Thirty years, I’ve lived in London. I’ve always vowed I’d never leave. I’m institutionalised, I’d tell my country friends. If I didn’t have to sit for three hours a day in gridlocked traffic, consumed by black, helpless rage, I’d feel lonely and dispossessed.
How could I run through fragrant meadows that have never seen a dumped mattress or a crumbling mound of discarded plasterboard? Or linger beside a tinkling brook devoid of car tyres and broken buggies and the ammoniacal understench of chemical effluent?
Well, it seems that I’m about to find out. It seems as if we’re about to relocate to a tiny hamlet just outside a small village not far from a modest market town not a million miles away from Cambridge.
Now you might suppose that such a revolutionary dislocation in a life previously unruffled by change must have been preceded by months of agonising and weighing up and weighing down. But you’d be wrong. Had Oscar the World’s Fittest (now Fattest) Dog not eaten my daughter’s advent calendar, I suppose I would have remained in Hampstead Garden Suburb until the day I hung up my Asics and retreated into the twilight of my dotage.
For months, Verona had been nagging us for a pet. We’d deflected her demands for guinea pigs, gerbils and kittens with the argument that she already had a pet – the amiable, if intellectually challenged, Oscar. “He’s not my dog, he’s your dog,” she’d complain. “He doesn’t pay any attention to me.” “That’s because you spent the first three years of your life trying to rip his ears off,” we would patiently explain. But the arguments were never conclusive, and Verona’s rumbling dissatisfaction remained a constant sub-text to life.
When her best friend Hannah got a hamster, we knew we’d lost. We began to research the pros and cons of whole menageries of tiny rodents.
The evening before the fateful day, I’d attended my office Christmas party. The theme was School Days – a transparent ruse to persuade the secretaries to dress in short, pleated skirts – and I’d gone as the bike shed. The string attaching the roof of the shed interfered with my spectacles and so I’d left them on my desk.
And so, next day, when half-blind and sickeningly hung-over, I tried to look up ‘mouse’ on the internet, I accidentally typed in ‘house’. The result was dramatic. With the force of St Paul’s epiphany on the road to Damascus, the screen exploded with a vision of our future – the Old Manse at Trimpton.
The rest is mere detail – the undignified scramble for a mortgage, the hasty completion of a thousand fiddly jobs around the out-going home that would otherwise have remained perpetually untackled.
And now it seems we’re about to exchange contracts. I will miss running on the Heath. I know every tree by name, every knoll, every daisy, iris and marsh marigold.
Over there – that’s where, on my first-ever run with the Highgate Harriers, I told them how I’d had the dog’s back legs amputated but he still enjoyed a drag around the pond. And over there – that’s where Mad Rob told me how he’d ridden a bicycle for Wales and ended up careering though someone’s French windows.
Happy times. I’m 52. Will there be time in Trimpton for me to build up that mouldering compost of memories that make a place special? Or will I always be a stranger there, subtly disconnected from the landscape?
A pox on all mice.