City and Country: Place and My Problems

I’ve lived in the countryside for two years next week.

In those two years I’ve exchanged convenience for wide open views of hills and trees. The air is cold and crisp here. When you crane your head towards the dark night sky, you can see the stars as clearly as if they were painted on your ceiling – there is only one street light in this village.

There’s no pub here, and there’s no shop, not even a post office that sells single pints of milk or the odd Crunchie, so there is nowhere for the villagers to congregate, unless you count the two churches, and because of this we hardly ever have to speak to our neighbours.

At first I approached this change of scenery as a giant, fresh-aired adventure. I dug my wellies out of storage, I walked, I spotted hares and badgers and woodpeckers. I felt safe, cocooned by a blanket of rural space that deterred most visitors. I relished the quiet head-space. I curled up with books whilst the wind whipped round the sides of the house and the road flooded outside.

The first year of living here flew by in a caffeine fuelled haze whilst I struggled to complete my PGCE. I barely noticed my surroundings and since I was heading to uni or school most days, I didn’t feel the isolation of my country retreat.

country and city

But eventually the fog cleared, the honeymoon period ended and I began to notice that country life wasn’t all The Archers had it cracked up to be. There were surprisingly few jam making competitions and only on one occasion has there been loose livestock on my driveway. I resented having to plan the shopping meticulously because running out of toilet roll late on Sunday evening could be disastrous. I started to lament never being able to walk down the road for a quick pint, or a pub quiz, or just to get away from the four walls that, after a week of thick rain, had become oppressive.

It didn’t help that for months and months I was unemployed, stuck in the house with no occupation, or money, or friends nearby. The fields became claustrophobic – the sheer expanse of green seemed to be hemming me in, keeping me away from jobs that I could have had, or successes I could have achieved. Instead, I became increasingly frantic, stomping up and down hills, cleaning the gazillion spiders out of the high corners of my rooms, praying the cat didn’t bring home a dead baby bunny clamped between his teeth like a prize, all the while thinking, “what am I doing with my life?”

I thought about people in cities, people in London and when I did that I felt my life was very small. “What is happening here, in this tiny village, in this rainy valley?” I wondered. And then I would worry that because nothing was happening here, because there were no people here, because some days I feel like I’m a small mouse tucked into a crack in a wall, hiding whilst all the world thunders by, that nothing would ever happen to me.

I’m from a small town and all through my childhood and teens I was desperate to escape it. I spent rainy afternoons sat in my attic bedroom imagining a future where I travelled the globe. I saw myself in New York, London, Paris. I dreamt of tropical beaches, frozen lakes, writing at a small wooden desk in a narrow room, overlooking a green canal.

When it was time to go to university, I picked the one that was the furthest away which happened to be in Cornwall. The distance was exhilarating, the proximity to the sea a delicious, ocean scented bonus. After three years it was time to move on. London dazzled tantalisingly in the distance but was always out of reach – too expensive, too far from anyone who could help me. So I moved back home briefly and then to Manchester, where the jobs were.

city or country

In a city I felt more possible. There were options. Things were close – even far away places were easily accessed. Jobs could be lost and new ones found. There was never any anxiety about where to go for a pint, or a decent curry, or a roll of toilet paper on a Sunday evening. But we soon filled our tiny, expensive house with things we didn’t want to throw away; heavily annotated books, bundles of vintage dresses, unusual cookware that was hardly ever used.

I missed the salt air of the seaside. I missed walking up marshy hills. I missed seeing wide open spaces.

The countryside, then, seemed like the solution. A bigger house, with more space inside it and more space outside, uncluttered by buildings and people and cars. There will be space to think, I told myself as I loaded up the moving van. I could dream up a thousand possible selves and become the best one.

But your possibilities are limited in the country. You can have the job that is available, not the one you want and it will take you forever to get there and back on public transport so eye-wateringly expensive it’ll put a dent in your finances so severe you won’t be able to enjoy any of the few lack-lustre leisure activities available in the area (mainly pubs and the park).

So what’s the answer? I lived in a city, decided to move to the country and wasn’t satisfied with either. Very Princess and the Pea of me, I know. Well, I think I just want to do it all. I want to travel but also settle down, I want a high-flying career (that ship has likely sailed) and a relaxed, sedate life, I want the beach and the mountains, I want bright lights and a thatched roof, I want to be surrounded by people and at the same time surrounded by a silence only penetrated by bird calls.

living by the beach

Here’s the thing though: you can’t have it all. And it’s exhausting and unfruitful to aim for it. I spent three years setting up a life in a city, then I tore all that down and moved here. Two years later, I contemplate ripping it all up and starting again. But what if after another two years of getting to know a new area, the sea, the mountains, the moon, wherever I decide to lay my hat next, I find that’s not right either?

Where will it have got me? I’d be in a new place facing down the same old demons – that somewhere else would be better. That I would be better in a different place. That the things that are wrong are wrong because of location – because of the distance to the sea, or the nearest place that serves really good Japanese food.

