For all the cracks in the walls and creaky floors I still like where I live. Dating back 200 years our tiny mid-terrace would have been a Georgian hovel; I’m sure I’ve seen the ghost of Baldrick from 'Blackadder' tending to his turnips more than once – he would have felt at home here in Regency times, when it was no doubt inhabited by a family of fifteen who only bathed on their birthdays. We’ve got problems with the hot water tank and woodworm, a 1980s bathroom suite and a kitchen which would shame Harold and Albert Steptoe – I could go on but it’s too depressing – but still I’m comforted by the fact that it’s possible, eventually, hopefully, one day, to change those. I’m a natural optimist, even if a foolish one. It’s the bits you can’t change that matter, and if they’re ok then it’s a good thing.
And they are, mostly, ok. Unfortunately I can’t change how busy the road out the front can be; in spite of being a rural area the route is a well-used one. The trans-European lorries cause our doors and windows to shake daily, to a degree that I’m sure would show up on the Richter Scale. It may only be once a year but when the Traction Engine event is on nearby, fancily painted steam engines with metal wheels rattle and clatter on the unforgiving road surface so much I think my teeth might fall out. They toot their horns with a glee not shared by the crocodile of impatient motorists stuck in first gear behind them, whose cars in turn belch out exhaust fumes like angry, exasperated sighs.
It’s what’s at the back of these old red-roofed houses that makes the difference, though.
Every day I walk to the end of our small garden and look over the gate. Beyond is a sizeable meadow, owned by a neighbour who lets wild rabbits and the occasional pheasant enjoy sanctuary there. Through the gate, the path leads straight to open fields, beyond which are more open fields. The sound of traffic on the road is lost here to the sound of birdsong. I can just stand and look and listen for ages and, when I do, all feels well in the world, even when it isn’t.
It’s not always completely peaceful. Last night a black cat prowled up the path with something rather big in its mouth. He saw me, dropped it and then I realised it was a dead baby rabbit. At the same I heard a loud thumping sound and noticed parent rabbit very close by, urgently conveying its concern to the rest of the warren with its agitated foot movements. Thump. Thump. I could sense its distress, and I wonder how many more babies it will lose to a predatory feline this season.
Spot the rabbit...
One year, a tranquil summer evening was disturbed by a helicopter, of all things, coming in to land in the meadow! Was some Head of State making a top secret visit to this quiet corner of
? No, a neighbour's new squeeze just happened to be a pilot, so he flew in to see her. I’ll resist making a joke about his chopper… East Anglia
Other aerial visitors are more welcome: dusk in summer time is full of swallows, swifts and sometimes, if I’m lucky, just before dark, low-flying bats. They speed through the air just inches above my head it seems, like tiny mice with wings that beat so fast, attracted by the insects getting drunk on heady honeysuckle nectar. I feel intoxicated myself, just being in their presence.
I’ve lived in damp, rented flats with no gardens before and I know I’m lucky to have a home in a little pocket of English countryside with all this behind my gate. There are other places I’m sure I could live too – by the sea, or in
! – as long as nature is not too far away, it’s all good. Tuscany