In January, after 15 years of living in our nation's capital, I left London to go and live in the countryside, specifically the Kent village of Farningham.
In my mind my life was going to change overnight as I slotted smoothly into the community, winning marrow growing contests whilst rising to a position of power within the WI. But what's the reality? Here's what I've learnt about moving to the country, so you don't have to.
There is nothing to do in the evenings
I like to describe the countryside as being just like the city, but without all the things you love and enjoy. Except on some very rare occasions (more on that later), there is nothing to do in the evenings. Sure there are pubs (maybe even a restaurant), but generally you just sit at home until you think it's probably late enough to go to bed.
I've found myself going to bed ridiculously early: 8.30, 9pm. Always before the News at Ten. This then means you wake up naturally around 5/6am, which turns out to be brilliant because...
There are loads of things to do in the morning
Our butcher's shop opens at 7am, the village store half an hour later. You can do a decent amount of shopping before 8am. By 9am at the weekend the village is fairly busy. I guess a lot of people move to the country because they've had children, so it makes sense that nobody gets a lie in.
Curries are worse than in the city
An average London curry is as good as the best countryside curry. This is controversial and your village friends won't accept it. You tell locals this fact (and it is a fact) and they laugh patronisingly, saying "Oh, you obviously haven't been to [Insert curry house name]". So you go to [Insert curry house name] and your Chicken Tikka Bhuna tastes of broken dreams and lies.
People are friendlier
Yes, I know it's a cliché but it's true. Strangers will regularly say hello or start chatting to you in the street. It's lovely and it puts a smile on my face every single day. In London if a passerby had started talking to me, I'd have set off a rape alarm and sprinted into the road screaming.
Everybody votes Tory
I'm not getting political here, just giving you the facts. The Londoners I knew were generally a progressive bunch: Labour, Lib Dems, a few dreamy-eyed Greens riding around on their folding bicycles, but in the countryside it's very different. Out in the home counties right wing voting is the norm. My local MP is Michael Fallon. You don't get much more Tory than that.
Commuting can be much better
Tricky one this. It kind of depends how far out you live. Commuting in London is a hellish, soul destroying experience. You fight your way onto a crowded train where you stand in sticky misery while the doors repeatedly open and close because somebody is convinced they can fit their stupid fat head into an obviously full carriage.
Get far enough out of town though and commuting is brilliant. You get a seat, can sleep, read or listen to music, and you get to relax smugly in your seat while your train fills up and Londoners are forced to stand in their own city. Of course, the way back is still horrible, but you can't have everything.
You hate the city less
The longer I lived in London the more I got worn down and the more I hated everyone. I moved to the city a relaxed, easy-going, positive human being. By the time I left I would have gladly supported the death penalty for cyclists who jump red lights, and public flogging for people who treat each trip to the cash machine like a new, unexpected experience (Do I want a receipt? Hmmm... let me think).
I'd go on holiday and for a few days I'd be relaxed, until my zen state would be shattered by some bastard on the bus listening to R&B on tinny mobile phone speakers. IT WILL SOUND BETTER IF YOU PUT ON HEADPHONES.
Visiting London whilst living in the country is like permanently having just come back from holiday. Now when I pop into the capital I can see the beauty, hope and excitement I saw when I first moved there. I rarely even notice when some total arsehole goes down the up stairs at a tube station, ignoring THE MASSIVE SODDING SIGN.
Country people park like they're fleeing a zombie attack
I'm used to fairly organised city parking, probably more due to the overabundance of traffic wardens than proud community spirit. Now, double yellow lines are treated as a vague suggestion, rather than the law of the land. The less considerate citizens seem comfortable with blocking a pavement with their massive Range Rover and forcing buggy and wheelchair users to play chicken in the road.
Generally from what I can gather it appears to be okay to dump your car pretty much anywhere. Road, pavement, take your pick.
You attend cultural events you would never have gone to in the city
In the big smoke it's easy to become paralysed with choice - there is literally something amazing every night of the year if you want to seek it out. As there isn't a lot going on in your average village, when something does happen, it's a big deal.
On May Day I got up at 5am to watch dawn Morris dancing by the river. In London if you'd told me there was Morris dancing in my garden, I probably wouldn't have got up to open the curtains. And don't get me started on how excited I am about the Otford Fête on Monday. There's a dog show and everything.
To sum up, although it has its downsides, I'd recommend the countryside to anyone. Yes, you do sometimes get the feeling you're just killing time before you die, taking the ball to the corners of the football pitch that is life, but at least you don't have to stand on the pissing Northern Line any more.