After almost thirty years in London, Mark Piggott and his family have moved to a tiny village in Suffolk. Have they done the right thing or made the biggest mistake of their lives?
After three weeks we still lack cooker, sink, internet and mobile reception. Realising we can't survive on nuked pasties forever we experiment with the camp stove, which combined with the MW and toaster enables us to knock up some intriguing dishes, none of them particularly pleasant.
Finally we give in and visit the village pub, the Straw Dog, its wooden interior done out like the galley of the "Mary Rose". Beside the brass-framed fire a bray of men from a local stud discuss horses: despite my surname, which I hope to cash in on at some point, they might as well be speaking Klingon.
For reasons not entirely clear, all the food is Spanish-themed: the barman, like my wife, is from Liverpool whereas I was born in Manchester. Within weeks, I predict, we'll be throwing darts at each other.
The barman, I mean, not my wife.
Still unable to secure Emma a place at the village school, most days we drive the Stilo into town to buy yet more useless piping for the unusable kitchen sink or drill holes in the walls just to get stuff from under our feet. It's not easy, and sometimes I catch myself thinking about the Georgian terrace in Islington, but not once do I think we've made a mistake.
Well - maybe once.
Continuing to work in London is disorientating: waking hours before dawn, driving along waterlogged lanes to the station where I wait for the local train to take me into Cambridge, where I make a dash for anything heading towards the city: no time for coffee or breakfast, then I look up drowsily from "Portrait of a Lady" (how did these people ever actually mate?) - and I'm back in the smoke.
Commuting is a shock. Living in central London I've led a sheltered existence these last 28 years. I might have faced muggers, chuggers and juggernauts but all these are a doddle compared with Greater Anglia. Standing on the platform at Tottenham Hale in the hurtling sleet as the tannoy reels off an endless list of excuses ("the 8:37 to Bishop's Stortford is cancelled due to congestion caused by earlier delays") isn't quite as much fun as it sounds.
Having finally made it into work I'm in the office kitchen looking out the window at grey-gruel Hackney when a girl asks me about our move to the country. As we chat by the water cooler a tall, bald South African enters and, uninvited, chucks in his tuppence-worth.
"The country? Nah, mate, don't do it. I won't move till the kids are grown up in twenty years. The trouble is in this country there's no infrastructure. You'd have to be crazy to do it. Don't do it mate!"
I smile wanly.
Next day Lynda and Sean go shopping; Emma plays "Minecraft", creating vast mansions uncannily dissimilar to the actualité. The housing association have now agreed to fix the kitchen sink, which will mean we'll have a washing machine, a dishwasher... Alarmingly excited by the news I drill a hole in the wall and hit a wire: sparks flash and I short the power but not a hair lifts on my head. I decide it's a good omen.
Then Lynda calls to say the Stilo needs four new tyres. As the nice man at Kwik-Fit explained:
"They were bald, love. If you'd been stopped it'd have been six points on yer license plus the fine. I can do four new tyres for two fifty."
Saddened by the news I look out the window. Definitely sheep: bloody big ones, cow-sized. Or are they horses? I've been in the city too long. Then I see a flash of white in the field.
Reluctantly Emma comes to the window and I give her the binoculars.
"Over there, look. Rabbits."
"I can't see - where - oh!"
Later, sunset, over the same long field (gently rising to a copse): long and pink and majestic.
Emma: "We wouldn't have seen this in London, daddy."
She's right: you rarely get sunsets in London, not at street level. Lynda and Sean return with our newly roadworthy car, and Lynda tells Emma she saw an owl on the "mud in road" sign down the lane. Emma smiles again: twice in one day.
It's happening. It's getting easier.
Next morning Sean wakes up covered in so many spots he resembles a human pizza. It seems the ever-thoughtful previous occupant has left us a final gift: cat fleas.Suggest a correction