Following a great deal of badgering, bribery and blackmail the children allow themselves to be shown round Straddlewick primary by the deputy head and we assume from their relative silence they have no fundamental objection to being educated there.
This is a relief: unlike the school at Mould-on-Flange it's non-denominational, and more important it's in the next village to our own, meaning the kids are entitled to be transported by minibus and they'll be mixing with local kids.
Apart from Dead Bob Willis and his invisible wife we are yet to have any contact with the locals, who I'm sure would be very nice if we ever actually met them. Whenever I read articles by London hacks about how they went to the country and hated it because country folk are all inbred and you can't find a decent Lebanese bakery I always assume that columnist is an arse and I'm right.
To celebrate the kids getting into Straddlewick we go to a park which backs onto the school, and as the kids monkey around on climbing equipment which seems staggeringly sophisticated for a little village like this Lynda and I stand around in the mud and even allow ourselves a sigh of relief: our luck's finally changing.
Bored of the monkey bars Emma and Sean go over to the skateboard ramp, where kids show off on scooters while blasting out rap music that has never seemed less appropriate. They start to play with a couple of local kids who seem quite friendly. After a bit Sean comes over.
"The boy said go and sit with your granddad."
"Your grey hair, daddy."
In four weeks my hair has whitened considerably. Do they sell hair dye in the village store? We go to check: it's closed, has been for some time. A nice Asian girl comes to the door.
"Sorry! We close early on Tuesdays!"
The fact she's Asian is a relief, a sign of encroaching normality. I smile, somehow hoping to convey to her that I'm a broad-minded city chap.
"Do you have a cash machine?"
"Lack of use, I suppose?"
"No," she says, improbably, "ram-raiders."
I look around at the green pastures, the verdant greens.
"What - HERE?"
"Took off the whole corner they did. Must've used a forklift."
As we drive back to Old Front Bottom in the groaning Stilo I clear my throat.
"So... glad we moved from London kids?"
The kids speak in unison:
I smile and keep driving, but way down - in the deep dark net of my psyche - is there a pang of disappointment? A sense that now I have no excuse to insist we return to the city?
Next day I'm working in London. For once all my connections tally and I'm sat at my desk just 2 ½ hours after leaving home. I'm looking out on sludge-grey Hackney wishing I could be back in the country when I get an email from Lynda, headed "OMG":
"Babe just had that mad bitch from next door banging on the walls and screaming. I'm painting in Emma's room with the radio on and one window open, obviously not a Jeremy Vine fan. One o'clock in the afternoon that's seriously out of order. Didn't answer the door again when I knocked to find out what the problem was, must have a problem with her hearing!!!"
I contact our neighbourhood warden about our nutty neighbours Dead Bob Willis and his invisible wife and it turns out they have form: they harassed the previous tenant, the scatty single mum who left us cat fleas, and are apparently well-known for their misanthropy.
The warden says she'll send them a warning and it's probably best to ignore them. So after all those years with no problems in inner-city Islington we move to a tiny village and our neighbours are insane. Still: the house is warm, we have a working sink, and Tesco have even promised a mobile reception. Sometime. Everything is falling into place.
Despite the commute I rather enjoy working in town but not as much as I enjoy leaving it: taking the train home out beyond the M25 belt, beyond London's gravitational pull and black hole glare: out into new orbits. Disembarking into a frosty, deserted car park; driving the last few miles through dark country lanes with no other car in sight, slamming on the brakes to avoid a baby deer as it staggers drunkenly off-road and then turning into our drive, seeing lights in the windows, and smiling:
They're still awake.Suggest a correction