Invisible from the road, my house is reached by a single-track private road off a single-track public road on the outskirts of a single road village which no one’s ever heard of. It’s three miles from the nearest pint (of either beer or milk) and about an hour’s drive from the nearest motorway. During spring and summer it’s like living in Disneyland; as I come home I am accompanied up the driveway by partridges, hares and squirrels and I often share my space with swooping barn owls and circling raptors. In short, it was the perfect place to flee to twelve months ago to lick my wounds and recover from the break-up of my marriage.
Whilst I knew I would appreciate freedom, I hadn’t entirely realised the many forms that freedom takes, or how much joy there would be in the simplest of them.
If I want cereal for dinner, I’ll damn well have cereal for dinner. And if I want to cook a massive stew and eat it every day, then that’s fine too. Washing up been sitting there for a few days? So what? There’s no one to blame but myself, and somehow, when it’s only my mess, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
Invitations can be accepted or declined without giving any consideration to anyone else’s social responsibilities or desires. Stay out every night for a week or lock myself in with a bottle of wine and a cheesy rom-com? Not only do I get to make that decision, but I get to make it at two minutes’ notice.
My books on the shelf, my knickers on the floor, my wine in the cupboard – being in control of one’s own surroundings is like building a hug you can live in. Add an open fire and a year without discovering a single odd sock and suddenly you’re swaddled in an all-enveloping embrace from a favourite, fragrant, buxom, childless aunty that you haven’t seen for years.
Obviously it’s not all red wine and daffodils. It took me a couple of months to develop an effective way of folding fitted sheets, and I am too short to vacuum the spiders’ webs out of the top of the stairwell, but all in all it’s been a much needed year of breathing space. It’s been a year which has allowed me to experience these freedoms and realise that I don’t want them forever – they come at too high a price to be a long term indulgence. Is going straight from work to the pub without having to make a quick ‘phone call first worth a lifetime of having to nurse my own hangovers? Probably not. Is a ‘Step Up’ trilogy marathon three nights in a row worth never again smiling as I glance at a nicknack which evokes shared memories? Almost certainly not. Is the pleasure of eating a bowl of Shreddies whilst my knickers languish on the floor worth the sacrifice of not regularly waking up next to someone who loves me? Definitely not.
Disneyland may be magical, but magic must be shared to be fully enjoyed.