Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Ten Things Every Ex-Townie Should Know About Moving To The Countryside...!

1) BATS...
I remember the first Spring at Hill House.  After a punishingly cold Winter, the air had begun to turn warm, the blossom was out on the trees, and the leaves were cocooning the garden, providing us with our own private park-like oasis in which to enjoy evening barbecues, G&T moments on the lawn, and evening strolls about the garden.  The heady smell of lilac filled our nostrils as the evening sun began to set against Norfolk's famous "Big Skies".   Life. Was. Good.  These are real 'slap on the back' moments, where one congratulates oneself (with a secret sense of immense relief) for making the move from bustling town to remote country without too many hitches.  You survey your bucolic surroundings, the peace, the quiet, the rolling fields, the magical twilight, the romance of it all...and then - WHOOSH!! - you are suddenly (mid-back slapping) dive bombed by what at first appears to be a small, dark bird... only you are quietly aware that small, dark birds don't tend to come out at twilight, and they certainly don't tend to embark on a sustained and systematic (seemingly choreographed)  episode of dive bombing into your G&T!   That's when the sudden horrific realisation that these 'small birds' are in fact BATS dawns on you - BATS!!!  Yes dear that you are a countryside dweller, you must get used to the fact that bats are no longer simply a feature of atmospheric vampire movies.  They are no longer confined to Transylvania, cute paper cut outs at Halloween or an over active imagination from watching one episode too many of Most Haunted...   Bats are in fact flying mice...and they swoop...and now that you have a house in the countryside,  they are probably living in your roof.

2) EAU DE HOG...
Imagine the picture.  You've invited your friends up to your country abode for the weekend.  They have arrived late at night and subsequently - after a bottle of wine or six - go straight to bed.   They awake the next morning craving some of that good old fresh country air that you've been boasting about for months.  They draw open their curtains, glimpsing the fields through the dappling sunlight speckling the panes of your Georgian windows.  Yes, they think.  This is the life.  NOW we understand why (insert your name) decided to make this move.  They then fling open the window - eager to breathe in all of this natural beauty - it has all of the ingredients of becoming a perfect life defining moment... and then the smell hits them.  PIG MUCK.
Yes, it's another one of the countrysides little quirks - you see, those fields weren't put there for the visual delight of town folk used to staring at concrete buildings.  Oh no - they're there to actual serve an agricultural purpose - they grow things, or they house things, and if it needs muck.  If it is produces muck.  Either way, the smell of animal poo is a countryside staple, and something that surprisingly one does get used to.  It does come and go, and is not a year round constant, but when it does come, the air is so thick and dense that one could almost chew it...  Nice.

Hi. My name is Paula and I talk to my dog. A lot. I also talk to my daughters hamster, the pheasants who roam the garden, pigs, cows and sheep in the fields, chickens, horses, cats, and other assorted wildlife, but particularly other people's dogs.  It never used to be so.  Animals were simply poor conversationalists on four legs before I moved here.  Now that I come into contact with them on an almost constant basis, they have names and personalities, and voices - yes voices.  Well actually, I tend to speak for them and make up accents and personalities on their behalf.   For example, my dog Coco is a Grand Duchess who escaped from Russia during the 1917 revolution, and she sounds like Dame Edith Evans playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of being Earnest.  This really is her 'actual' voice - I know this because she told me so.

There is a law stating that when anyone moves to the countryside, they must begin obsessivley purchasing cookery books and learn to bake from scratch.  I don't care whether (like me) your pre countryside idea of baking meant a) Walking to the Hummingbird Bakery in Notting Hill to gather necessary work supplies, or b) A box where you simply needed to add water - or if it was a particularly sophisticated box - an egg AND water.  However, there is something compelling about a country kitchen no matter how big or small.   It will compel you to actually 'cook stuff' - yummy, stodgy, sweet, heart warming stuff.   Don't get me wrong - I have all of the latest healthy cookery books that cover the realms of clean eating, gluten free eating, Paleo eating, Hollywood actress  style eating and the rest...and I do actually cook a lot from them.  However, cake doesn't count  as unhealthy in the countryside.  In fact, baked goods are termed as one of your five-a-day.  As I said - it's the law.