Sooner or later I have to admit that the problem isn’t place. The problem is me. By constantly yearning for somewhere else, something else, I’m missing out on enjoying my here and now. I have a real issue with wanting to run away, or ‘start over’ as I put it whenever I float the idea of moving house again to my boyfriend.

My favourite daydream to indulge in is one where, on a bad day, I step onto a train and out of my life. I get out somewhere down the line, far away, and start again with a completely new identity, in a new place, where everything is possible.

For now, I’m going to try not to fret about whether I live in the right place and what’s possible for me here. Instead, I’m going to work out what I want and how to get it. There is no perfect place that I can pack up and move to and all my problems will be solved. Problems get solved because you sit down, and do the work and solve them.

How about you? Do you live in the city or the countryside and which do you prefer? Where did you want to live as a child? Let me know in the comments or email hello@terriblypersonal.com.

Why do I always lie to taxi drivers?


I stand out on the street in the 6am quiet. My lower back rests on the pointed wall that boarders my tiny, graveled garden. Through the pastel mist of morning light I watch the sheep in their field opposite making small movements. Some shake their black heads as though they’re waking themselves up, some stretch their necks to reach a few tantalizing blades of grass, one ripples the muscles along its back in response to an annoying itch.

Now I turn to look down the road. It climbs, steep and grey, towards town. Down dips, up hills, and juts left and right around Z bends which are banked on either side with stone walls, fencing off more fields. To my right, immediately next door to my house, is the graveyard where the quietest neighbours I’ve ever had reside. That’s all that’s here; the sheep, the graveyard and me. The sheep, the graveyard and me.

Far off I hear a low rumble. A tractor, maybe. But as the sound builds I realise it’s heading for me. Moments later a grey taxi skirts the hill, up past the graveyard and slows to a stop at my feet. The door opens with a click and with it I invent a million possibilities of who I might be today.

You see, for all the bends and dips and hills that make up the long road to town, there isn’t one single stretch of pavement. “Who’d need such a thing?” a man from the council with glasses and a love of egg sandwiches might have asked. And who indeed? The sheep don’t need a pavement. The dead certainly do not need a pavement. “Surely, anyone in their right mind who decided to live smack bang in the centre of nowhere would be able to drive?” The man from the council, who’s job it is to decide where pavements go, might ask again. And he’d be right. Except in this case he is wrong.

So here I am, every morning, waiting with the sheep and the dead for my taxi. Every morning the taxi arrives and the drivers ask me a variation of these three questions:
Where are you going?
What are you doing there?
Why did you choose to live in the wilderness when you cannot drive?

At first I told the truth. I’m not naturally dishonest. But the truth began to embarrass me. My job felt boring, my inability to drive made me groan inwardly each time a driver commented on it, my life felt small.

So I began to embellish.

“I actually have my driving test in two weeks,” I blurted defensively once. The cabby wished me luck, “I won’t be seeing you again then!” He called cheerfully as I paid and got out. Then it became, “the car’s in the garage.” I liked that one, taxi drivers were always interested in that and I made up all sorts of mechanical ailments to satisfy their need for more information. “My boyfriend works away and needs the car,” became another favourite and made me feel important as it tripped effortlessly off my tongue.

I never manufactured these tales, I didn’t think about how they would make me come across. I wasn’t trying to create a persona. They truly just came out, ready formed, with lives and narratives of their own. They were instant reactions, like screaming “ow,” when you bang your elbow.

“Ow, that question makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“Ow, I can’t drive. Still.”
“Ow, no I don’t have a proper job.”
“Ow, you’re inadvertently making me question my own self worth.”

Once, I clambered out of a taxi after an extremely detailed account of a weekend in Kendal that had never occurred. I claimed I drove there (which I can’t do) and I went with my husband (who does not exist – though I do have a long term boyfriend and at the time felt narratively that ‘husband’ suited the lie better). At the end of this encounter I actually wondered if I was, in fact, a psychopath.

“Why do I always lie to taxi drivers?” I asked myself. Baffled. Easily as baffled as you are reading this.

But it was only taxi drivers, I assured myself. It wasn’t as though I was lying to people who actually knew me. I wasn’t living a lie, not outside of a car, anyway.

I was avoiding small talk, something that cut my introverted soul like a rusty knife. A fifteen minute taxi ride is not long enough to do your life justice, and it’s also not the arena to attempt it. I don’t have time to explain to my driver why I have such a shitty job at the moment, or why I live deep in the countryside away from people – and nor does he want me to! For me, giving the short version, the version without explanation feels like laying myself out to judgement. Truth told, I know the cabby does not care about my shitty job, my isolated life, my fundamental inability to drive. They’re just trying to make their job less awkward, they’re trying to put me at ease.

But I’m not at ease with a truthful account of my current life spouted from the back seat of a taxi every morning, to be judged or ignored. it’s like having a long hard look at my naked reflection every morning and the lighting is bad and I haven’t shaved in forever. Whether the cabby cares or not, I do.

So I’m going to continue to lie to taxi drivers and I refuse to feel guilty about it.