In Sickness and in Health: Escape to the country? More like a reluctant return

Early last year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

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The Independent Online

As soon as I was able, I left the village where I grew up and shot off like a rat up a drainpipe to a place where there were pavements alongside all of the roads and where buses came more often than once an hour, even at 3am.

True, a student house in suburban, south Manchester wasn’t Manhattan, but it was better than the outskirts of a town in Kent.

I’ve spent the past 13 years in London, living, for most of them, in Camden, where the lights are bright and the pavements are slicked with the vomit of revellers who must have come to regret that final pint. The vomit used to make me smile on the way to work as it was the sign of anti-work, of play and of partying so hard here that people puked on the street. My kind of place.

Except that now, it isn’t, really. Now the only time I spend in London is at work, asleep or trying to sort the flat out.

Where Nick lives at the moment, pavements aren’t always a given, and I’ve seen more thatched cottages in three months than I had in the past three decades.

During Nick’s first weeks here, I spent some time trying to get to know the area. A friend who grew up round here recommended a B&B in a village up the road that I decided to check out. To get there, I had to complete the kind of drive that terrifies me, through winding lanes where restless drivers and main beams abounded. No street lights, no shops. However beautiful in the daytime, I thought to myself, how can people live here? I laughed out loud with fear – it was meant to be a quick hop to a B&B, not a dark drive through my terrors. Thank God that I had at least driven in country lanes like this as a teenager.

I arrived, after almost weeping with joy when I spotted an actual traffic light. Civilisation! I found myself in the most tiny, wonky, idyllic hamlet. The Tudor cottage that was my destination was unbelievable beautiful. I was breathless at the warmth, the snugness, the rightness of inside, the wood fire and the bookcases. I ventured out to a country pub that Nick and I had spoken of visiting (we’d heard of it because it’s run by Jamie Oliver’s mum and dad). It was lovely, even if the lack of a mobile signal (also an important item on my list of must-haves) meant that I couldn’t text or tweet about how nice it was and how brave I’d been in getting there.

This weekend, I took part in another bit of country life that I’d only previously seen on the box. I went wassailing, singing to apple trees to ensure a good harvest for the year ahead. I’d first heard about such a thing because of River Cottage (more lifestyle tips from a TV chef), but it was lovely, drinking cider by the light of a bonfire before going back to see Nick with woodsmoke in my hair.

As it becomes obvious that my future with Nick is unlikely to involve a tiny basement flat in a mad bit of London, I’m trying to set my pavement prejudice aside. I might not return to my home town with the alacrity with which I left, but I suppose one can’t spend one’s whole life looking fondly at puddles of puke.

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