100 years ago, when my husband was my then boyfriend, and we were in the first months of courting, he would visit me at home in London, and regardless of what time of the year it was, I would answer the door in shorts, bare feet and a vest top.  It become a joke of his that it could be the height of Winter, with ten feet of snow on the ground, communication all over London severed due to hazardous ice and frozen conditions; he could even have had to dig his way through impacted snow to get to my front door, and there I'd be to greet a strappy, billowy Summer dress. This was not me attempting to be carefree and sexy.  This was because I had grown up in a house where the thermostat was always set to 'high' and my house was always scorchingly warm.  My parents were born in the Caribbean (I was born in the less glamorous borough of Croydon, South London!) and so their comfort zone when it came to heating the home was to keep it hot, hot, HOT!

...And then I moved to a two hundred year old house in Norfolk.  Now, unless I sit with my backside on top of a fire, it would be nigh on impossible to feel entirely warm in every corner of this house over the Winter period.    Hence I have developed a hide of thick, draught repelling, leather lined skin.    I can now put up with levels of cold that would have left me bawling 6 years ago. I'm not sure how or when it happened, but at one time I would confine myself trembling to one room in January, with an electric heater tied to my leg, the dog on my feet and a permanent mug of boiling tea warming my gloved hands...but now?  Well let's just say that now as well as aquiring an extra layer of (a-hem...) 'natural  insulation' (see point 4 above) my shorts stay on until mid December.

6) SNAKES...
There are snakes in England - WHO KNEW?!  I most certainly didn't until I moved to the countryside - which probably makes me rather dense, but there you go.  I thought that snakes in England disappeared in medieval times, along with dragons, and were only used to emphasise stories of a moral nature involving knights in shining armour.  How wrong I was.  Snakes like to sun themselves in shameless full view of everyone on hot days in the English countryside.  They also like to scare the bejeesus out of you when you're poking about near the edge of an otherwise beautiful lily pond  - or when you see an oddly shaped pile of wood on a log on your walk and get up close only to find that it's a sleeping snake.   Luckily the dog walks and woods around here are vast and the skies are big, so one can scream and jump to ones hearts content and not disturb anyone.  You should try it some time - I do frequently from May to Septemeber.

Having spent over two decades working in the fashion industry where the highest of designer heels were surgically attached to my feet, I now only wear wellington boots regardless of the occasion.  Walking, shopping, country fairs, school run, weddings, bath name it - they're on.

As a Londoner born and bred, my default setting when out and about used to be 'eyes forward - ignore everyone'. This is all about self preservation when one lives in a large City.  It's not necessarily a safety thing - it's more about being constantly BUSY and having no time to stop!  It's also very easy to remain annonymous in a large town or city.  I have often spoken to friends and discovered that we were in the same shop, restaurant, gallery etc. But due to the 'no eye contact' rule, I could almost walk past my own Mother and not see her, and I wont even begin to dissect the Townie neighbour etiquette - Mumbling good morning to your neighbour for the first time five years after they moved in - acceptable.  Popping round to introduce yourself within the first year - far too needy...

This of course changes the minute one moves to the countryside.  Everyone knows everyone, and says hello to everyone here.  I remember being introduced to a mother at my childrens new village primary school.  Before I could even begin to enter into the usual niceties, she began to admonish me with the words "I saw you driving to Waitrose on Sunday at 3pm and I waved at you and you completely ignored me!"  Now believe me please when I say that I had never seen this woman before in my life.  However, it did dawn on me, that I had recently noticed that I would often catch people waving at each other out of the corner of my eyes as I drove through the village.  I now realised that they had been waving at me.  People in the countryside wave to each other and shout a cheery "Hello!" constantly - even when you only saw one another five minutes ago at school drop off - and woe betide that you don't spot them, wave and shout a cheery "Hello!" back.
I now drive my car with a permanent crowd pleasing grin plastered to my face, whilst waving one hand constantly like the Queen, and hooting out the occasional greeting whether I can see any one or not.  Just to be safe.

