LIZ JONES’S DIARY: In which I say goodbye to country life
It’s the end of an era, as the gals said when Carrie headed off to Paris dressed head to toe in Sonia Rykiel. And it’s the end of an era for me, too. I am moving back to London in precisely 24 hours.
A decade ago, I had left the smokedy smoke (that’s from Bridget Jones; you can tell the only way I survived my ten years in solitary confinement was self-medicating with box sets), my husband a diminishing square in my rear-view mirror as I said farewell to my immaculate townhouse, with hope in my heart and four wailing cats on the back seat. I would get a dog. I could have Lizzie, my rescued racehorse, at home. I would sit, of an evening, on my terrace breathing in lavender and night-scented stock. I would have chickens and my own eggs! I would grow all my own food: how great to wander to the veg garden with a trug and come back to my Aga laden with peas, broadbeans, broccoli and a few sweet peas. Friends would come to stay and we’d go on long walks then sit by the log fire. The peace. The stars at night. The wildlife. Did I say peace?
Hmmmm. Well. On my first walk a nest of trailing, rusty barbed wire snagged my Moncler quilted jacket. Horrible mums wrote nasty pieces about me in the papers. I drove my convertible BMW into floodwater, writing it off. The Aga died. My cats died. Someone siphoned off a full tank of oil from my field. Feral youths shot a rifle at my postbox. I ran out of petrol, often, as the garage at the bottom of my lane closed, then opened, then closed for good. Pipes froze, then burst. Friends came for the weekend, complained the cold was killing their baby and left, never to return. The vegetable garden, too, was like a needy infant: craving hours of watering and quickly running to seed; I mean, seriously, how many cauliflowers can one woman eat? I got dogs – border collies – who were nothing like the TV programmes: they ran riot, destroyed sofas, walls, cars and my relationships with any neighbour who was still talking to me. The chickens died, one by one; the last two dragged into a hedge and left there by a fox.
And that was just Somerset. My God, the Yorkshire Dales was even worse! I was stalked, called a witch. Lost my home and everything in it. Was forced to read about my house in a glossy magazine, as it became an upmarket holiday villa; forced to see my floor-to-ceiling windows, my view, my dream, belong to somebody else. Fell asleep at the wheel no fewer than three times on the drive home up the interminable M1 in the early hours. I cried. Frequently. I fell out with my best friend and lost her for good. Lizzie died. Dream died. I remember once doing a photoshoot to promote my latest book. The photographer, hair and make-up team arrived at my house. They gasped at the view of the moor, at the river rushing at the bottom of a sweeping lawn. The flagstones, the staircase, the marble fireplaces. ‘Wow!’ the (male) make-up artist said, sitting on the wall by the wrought-iron gates. ‘What an amazing lifestyle you must have! Imagine, getting up every morning, to this!’
I didn’t disabuse him as I was made to pose, prone, in an ice-cold stream wearing a floaty dress. Because what’s the point? No one ever believes you when you tell them living in a remote, freezing if magical spot needs deep pockets, a husband, serious DIY skills, a gardener, lots of jumpers and nerves of steel as you sit, alone, in the pitch black, worried that one of the locals, drunk, might visit you with a shotgun and a face puce with anger that a single female townie might have a nicer house than him.
But I learned a lot, too. I’m tougher and fitter now than I ever thought possible. I’m grateful if I ever get warm. I have discovered you can trust no one, not even your own family. I am no longer generous. Oooh. Hang on.
As I’m wrapping my last remaining Daylesford wine glass with tissue paper and wondering whether I will need my Hunter wellies to walk on Primrose Hill, I’ve just received a text from David. ‘Hi. I can help you move in, and then we can celebrate your birthday. You know how much I love you… You will be sick of the sight of me! xxx’
Oh dear God. What have I done?