Recap: after almost thirty years in London, author Mark Piggott and his family have moved to a tiny village in Suffolk - but have they made the right decision?
Times goes at a different rate in the country. It seems only yesterday that we drove out beyond the M25, and the cat pooped on my lap, and we began our new life in a house of flies and dirt and no door-handles. It was actually ten months ago. Ten months driving to and from stations, sitting on trains, working at the IB Times, writing my book ("Kidology" - thanks for asking), reading other people's books, trying to convince the kids we could make it work in the tiny village of Old Front Bottom.
Ten months of dealing with our surreally unpleasant neighbours, Dead Bob Willis and his Invisible Wife (don't even ASK about the Daffodil Incident), and a house too small for a family of four dormice. Ten months with no mobile phone reception or kebabs or decent broadband.
Ten months among people who overall (apart from Dead Bob Willis and - you know) are very nice and all that, but aren't really... People Like Us. Nice enough, most of them: the mum at the bus stop, the mums of kids in the village (the only time we see the men is when they're waving from atop their tractor as they go home from work at 7am), the "enthusiasts" who run the local scout group; but not people with whom we have much in common.
If that sounds snobbish, it often seemed the other way round. When we moved, someone from the area told us people would only start talking to us after three years; and so it proved. At the (frankly over-Ofsted-rated) village school, Straddlewick, where I suppose I'd expected at least some tiny frisson of excitement - New blood! Townies! And HE's an author (you've never read!) - there was utter blankness. Literally: we were invisible. Perhaps unknowable. One mum at the village bus stop would ignore us every morning even when we were both chatting to the other mum who was nice; she simply stared right through us. Was it that we lived in the council house or simply that we aren't very nice? Answers on a postcard please... but not to us. We aren't there.
After ten months, we remember what I always knew, deep down: humans are meant to live in cities. And so we return to London: to a three-bedroom terraced house in Finsbury Park, surrounded by shops and pubs and houses and people from everywhere on the planet and across the socio-economic spectrum.
We leave behind our drive for the parking permit free-for-all, swap the sound of sheep and owls for sirens and matchday choppers, the Straw Dog for Soho, a vast back garden leading down to a brook and horse-field for a paved terrace overlooked by a hundred houses. (One thing we quickly established, given our own 150-foot bullock-field: Charlie Dimmocks we ain't). We swap friendly-enough near-neighbours ("I thought I could hear pegs!") for neighbours who might never learn our names; swap village newsletters for Isis pamphlets.
Do you think we're crazy? Plenty do. But then plenty thought we were crazy to leave London in the first place. (Lesson: ignore other people. Follow your heart. And if it's wrong: follow it again, somewhere else. Try again. Fail better. Thanks, Mister Beckett).
As we drive under the M25 I feel the load lightening: I can breathe. Inhaling smog I sigh with relief. Black bogies: that's what I miss. When moving to London aged 18 I noticed my bogeys went black. Oh how I missed it. By the time we arrive at our front door I am happy. I am home. Interestingly, so are the children: they skip to Sainsbury's, tap-dance to Tesco (I jest for alliterative purposes) and somehow begin to spark again, laughing, creating films, calling to one another from distant rooms. We are so proud they made a decent fist of it out there: hope we haven't ruined their education forever.
We have created city kids: we are city people. Thank Christ we realised before it was too late, before our kids got too used to the fields and the flies and the mono-cultural fetes, before they acquired that Suffolk burrrrrrr and (in my admittedly limited experience) introverted outlook where difference is not celebrated but something suspicious.
Of course, growing up in a small Yorkshire town I should have known this, should have known what small towns are like: but I forgot, forgot that I got out as soon as I could: to London, to an Islington street very much like like the one I'm looking out on now, with the traffic wardens and men in robes and women in saris and tower blocks.
I'm sorry I betrayed you, London. I never will again, I swear.