Being obsessed with the weather is a particularly British predilection.  However, when one moves to the countryside one learns to actually predcit the weather due to the shape of the cloud, the thickness of the air, the warmth and speed of the wind and the colour of the light.  I used to be amazed at the  casual weather prediction skills of the village school mothers, who would quite confidently warn of approaching storms or sunny spells when the sky seemed to show the complete opposite at the time.  They were always quite correct of course, and although still a relative novice, I too have joined the ranks of weather soothsayers, and can now interpret the signs of a reclining cow, a sheltering pig wearing a bonnet and a pink tinged fluffy cloud with the best of them!

I've spoken before about the new found bravery that I have aquired  since moving to the countryside (see bats and snakes above!). The ability to walk in solitude - apart from a dog -  for miles through wooded areas and country lanes was something that did not come naturally to a townie like me - I fully expected the bogie man to jump out from behind every tree at first.  I have always been happy with my own company, but it's not so scary to be  'alone' in a city when you're constantly surrounded by people and noise.  To spend 'real' time alone and with my own thoughts has been a new and enriching experience for me.  Equally, at the other end of the scale, to be forced out of ones comfort zone and to be a 'known' face in a village, and to be able to chat to anyone who stops me at the post office or comes to the door has been an equally enriching experience.  It takes a bit of bravery to slow down and become accessible to your local community.  I am there for tea tent duty, the annual duck race fundraising event, community frog crossing support (this really exists...) and mixed age group (from new born to 100 - all welcome!) social club kareoke where I cannot be shy, hide my face or be "eyes forward".

So there you have it - a few pointers for those of you who may need some mild guidance on how to survive an imminent move to pastures greeen and new.   It may not sound like much, but it does take a certain level of fearlessness and knowledge to make a move to the countryside work.  It also takes a determined effort to view the many different consistencies of mud on your morning dog walk as a fascinating added bonus -  but believe me, when you do - it's SO incredibly worth it!

Until Next Time,



  1. As a life long country dweller, I always say that animal manure always smells better than a new housing estate.....( the dairy farm down the road was spreading cow manure in the fields today).... I probably smell like manure half the time anyway, from working in my own barn.

    1. Haha - The funny thing is Lynda, that the smell of manure now signifies the beginning of Spring to me, so it's actually a wonderful smell to behold - now I never thought i'd say that!! xxx

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  3. You are so fun to read! I really enjoyed your post and I too have the manure situation. We have chicken poop on a huge field next to our house...whew! But, I still love living in the country:)

    1. Brilliant - so glad you enjoyed reading it - I will have to add eau de chicken poop to my perfume collection for that authentic country aroma - haha! xxx

  4. Hello, have just come upon your blog through Instagram and am really enjoying reading it. Your writing is great and puts me in mind of a modern day 'provincial lady,' please keep posting! X

  5. Hello Paula,

    I am just catching up with some of your lovely blog posts and am SO enjoying reading them! I particularly loved this piece on living in the country, which I could relate to on every level! You write with such humour, and it had me nodding and laughing this Thursday morning! Must to walk my dogs round the fields, where they have indeed been spreading plenty of manure. Luckily I have lived in the countryside for so many years now, that I don't think I can smell it any more! Have a lovely day.

    Sophia X

  6. Oh Paula! I've only just discovered you, your Instagram and this lovely blog a few days ago. i usually don't check Into The Gloss much but it's actually what led me to discover such a fascinating and stylish woman such as yourself. I truly admire what you do and look forward to getting to know you and your style more. Brava!


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