Tim Key: In the UK countryside, miles away from anywhere, I worry that cabin fever is setting in

 

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The Independent Online

I find myself in the wilds this week. Stuffed up in the UK countryside, miles away from anywhere, I am huddled in the corner of a rudimentary cottage. This is an isolated bolt-hole; somewhere to get away from it all and knock out my column without distractions. That was the idea, anyway – but after three days it has done for me. Grey from the isolation, I worry that cabin fever is setting in.

On paper, it had looked promising. Suffocated by the constant demands and ugly noises of the big city, I last week ventured on to Airbnb's comely website and typed in things like 'Norfolk' and 'open fire' and 'preferably with a telly'. I had looked forward to it for days and, as the train pulled out and moved away from London, I had felt a weight lift. As the buildings thinned out and as I began to see more trees and hills and waterfalls from my standard-class seat, I felt my breathing slow down and a reconnection with nature kick in. I posted a Facebook update and played a bit of Scrabble on my phone. Bliss.

But now look at me. The taxi ride into the wilderness seems a long while ago now. No sooner had I thrown my bag on to my vast double bed and bent under a low beam into the lounge, than the fever was in me. Miles away from civilisation, all I have is wine, food, pens and flames.

The open fire is roaring, and has done incessantly for what seems like weeks now. Every 20 minutes or so I am forced to wander out into the copse and smash some wood apart with a huge axe. It's a primitive existence. I sling it on to the embers, watch it catch, and slump back into the sofa with my pad. This place is behind the times, and what music I do have is trussed up in vinyl. Debussy seeps off the record player and fills the room; I sip my claret. Terrible.

There is something about isolation that breaks me. I don't ask for much. If I have a couple of bars of phone reception and a Tesco Metro within walking distance, I'm a happy bunny. Here, you'd have to walk for hours to find any of the main supermarkets. Instead, I have to make do with a 'farm shop', a weird store that sells stuff made locally, in packets I barely recognise. I bought some cheese there yesterday, and the poor chap behind the counter wrapped it up for me in paper. I could barely keep a straight face. Still, the sausages came together well in a casserole last night and though I have to slice it myself, I must confess the bread is growing on me.

For any proper dose of cabin fever, it is important to have an antagonistic companion, and mine fits the bill perfectly. He's sat opposite me now, in his little jumper, writing his 'film script' or whatever it is he does. Something successful anyway, judging by his permanent half-smile. Occasionally he looks across at me. Sneering at the columnist. Then his lip curls once more as he thinks of something smart-arse for one of his characters to say. In my darkest moments, I worry that I will flip and turn the axe on him. I worry that is where my cabin fever will take me. But for now, it is under control.

And there are lighter moments. Moments when the fever relents. When he grinds the farm shop beans and makes me a coffee, possibly with a crumpet. Oop, he's off now. I am salivating.

He's said he's going to cook tonight. A lump of lamb, again wrapped in paper, again from the farm shop. He's going to put it in now, so we can eat at 8pm. I adjust the blanket over my legs and continue to plug away with my column. I think he probably thinks that if we eat at 8pm, we can wander down to the pub afterwards and have a couple of jars in there.

More beams, more open fires.

Only two more days to get through, then back to London. Thank God. This is killing me.

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