Saturday, 25 June 2016

Rural rollercoaster

It’s been nearly 18 months now since we moved to Wales and with that milestone has come the slow, dawning realisation that this is not just a long holiday, a sabbatical or half way through anything. This is it. This is for real. This is actually our life now. And with that realisation comes a whole host of ups and downs that can send you from euphoric, “couldn’t-ever-imagine-living-anywhere-else” highs to “holy f***, what the hell have we done, send me back to the city quick” panics, sometimes all within the space of the same hour.

For someone who has effectively made a complete lifestyle change geared around food, you’d think we inhabit a world of complete foodie heaven, savouring the fruits of our labours and convincing ourselves that nothing comes close to the taste of your own pork or carrots or eggs. And for the most part you’d be right. Sweeping into the kitchen (when we had one) in floaty skirt and oversized straw hat (in my imagination - in reality an old pair of dirty jeans and oversized fleece) with a basket of freshly picked fruit and veg over my arm like a Country Living pin-up, I genuinely couldn’t be happier. But then sometimes, just sometimes, you fancy spending a carefree Sunday afternoon in the pub with the papers, like the ‘good old days’, rambling on about nothing in particular (although who am I kidding, the chances of a lunch lasting much more than about 15 minutes with two kids under four is a minor miracle – but bless us, we seem to suffer temporary amnesia every time a pub foray is suggested and head out all enthusiastic). I also seem to forget that you can’t just haphazardly rock up at any old pub and expect good gastro-pub style food around here. In fact, seeking out the gems has become a new hobby of mine, tapping people for their local knowledge of foodie hideaways. But whenever my nostalgic Sundays get written off for not being anything like they used to be and I cuss the countryside for having a limited range of eateries I ask myself – what does it matter, you’re attempting (badly) to become self-sufficient, you hypocritical foodie cretin!

And that attempt invariably involves dragging the children along on our ‘grow your own’ odyssey. Ok, so they know where their food comes from but it doesn’t stop me having moments where I agonise about whether I am giving my kids the best start in life by having them trailing around behind me in the muck day in day out, bribing them with slug and snail quotas whilst I endeavour to put some kind of order on the vegetable patch. Should I not be out there taking them to self-improving galleries and culture-rich museums? Expanding their minds with trips to foreign shores and strange cities? My rational brain says of course it is all about the balance – as long as they are getting a bit of both what does it matter if they are happy.  But that still doesn’t stop me having a bit of a wobble when we get stuck into planting our 24th packet of seeds of the season.

Then you have the emotive subject of schooling. Our eldest is now successfully enrolled in our local village school with a total pupil roll of 33 kids, two teachers, two classrooms. Whilst my friends in London and elsewhere in the country spend months of sleepless nights, gnawing their fingernails to the bone awaiting the dreaded school places decision, here there was never any doubt that we would get a place. They welcome newcomers with open arms, keen to bump up the number of pupils and keep the school open. The playground is surrounded on all sides by grazing sheep and the classroom windows look out onto the River Dee and the mountains beyond. It really couldn’t be more idyllic. So why do I still have sliding doors moments when I wonder what it would be like for our kids to be in a larger, urban school, exposed to different experiences and more variety of languages and musical instruments for instance (here we have piano, guitar and, of course it goes without saying, the harp – although I hope to God that one of mine doesn’t decide to take it up as it would be a right ball ache to schlep one of those buggers to and from school each day. Given the size of the case but we’d need to invest in a bloody van to transport it anywhere. Give me a flute any day of the week).  People keep telling me what a boon it is to be able to school your kids bilingually and how it supercharges their little brains ready for whatever languages and challenges life throws at them further down the track. I hope so.

For one thing around here bilingualism is just the most normal thing in the world. Farmers, tradesmen, teachers, doctors. Pretty much everyone around here is fluent in English and Welsh and switches between them without a second thought. Whereas where we lived before bilingualism was seen as an aspiration and something to invest time and energy in, around here it just the run of the mill. Everyone can happily converse, banter and swear prolifically in both languages, seemingly relishing the chance to flick between them just to whet the appetite of the eavesdropping “saesons”. I have moments where I get ridiculously excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity to immerse myself in a second language and become truly fluent and at other times I imagine that people are being deliberately obtuse and make me feel like an ignorant outsider and I really can’t be arsed with it at all. Fickle, moi?

And so to the biggest corkscrew of all. Since I started writing this post we have had the tumultuous decision for the UK to leave the EU. You’d think that living up here in the hills, far away from the nexus of power, the shock waves would be felt less. You’d be wrong. When I woke up this morning to hear the news I felt stunned and like things would never really be the same again. I headed out up the hill with the dog for our usual morning pipe-opener and the fields and hills and mountains that I have come to call home all looked the same, but different. There was something palpably different in the air today. Uncertainty, excitement, relief, horror. As the reactions and data points flowed into our lives from the radio and TV we tried to make sense (as I expect everyone was) of what this means for us. At times like this we all have an innate flight response to head for the hills but what happens if you are already there? Trying to make a business and potentially depending upon former EU subsidies and support? Raising two little children in a rural village in a small, potentially soon-to-be-fragmented country? Then I went out to feed the hens and to say hello to the cows with their huge trusting eyes and squishy noses and realised that life is what you make of it. The hens and the cows don’t give a shit who is in power and how our country is governed in relation to others. They just care about where their food is coming from, making sure their calves are ok and that they are in a herd, altogether. I’m guessing we’re going to be stuck on this rollercoaster for a fair few loops again yet but fundamentally we’re all still the same people, with the same resources and same values, regardless of what happened yesterday. Maybe it’s spending all this time around plants and animals and the cycles of life and death (not to get all Lion King on you) that make you more aware of your own mortality and give you a more grounded perspective in what really matters.  For all my ups and downs I’d rather be here with my nearest and dearest than anywhere else right now. Sure there are things which are hard and that piss me off but I don’t think any of us would reach the point of complete happiness without the odd niggle and wobble. Apart from perhaps the Dalai Lama. Oh and my dog Bru. He seems pretty happy with his lot. Although he is now slightly concerned about whether his dog passport to France will still be valid…. On verra.

To be or not to be... 

No comments:

Post a Comment