‘So? How is it?’ your city friends will ask about your countryside move. Here most people who’ve moved out make the mistake of sounding unrelentingly positive. ‘Yeah! Great. We love it. It’s weird – we don’t miss London at all,’
they’ll say, launching into some spraff about how lucky they are to have the best of both worlds, because they can visit London all the time yet still escape the grind, blah blah.
No one hears that, of course. What they hear is an unconvincing exercise in self-justification. Because moving out of London is never straightforwardly brilliant, no matter how fond you are of fields and WI bake sales. Anyone who’s spent more than a month in the capital will move to a small town and balk at the twee shops selling costumed teddy bears and pervading hordes of old people, regardless of how much they enjoy the space and tight-knit community feel.
Because in Britain you can’t have the best of both worlds – the rural views combined with top-flight museums and kick-ass sushi restaurants. In parts of America you can (such as LA and the Hamptons), but here everything’s a trade-off. You’re allowed your world-class cultural stuff, but only if you take the crowds, pollution, traffic, etc. Alternatively you can have the big house, pretty scenery and quiet, but you’d better like staying in.
Not that I was going out as much in London, mind you. That’s the trouble: once you have a kid, you don’t see the glitzy, ES-party-pages face of the city so much as the waiting-at-a-windswept-bus-stop-outside-Chicken-Cottage side. To get more space, you find yourself living in steadily crappier areas until one day you’re in Cockfosters wondering why the hell you bother.
At least here there are no bus stops involved, since you can drive everywhere (which is brilliant, I don’t care how fashionable it is to protest otherwise). And my son gets to go to a picture-book village pre-school and roam acres of woodland. People round here boast (rather nauseatingly) that the kids are free-range. But that’s not without peril, either. You can, after all, be too sheltered. I don’t want him to become the kid who fears crowds and cries if he sees a black person.
So when my city friends ask how it is here, I always answer with a qualified, ‘It’s fine, but…’ Making them wish they’d never bloody asked.