walking for hours through the city without seeing anyone I knew, discovering new versions of myself. Sometimes, I’d dress chicly and go on dates with men too old for me at the bar in the Dorchester hotel, then, the next night, pull on scruffy dungarees and play at being a hipster in a gallery in east London.
Now, in The Mousehole, I feel asphyxiated by the claustrophobia of village life; by other people having decided who I am, while I am still trying to find out. So, I do what I do every time I panic: I start packing again.
I have broken ‘the Mousehole code’ with something I have written in this column and a villager has taken umbrage