After almost thirty years in London, author Mark Piggott and his family leave for a tiny village in Suffolk - but have they done the right thing?
"When do we leave London, daddy?" asks Emma, 9, as my wife races the rental car up the M11.
"See that bridge up there?" I nod ahead where the M25 crosses the motorway. "When we burn - I mean - cross that bridge, we've left London."
Strangely I feel nothing as we dip beneath London's corset and emerge into sunlight which seems more pure, innocent: there are 28 years of London in the rearview but I'm looking forward. Lynda drives like a demon to beat the removal truck, its two Romanian strongmen who spent the morning loading fridges and sofas and endless boxes of books and muttering about Kindle. On the back seat Emma and Sean, 7, play DS games, oblivious to the momentousness of the occasion.
Only the cats seem as excited as I am: Katy, in her box on my knee, has been meowing pathetically since we started the engine; as we emerge into green fields, pastures new, a pungent aroma fills my nostrils. She's pooped.
If our Romanians have to wait for more than an hour outside the new place we have to pay extra, so Lynda puts her foot down as I hold my nose, looking grimly out on thatched cottages.
We pull up outside our new home to see our Romanians scratching their heads. Our move is the result of a house swap; the lady who lives here should be on her way to our old place in Islington. In theory, at least: her removal van's in the drive, bonnet raised, driver missing, and no note. The van's side bears the lettering: "Honest Kev", and a number which I try and ring: no signal, we're in a black spot. Lynda has to bang on the door of our new neighbour and ask to use their phone.
"Honest Kev" - burly, middle-aged, gold chain round his neck - returns in another van with some bloke he's pulled out of the pub and who provides a jump start as my Romanians inspect their watches. Finally Kev's van lurches off and we enter our new home to a scene of desolation.
The house is filthy, with thick layers of grease all over the kitchen floor, walls and shelves. A pipe has been left exposed when a washing machine was ripped out, rendering the sink unusable. For reasons not wholly clear the woman has also removed most of the door-handles, or at least their bars, so every time you try and enter a room they clatter to the floor. The house is also cluttered with items she was apparently unable to squeeze into the van and which, she explains in a scrawled note, she'll collect later.
The woman (with whom as housing association tenants we arranged a mutual exchange) hasn't even left any credit on the electric key; instead she leaves a helpful note telling us where to drive to top up - a round trip of over ten miles before we can put on the light or, more importantly, the kettle. She has also left an empty oil tank - as there's no gas, until we can arrange a delivery of oil our only heating will be from a small electric fire. As its November, and the country, I surmise the electric key will need plenty of credit.
"It's a bit - small," says our daughter, looking round. I look round too, almost for the first time: what have we DONE? Our old home in N19 was a Georgian terrace with high ceilings, bay windows and central heating which worked. How to explain to the kids that we moved to the country so they could explore the woods and play outside without us wondering if they'd get stabbed for entering the wrong postcode?
Once we've finished unloading and the cats are locked in a crumbling summerhouse till we can make the place secure we drive into town in search of light, warmth and sustenance. Having found two of these at Burger King we return home; it's pitch dark. As we enter the cold house our daughter rushes to the toilet with the runs. As we haven't worked out how to insert the electric key and can't find a torch poor little Emma sits in the loo, sobbing, in total darkness.
Eventually we work out how to operate the key, find Emma some loo roll, and start to make the place habitable. We realise this may take some time, so in the short term we hook up the TV and the kids huddle beneath blankets watching "We Bought a Zoo". Lynda and I go up to get the bedrooms straight - here we receive another shock. On opening the window in what will be Emma's room, huge clusters of flies fall on the floor; thousands more swarm round the cracks. Luckily we have plenty of fly-killer and after dispatching them Hoover their bodies as the kids bang on the door and demand to be let in. In the end we have to shout at them to go away and Emma cries - again.
Once the kids are asleep Lynda and I crack open the Cava but we're so cold and tired, so daunted by the scale of the task ahead, it tastes flat and we go to bed. As I lie awake and listen to the unfamiliar sound of nothingness a terrible fear grips me: have we done the right thing?
Next: the Piggotts wake up in the country - and have another shock...