I moved to the country a week after 9/11. As anyone who has ever laboured through the process of buying and selling property will know, the timing of this was purely coincidental; the motions of moving were put in gear months before. But still, it seemed symbolic to be moving from London then. Things were coming to a head. People were being shot outside of our front door, and the neighbours, oh! The neighbours were killing us.
Below lived a gaunt middle-aged swinger called Derek. Paler than pasta, an East End Rastafarian wannabe, Derek made his money by owning a patent on hair-restorer. The type that comes in spray cans found in adverts in the back of the seedier Sunday tabloids. We got his mail by accident once.
Scores and scores of poorly sealed envelopes, some split and gushing forth cash, postal orders and illegibly signed cheques, inevitably accompanied by the cutting from the Sunday Sport which showed a spastic sketch of a portly Yul Brynner on one side and a guy in a Beatle wig on the other.
This afforded Derek his playboy lifestyle. He rose at dusk, opened his first beer, lit up his first spliff of the day and then the boys came round. Bona fide Rastas and heavy metal hoods. As the Hackney darkness fell, heavy dub poured forth, rattling our mug tree and wine rack. This was the prelude to these geezers hitting the East End nightlife come midnight. A cloud of sensimillia would rise up and inevitably, someone would bring out a crumpled trumpet, blowing stinking shrunken notes into the bedtime air. Then the laser pen light torches, their beams directed through our window, pinpoints of light that would dart around our ceiling like hateful fireflies while we tried tensely to watch the telly. Screaming and mumbling in the centre of it all was Derek. Bald as a coot and hateful as fuck. Our neighbour.
What with this and the police signs saying ‘Murder Scene. Witnesses wanted’. What with this and that time a curious, ill-suited young man followed Anna home up to the steps of out front door . . . It was broad daylight, a weekday. Luckily, Anna had phoned ahead and I was in the flat with my a friend. When she calmly opened the door to let herself and by default, this freak in, Leonard and I were waiting with hammers. We were somewhat half cut after an afternoon of White Russians. I advanced toward to the guy and offered to gouge out his eyes and skull fuck him. Off he stumbled, sweating, spluttering and coughing into the Dalston traffic, having made beasts of us all.
Yes, so, you get the picture. Living in East London was no picnic. Speaking of which, we tried the whole forest in the metropolis thing. Visiting St James Park every Sunday to feed the cheeky squirrels. Getting lost among the nudists, solvent abusers and burnt out cars of Richmond forest. Anna, a life long equestrian, had tried to do her horsey thing on Hackney moors, too. But. It. Just. Wasn’t convincing. Forget falling asleep to owl song and crickets. The only hoots I could hear were the damned laughing and partying of those below. Crickets? Insect life was an exclusive feature of the indoors only and it didn’t chirp, it rustled. However, I couldn’t blame the bugs for seeking refuge in our kitchen. Nothing could survive the thermo filthy climate of Dalston Lane. Stepping out of the front door was like stepping off a diving board into the streets of a nuclear Calcutta, a warped symphony of car horns, radios, sub bass speakers and screaming.
footnote. Not that I could hear much through the wax earplugs I wore to bed- since 1998. (‘Mufflers, from Boots the chemist. Place them on a warm radiator 10 minutes before use. They are a hybrid of wax and cotton and will practically drip into and set in your ear. Make sure you’ve made all your phonecalls and the like before you let them in).
Arriving in London during my early twenties, all the horror and beautiful garbage had been an inspiration. Now, turning thirty, it was just horror and garbage. Opening the front door was increasingly something to do only when the booze ran out.
And so, at the height of the new climate of fear, we left. I remember us driving down the M1, that oddly silent and giant city strangely compressed in the wing mirror of the van, and half expecting to see an equally silent mushroom cloud blooming out of the skyline. Ahead there lay sparkling streams, ponds with sword wielding arms emerging from them, wheat chewing wise old bumpkins, homebrew, poppy fields, air like vaporised champagne, and sweet holy silence.
footnote We live in a detached property. Already this means no sub bass thump from below, above or anywhere else. We don’t even hear the sonic boom of car stereos because there is no traffic where we live. Our garden is a ‘mere’ half-acre. I remember the silence of our first night here as deafening.
And black. Black as er night. No streetlamps see. This means you get to see the stars. An absence of light pollution it’s called. Now italicI am the noisiest fucker within earshot. I can play my gramophone records at literally all hours and no one could complain. Not even Anna, as the place is big enough for her to be out of earshot. The air is drinkable and the weather as much a part of the landscape as the hundred-year-old tress. We have a handful of cats and a horse. I have a crude recording studio. I have a study. Anna has a study. There’s a shed at the bottom of the garden that I don’t spend as much time in as I’d hoped. But I could get into gardening if I wanted. We have space.
Those are the positives, now the negatives.
I had thought that one thing I would have done more of here is walking. I always secretly fancied myself as a rambler. And I do ramble. I ramble frequently. Sometimes I ramble when I should be ahem. I wasn’t aware of it before I got here, but all this ‘outdoor’ stuff is owned. It’s private! I can gaze at them there fields all day long, sucking languidly on my liquorice pipe from dusk till dawn. But I can’t walk on them because I’ll get shouted at, chased, questioned. There are designated public footpaths but I’d have to drive to get there. And needless to say, I don’t drive.
So I walk a lot less here than I did while living in London and I have the chins to prove it. Plus, I get bored easily walking through all this green. In London, my hikes were made up of tiny journey’s joined together: bookshop to bookshop, record shop to record shop, station to. In this manner, I could cover a lot of concrete, asphalt and tar without being bored at all.
There’s precious little culture here. I frequently consider myself a super evolved ambisexual philosopher. A raceless lecturer Adonis. In short, an open-minded vegetarian fellow who likes Jazz and first editions. Round here, it’s all ruddy faces, Fox cubs on toast, and white, white white. I am the ‘blackest’ dude in the vicinity.
And I so miss that polycultural stuff. I like hearing people talk in other languages. If nothing else, I can fantasise that they are talking about something interesting. I dig differences. Here among the Tory-terrain, me being an island of evolution amongst the ruddy Scum, friends are lacking somewhat. In London, I had close to a quarter of a million chums. This number has declined a little. Really, out of sight out of mind.
It takes three hours to get here, and it’s a pleasant journey, but not enough people for my liking can find time in their London lives to make the effort. Some! Yes, some do. I’m not talking about you, obviously. But now we have land and space to have a proper ‘put a marquee up and run about off our heads on moonshine and Shrooms’ party ‘ it’s hard to get any such gathering going.
We’re not making friends here, that’s for sure. We rarely go into town, are not members of any local societies, chess clubs or football teams. I am not a member of the council. I ‘work’ from home. They’re big on hunting around these parts. Digging up foxes and their cubs from their cosy burrows, shooting rabbits as they frolic in the dusk, dragging fish writhing onto dry land, badger baiting and hare coursing As we walked through a local park with Anna’s Dad and brother last summer, I commented appreciatively on the multitude of geese and Ducks.
‘Wish I had my gun’ spake Anna’s old man.
Does it ever stop!
Trust me. Within a few hundred years, the practice of eating animals will be looked upon as we see cannibalism now.
So no, in short, I’m not bigging it up with the locals.
And yet, I dig solitude. It’s my natural state. Why fight it?
Do we ever really live anywhere except in rooms? In our heads?