I am a City girl at heart. I love the bustle, the shops, the noise, the people, the bars, the restaurants, the anonymity. I love having a moped arrive at my door with world cuisine. I love the fact that I can meet up with my friends at the drop of a Whatsapp and try a new bar and get a cab home. Why, then, did I ever think it was a good idea to move to the country? And not just to the country, but to la France profonde? This is something I frequently ask myself, normally when covered in mud.
The short answer to this eternal question is, I think, that I didn’t expect it to be so, well, so…..country.
This life choice sprung to mind today. I had, for the first time in six months, managed to get my hair done. My hair coloured and cut by a normal hairdresser, and by that I mean here a hairdresser who doesn’t also function as an ironing and laundry drop off point, who uses instruments that I am familiar with and not things that look as if they have come from a museum of medieval torture. That I had managed to find this mythical creature here in rural France was exciting enough but I was very pleased with my hair; it was bouncy and clean and freshly coloured and cut. If I was still in the City this would have been an opportunity to meet up with a friend, to have a few glasses of bubbles and to show off by lovely bouncy, new hair and to soak up the complements.
However, I am not in the City. Therefore, my lovely, bouncy new hair is no longer bouncy and lovely. It is wet and cold and a little bit bedraggled. This is because when I returned from the hairdresser’s I put my wellies on and went outside, in the rain, and put large pieces of wood from a muddy forest floor into a muddy trailer. When Greg drove off in the trailer it slipped and sprayed me with mud. My new hair was sprayed with mud.
This is “the country”.
Another little life lesson when moving to the country that I am happy to pass on is – do not move to live near water, specifically a river. A pond is super, a swimming pool is fabulous. A river is not fabulous. Initially, it might seem romantic and sweet, like a little babbling brook at the bottom of your garden, where you can sit and read Jane Austen on sunny days. The reality is somewhat different.
We live in Nouvelle Aquitaine and it is called Aquitaine for a reason – in winter it rains. It can rain for days on end. This creates mud – mud that sticks to and stains everything it comes into contact with, and no amount of 90-degree washes and Vanish will shift the bugger. I have never seen so much mud. This ceaseless rain also means that the river that is a charming babbling brook in Spring and summer turns into a raging torrent in the winter. The raging torrent fills up our mill pond, which is situated approximately three metres from our front door. There is a sluice gate which, for the uninitiated, is a metal contraption that allegedly controls the flow of the water through the river and through our garden. This works well until the sluice gate becomes completely blocked with all the debris brought down by the raging torrent that our babbling brook has morphed into, including an eight-foot long tree trunk. Many late nights and early mornings have been spent nervously watching the rising waters, the water flowing over the river banks and into the garden, moving valuables upstairs.
New Year’s Eve was a particular treat this year when, after a week of solid rain, the garden was waterlogged and the mill pond was as full as it has ever been. At 11.45 pm we were outside in wellies, in the sheeting rain, heaving masses of debris over the sluice gate with rakes and attempting, unsuccessfully, to move the tree that had wedged itself against the rushing torrent of water. I bet Jools Holland has never had to do that. Happy New Year.
Living in the country also brings animal life, not just to look at bouncing around in the countryside but into your home. Mice are a particular favourite. They are actually rather sweet little things, not like the dirty mice I used to see scurrying across tube tracks. However, they are still mice and can destroy any foodstuffs within days. Other specialities include washing up sponges, rolls of sandwich bags, rubber gloves and dishwasher tablets. I could keep Lakeland in profits with the amount of Tupperware that we have to use in order to store sugar, lentils, pasta, rice, tea bags, flour….the list goes on.
I, however, refuse to kill them. We, therefore, use humane traps baited with bread and peanut butter, that country mice find irresistible. What this means though is that a car journey then has to take place, with the mouse in the trap sitting on the passenger seat, to a woodland setting a mile away so that we can safely release the little critters. We told some French friends about our mouse rescue missions – they looked at us as if we had now truly lost our minds.
I miss the City and all that it brings to me, particularly at the moment when we, like the rest of the world, cannot travel. I am looking forward to the day that I don’t have to put on a pair of wellies and can wear clothes confident in the knowledge that they won’t be covered in muddy pawprints within minutes.
However, despite the mud and the winter rain, I know that we are incredibly privileged to live in such a beautiful place. And, every time I put my wellies on to take Badger for a walk and see deer in the woods, or a hare running across a field and the new blossom in the Spring I feel happy and know that I don’t want to be anywhere else.
Now…if we could just talk Deliveroo into setting up a franchise in Beaumont then this City girl really would have it all.